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Gustavo Grandal Montero

Published date
27 Jun 2018

The 'Turn to language': Concrete poetry and conceptual art in the 1960s

College: Central Saint Martins
Supervisors: Dr Alison Green, Dr Michael Asbury, Dr Jo Melvin


My topic of research is the relation between Concrete poetry and conceptual art, and the 'turn to language' in contemporary art during the 1960s.

Context and background

Concrete poetry, originally a literary movement heavily influenced by Modernist art (Constructivism and Concrete art), appeared in Brazil, Germany and Switzerland in the mid-1950s, and was characterized for privileging the visual (typographical) arrangement of words over more traditional elements of the poem (sound and meaning). It was adopted by visual artists and incorporated into art practice during the early and mid-1960s, becoming an international phenomenon.

During this decade, a large number of artists explored 'new' media (performance, video, etc.), part of a wider context of rejection of traditional media and development of new forms of practice, with a significant proportion using language/text as the basis of their work, notably conceptual artists. Some of them were influenced by, or were practitioners of, Concrete poetry (e.g. Carl Andre). Did Concrete poetry directly influence the development of language-based practices in the 1960s, particularly conceptual art in the latter part of the decade? And, if this was the case, how?

Aims and objectives

  • Investigate how Concrete poetry became an international phenomenon through a network of magazines (Noigandres, Spirale), self-publishing and a few influential exhibitions, and produce a historical narrative mapping its evolution.
  • Research how and why Concrete poetry was adopted by visual artists and incorporated into art practice during the early and mid-1960s, particularly by members of the neo-avantgardes (e.g. Fluxus), leading to a systematic study of adoption of Concrete poetry by visual artists.
  • Examine what type of influence Concrete poetry had, if any, on those artists starting to use language within conceptual practices; what the nature of the transfer could be; and, why this connection has not been made before. Apply Dick Higgins' concept of 'intermedia' to create a theoretical framework encompassing both Concrete and conceptual practices, critically reviewing the historical development of conceptual art and its established narratives.