Douglas Huebler, Camden Arts Centre
Posterity treats few periods of history with respect, but for the Sixties, it appears to reserve a particular contempt. Its radical dreams have long since turned into empty clichés, living on only as fodder for endless parody, and the radicals themselves will be remembered principally for having been embarrassingly naïve. In art, one radical idea of the time was the “dematerialisation of the art object”. The idea became the artwork, the art object became unimportant and conceptual art was born. As US artist Douglas Huebler, who was at the forefront of the movement, said: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting. I do not wish to add any more.”
Three decades on, Martin Creed was allowed to walk away with the Turner Prize for parodying that statement.
Exhibited here are a number of Huebler’s seminal works from the period. In the main they consist of ruminations on chance and time manifest as nicely framed collections of photographs accompanied by explanatory pieces of text.
Duration piece #5 New York, 1969, is typical and consists of a series of images in Central Park. Each one records the direction from which the artist heard an individually distinguishable bird call and in which he would then walk, until hearing another call whereupon he would repeat the process.
Another work records random locations between his home and his art dealer’s gallery. Happily there are also some funnier and more humane pieces, including some casual photographs of Flemish street urchins and one of an attractive, naked woman, half of whom, for complex reasons, is captured in 1973, the other half in 1974.
Fittingly, given his concerns, Huebler’s entire oeuvre acts as a comment on the passage of time as it all looks dated. Though alleviated by flashes of humour, Huebler’s musings on life now look glib and the conceptual form his work took, though of art historical significance, did not bring down the art market as some (but not Huebler) naïvely hoped. His work did however inspire countless generations of art students to similarly record their pedestrian thoughts and observations in the name of conceptual art. As I said, posterity has not been kind to the Sixties.
NW3. Until 14 April. Showing alongside is the work of David Shrigley. Tel: 020 7435 2643