Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective
By Clayton Campbell for Artillery
July 2, 2019
Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective is the first large-scale museum survey devoted to work originally presented by the artist in his museum and gallery exhibitions. It premiered at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and has traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania where it is on view through August 11. It is a terrific send off for an under-recognized artist.
Conrad, who died in 2016 at the age of 76, is one of those uncommonly delightful figures of the second half of the 20th century who privileged disruption over mastery. His instinct was to eschew the pressures to adhere to a specificity of discipline and really lean into interdisciplinary crossovers that now seem ubiquitous. He opened creative possibilities between art and film, film and music, music and performance in contemporary practice that were quickly picked up and acted upon by other artists. He often was the one who got there first. Innovators are not always the ones who reap the rewards, nor do they necessarily want to. Perhaps this is why Conrad is not well known and this exhibition is a revelation.
Anti-gallerist and anti-commerce for much of his career, he taught for a living at the University of Buffalo. He made art that would not, or he would not, sell. An artist’s artist, some knew of him, were influenced and worked with him, like Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler, Cory Arcangel and Constance DeJong. Yet even Conrad said of himself, “You don’t know who I am, but somehow, indirectly, you’ve been affected by things I did. I don’t mind being anonymous though.”