“Ideas alone can be works of art,” proclaimed American Minimalist artist Sol LeWitt in his 1968 Sentences on Conceptual Art, summoning up a new stream of thought that emerged in 1960s America as a reaction to Clement Greenberg’s insistence on formalism and opticality, a stance that art should be experienced solely through ‘visual stimuli’ and in a disinterested manner. In an anarchic Dada style, Conceptual Art (as this new stream came to be known) proposed “perceptual withdrawal” – instead of producing ‘sacred’ and valuable art objects, they offered only brief linguistic description of their ideas or simple visual statements such as Lawrence Weiner’s As Long As It Lasts (Figure 1). If a physical object of some sort was present it was either perplexingly bare or badly executed and aesthetically unappealing. What is more, these artworks mixed a variety of media (including everyday objects and all sorts of rubbish), thus attacking Greenberg’s “quest for medium-specific purity.” Purposefully provocative, conceptual artworks encouraged a renewed enquiry into what art is or should be.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, symbols of vanitas and momentum mori signified fragility of life and earthly pleasures. Opulent items such as exotic food, imported wine, and luscious flowers were painted as reminders of inevitable decay and brevity of material possessions. In the twenty-first century, the idea of impermanence is explored in significantly different forms and mediums. The core message, however, remains (more-less) the same.