The State of Things - case study

A new conceptual framework for contemporary art

How can we understand contemporary art and its relationship with its broader cultural context? When lay audiences and tabloid newspapers refer to ‘modern art’, they are most often referring to art that is more accurately described as ‘contemporary’. The term ‘modern’ is often seen as commensurate with the present, rather than a distinct historical period and Professor Peter Osborne’s research attempts to understand the ‘contemporary’ in the same way – as a historical category.

This understanding of the ‘contemporary’ was informed by Professor Osborne’s research into the relationship between the history and philosophies of conceptual art. The advent of Conceptual Art in the 1960s saw the idea behind the art work take primacy over its aesthetic qualities and challenged traditional categories such as painting and sculpture. This affected the way we think about art to the extent that all subsequent art is viewed through a conceptual lens. In this respect, all contemporary art is conceptualised as post-conceptual.

"Contemporary art, critically understood, is a post-conceptual art."

Prof Peter Osborne, CRMEP Director

Professor Osborne’s work on the philosophy of contemporary art work has had a significant impact on its conceptualisation in public discourses. This has been achieved through book sales, public lectures and catalogue essays. In addition, Professor Osborne has made significant contributions to educational and curatorial programmes at major international arts institutions, including the Tate Britain and the Venice Biennale.

Through consultation and public lectures, Professor Osborne’s research has influenced adult education programming at the Tate Britain, introducing a focus on the philosophical aspects of contemporary art, including its conceptual character and the importance of broader cultural contexts.

A long standing relationship with the Norwegian Office for Contemporary Art (OCA) culminated in Professor Osborne co-curating and defining the theme of Norway’s pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale. The Venice Biennale is one of the most important international exhibitions in the art world and Norway’s entry, The State of Things, was the first by a participating country to replace conventional national artistic representation with a programme of philosophically based talks.

Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP)

Internationally recognised as the leading centre for postgraduate research in Continental Philosophy in the UK, the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) is characterised by an emphasis on broad cultural and intellectual contexts and a distinctive sense of social and political engagement.

CRMEP director Professor Peter Osborne’s research has two primary, interrelated strands: the philosophy of time and art theory. His research into contemporary art questions its fundamental nature and interrogates not only the impact of conceptualism, but also the idea of the contemporary. In doing so, Professor Osborne has challenged established positions and proposed a new lens through which to view contemporary art.

Selected publications

  • Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, Verso, London and New York, 2013, 282 pp.
  • Professor Osborne is an editor of the journal Radical Philosophy