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Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art :: Art by telephone(1969)

Art by Telephone:
33-1/3 RPM vinyl LP record housed in offset-printed black-and-white gatefold album cover
12 ¼ x 12 ¼ inches (closed), 12 ¼ x 24 ½ inches (open)
Published by Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1969

“Shortly after its opening, the Museum of Contemporary Art planned an exhibition to record the trend toward conceptualization of art. This exhibition, scheduled for the spring of 1968 and abandoned because of technical difficulties, consisted of works in different media, conceived by artists in this country and Europe and executed in Chicago on their behalf. The telephone was designated the most fitting means of communication in relaying instructions to those entrusted with fabrication of the artists’ projects or enactment of their ideas. To heighten the challenge of a wholly verbal exchange, drawings, blueprints or written descriptions were avoided.

“Art by Telephone” admits an historic precedent. In 1922 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, then newly appointed to the Weimar Bauhaus, set out to prove to his students and fellow teachers alike that the intellectual approach to the creation of a work of art is in no way inferior to the emotional approach. Bucking the expressionist mainstream and steeping himself in the revolutionary ideas of the Russian Constructivists Malevich and Lissitzky, the new head of the metal workshop ordered from a sign manufacturer three steel panels of diminishing size covered with white porcelain enamel and bearing a simple geometric design in black, red and yellow. Rather than furnish sketches and personally supervise the execution, Moholy asked that the manufacturer take a piece of graph paper and a color chart. He then dictated these works over the telephone.

Despite the fact that Moholy-Nagy’s “telephone pictures” are widely discussed in art literature, no museum until now has been prompted by this historic act to test the potential of remote control creation on the sale of a group exhibition. Making the telephone ancillary to creation and employing it as a link between artist’s hand and material has never been attempted in any fashion.” – Jan van der Marck from the exhibition catalogue / LP jacket

On the LP the Museum’s director, Jan van der Marck, interviews by long-distance telephone artists: Siah Armajani, Richard Artschwager, John Baldessari, Iain Baxter, Mel Bochner, George Brecht, Jack Burnham, James Lee Byars, Robert H. Cumming, Francoise Dallegret, Jan Dibbets, John Giorno, Robert Grosvenor, Hans Haacke, Richard Hamilton, Dick Higgins, Davi Det Hompson, Robert Huot, Alani Jacquet, Ed Kienholz, Joseph Kosuth, Les Levine, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, Guenther Uecker, Stan Van Der Beek, Bernar Venet, Frank Lincoln Viner, Wolf Vostell, William Wegman and William T. Wiley. Each was discussing with van der Marck how to execute an artwork for inclusion in the show to be fabricated by in Chicago strictly by the artist’s verbal instructions.

While the 1969 curatorial effort was conceived as an economic means to produce a large-scale exhibition, many of the artists included within the show produced succinct conceptual works that were among the first such works to be presented in a museum.

“Conceptual art as documented, recorded, manufactured or preformed in “Art by Telephone” is a further step toward the syncretism of the literary, plastic and performing arts which characterizes the 1960s. The term generally applies to those new forms of art which seem to favor intellectual premises over visual result. Those artists who have responded to the challenge to this exhibition share certain basic premises despite divergence in expression. They want to get away form the interpretation of art as specific, handcrafted, precious object. They value process over product and experience over possession… “– Jan van der Marck from the exhibition catalogue / LP jacket