Absence of the Artist
September 1–September 26, 2015
Keith Arnatt has occupied a key position in the history of British conceptual art for almost 50 years. Since his death in 2008 he has become an important model for contemporary artists who work at the limits of art’s ‘dematerialisation’: site-specific interventions, time-based gestures, or works of art that are seemingly short-lived and inconspicuous. Absence of the Artist, Arnatt’s second exhibition with Sprüth Magers and his first in the London gallery, brings together a range of important work conceived between 1967–72, key years when Arnatt made Self-Burial (1969), Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self (1969–72) as well as The Absence of the Artist (1968), exhibited here for the first time.
The Absence of the Artist betrays the artist’s deadpan wit, wholly characteristic of Arnatt’s response to the various conflicts stimulating the art world throughout the late 1960s. The viewer is presented with a paradox: a sign, posted on a brick wall and photographed in black and white, declares the absence of the artist. Yet by denying his absence, he thrusts himself forward, seemingly emphasising the artist’s role. The Absence of the Artist highlights a fierce ambivalence about the artist’s role that was prevalent at the time. As more sceptical, pluralist ideas about art were starting to replace modernism – and its pantheon of great artists – the role of the artist was subjected to constant investigation. What divides the artist from his work or the ideas that it might produce? Do we even need the actions of an artist to declare something an artwork?