Art by Telephone was a conceptual art exhibition which dealt with networks through it’s formal structure. Conceived by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 1968 the intention was to record the growing trend of conceptualization in contemporary art however also reflected the effect of global mass communication i.e. the reduction of time/space and ideas of neighbourhood and an ever diminishing natural world, essentially ideas and concepts discussed in great detail by Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964) as his “global village”.
The exhibition was to include conceptual art heavyweights such as Sol LeWitt, John Baldessari, Joseph Kosuth, Jan Dibbets and Hans Haacke as well as others who became associated with other or numerous movements at the time such as Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Serra, Robert Morris and Richard Hamilton. Formally the exhibition would consist of
works in different media, conceived by artists in this country (America) 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.
This exhibition was conceptual in many ways, although one of these was not intended.
Foremost as a conceptual exhibition the format of calling work in was surely the first of it’s kind and yet in a sense has comparison with the long tradition of apprenticeship/assistant within an artists studio (except here at distance, removing the single location of the studio) which has continued today in new media art under the appropriated name of outsourcing.
Secondly the exhibition, scheduled for the spring of 1968 was abandoned because of technical difficulties so in 1969 the Art by Telephone phonograph (image above, sound file below), the recordings of the artists calling in their works, was released and served as both the exhibition and catalogue for the exhibition.
The exhibition has achieved somewhat of a mythical status, the conceptual art exhibition which remained conceptual, however despite this documentation is rather poor with the best being the covertext of the phonograph and it’s recording here on ubuweb. Sadly the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago simply acknowledges the ‘exhibition’ with a line in their history timeline.