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OBITUARY

Douglas Huebler; Helped Start Conceptualism

July 15, 1997|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Douglas Huebler, one of the innovators responsible for founding the conceptual art movement of the late 1960s and '70s and a former dean of the School of Art at the California Institute of the Arts, is dead at 72.

He died of pancreatic cancer Saturday in Truro, Mass., said a son, Dorne Huebler.

Along with American artists Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth, Huebler had a 1969 exhibition in New York that is credited with originating the conceptual movement, which was actually named by a critic two years later.

Conceptualism emphasized art as an idea rather than an object and was a reaction to the pop and optical art of the 1960s. Remaining a prominent part of avant-garde discourse for a decade, it remains central to much critically acclaimed work of the 1990s.

With the wit that marked his teaching at Miami University in Ohio, Bradford College in Massachusetts, Harvard University and CalArts, Huebler once said:

"I don't think there's any question of conceptualism's continuing vitality, but it's never had a large audience, because it doesn't give itself over to spectacle, which is a popular preoccupation in America.

"It's had a much broader audience in Europe for the simple reason that that's a more intellectual culture. I'm not anti-American, and I participate in certain vulgarities myself, but I do find it troubling that America hasn't gotten past the idea that art is essentially decoration."

Of his project "Global Crocodile Tears," begun in 1978, Huebler said it was his intention "to photographically document the existence of everyone alive."

Then-Times art critic William Wilson later said: "Conceptual art can be as pedantic and self-righteous as a Moliere schoolmaster, but Douglas Huebler is an exception. He consistently wraps serious rumination about art in a skein of witty satire."

Huebler's work is exhibited at such institutions as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, the Tate Gallery in London, the Musee National d'Art Moderne in Paris and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Born in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Oct. 27, 1924, he grew up in an extremely poor farming family. After serving as an air combat intelligence officer in the Pacific in World War II, he was ableto study art in Paris on the GI Bill.

He was on the CalArts staff from 1976 until 1988.

Huebler is survived by his wife, Stephani Weinschel; daughter Kate Huebler; and from an earlier marriage, son, Dorne Huebler of Kagel Canyon, Calif., and daughters Darcy Huebler of Valencia and Dana Huebler of West Los Angeles.

An informal memorial will be held at a later date.

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