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Interviews

Ask Roxane: How to Get to Grips with Conceptual Art

Roxane Zand, Sotheby’s Deputy Chairman of the Middle East shares her wealth of life experience with readers of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia in her regular column where she answers questions on love, life and luxury. Take a look at an extract from her column below and visit Harper’s Bazaar Arabia to read more…

Can you tell me how to get to grips with conceptual art, which I find baffling?
Many people are often puzzled, confused or offended as they stand by a conceptual piece of art. But how should we judge it? It’s easy to love something we find beautiful, but much harder to feel passionate about a work like Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, or Mona Hatoum’s garden seat sprouting pubic hair. Every year the general public expresses frustration with the Turner Prize contenders, many feeling that art which is devoid of skill or beauty, can’t be considered a serious part of the art world. Critics have in equal measure praised and attacked conceptual art; at times for challenging, awakening, and provoking us intellectually, at other times for being nothing more than the Emperor’s new clothes.

For me, the appreciation of a piece of conceptual art lies in the significance and scale of the statement it makes. If it is utterly mundane, trivial and unintriguing, one’s reaction is going to be less interested.But there are also those special moments that move and engage you. Shock or outrage is not necessarily a condemnation of an artwork; on the contrary, all major artists, from Monet to Picasso, Munch to Van Gogh, have all outraged their public. As artists are ahead of their times it takes a while for the general public to fully understand what is being attempted. Does everyone immediately engage with Damien Hirst’s artwork, possibly the most controversial of all contemporary conceptual artists? The jury is out, of course. The one thing I advise is to learn about conceptual art, which will make it much easier to follow, as you learn what you’ll reject or appreciate. Knowledge is the gateway to understanding, and by reading or visiting art shows, you will find more and more conceptual artists to enjoy.

Read more from Roxane at Harper’s Bazaar Arabia including:
- What is your take on shoes – are they important? And if so, in what way?

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