Seth, explorer and pioneer of conceptual art

In December 1968 independent curator, gallery owner, publisher, collector, researcher, archivist and bibliographer Seth Siegelaub (1941-2013) published Xerox book. Instead of a traditional exhibition with actual physical pieces, Siegelaub decided to invite seven artists to work on a book project. Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Lawrence Weiner – famous figures in conceptual art – contributed each with a 25-page work. The goal was to publish an art book which was in itself an original artwork.

This very idea was revolutionary and pioneering for its time. Who would have thought that you could rethink how to present art in this particular manner? Following the Xerox book Siegelaub developed his well-known project January 5-31, 1969, in collaboration again with Barry, Huebler, Kosuth and Weiner. Together they discussed and decided which medium would be the most appropriate to present their work. The show was once again exclusively in catalogue form. Collaboration was everything for Siegelaub. He once said: ‘This was a very collective art’ (talking about conceptual art). ‘It’s not like I had these great ideas that I came up with like magic, or whatever, all by myself.’ Indeed, curatorial decisions like what work to exhibit and how, were taken together with the artists. Also, they decided collectively that an artwork was not offered for sale, this way marking a clear difference between a conventional art gallery and them.

More than Xerox book the printed catalogue January 5-31, 1969 was the exhibition, showing that an art show could appear exclusively as a publication. Furthermore, the work of art was conceived as independent from a real physical space. By choosing for this form the artists and Siegelaub strongly believed in the communicative potential of conceptual art. And, as history has proven, they were right. A revolution was set in motion and Siegelaub played a leading part in it. He was a pioneer, an example, and had a great influence on successive generations of artists, curators and other art professionals. ‘You don’t need a gallery to show ideas’.

Tip! The exhibition Seth Siegelaub: Beyond Conceptual Art is on view until April 17 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

seth siegelaub