Conceptual Art's Dutch Treat

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Ger van Elk

What's the big idea? Ger van Elk's The Co-Founder of the Word O.K.— Marken (No. 5), 1971

Amsterdam was a hotbed of conceptual art in the 1960s and '70s. In its damp studios and fetid cafés, artists from dozens of countries came together in the belief that the ideas behind a work were more important than the work itself.

Conceptualism remains vastly influential in contemporary art, leading to seemingly baffling pieces that scandalize or bemuse audiences still. (Martin Creed's 2001 Turner Prize-winning installation, of an empty room in which the lights repeatedly went on and off, is a famous example.)

But from July 19, "In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960-1976," an exhibition at New York City's Museum of Modern Art, gives visitors an opportunity to explore the movement's early days, when artists like Gilbert & George and Lawrence Weiner commuted back and forth across the Atlantic, overthrowing artistic norms. "The movement of the artists from one continent to another became a part of the process, and inspired the happenings and conceptual art they sought to build," says curator Christophe Cherix.

Around 120 works tell the story. Bronx-born Weiner created the show's entrance — a long tunnel with portholes in the XXX shape of Amsterdam's ubiquitous crest, casting shadows of the emblem on visitors as they enter and making them "a part of his work," says Cherix. The show runs until Oct. 5.