Seth Siegelaub, the venturesome dealer and curator of conceptual art in New York in the 1960s and 1970s who helped lead efforts for artists’ rights and devoted his life to studying textiles, died on Saturday in Basel, Switzerland, according to a friend, confirming a report by Metropolis M. He was 71.
After closing a gallery he ran on 56th Street in Manhattan from 1964 to 1966, where he showed contemporary art and Oriental rugs, Mr. Siegelaub, still in his 20s, presented the work of artists who would become some of the core members of what would be termed conceptual art, like Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner. He showed them in experimental curatorial formats that often eschewed gallery shows in favor of publications. In a busy period between 1968 and 1971, he organized 21 projects, according to MoMA, which holds a collection of his papers that it presented in an exhibition earlier this year. When Mr. Siegelaub donated his art-related archive to MoMA in 2011, the museum also acquired a number of works from his art collection, which included a number of important early conceptual works.
“There is no art without you,” Seth Siegelaub wrote in a draft of a letter to artists in 1970. “There is no art world without you. You have given up rights you probably do not know exist.” The Bronx-born Mr. Siegelaub was not yet 30 at the time, but over the previous decade he had already established himself as a trailblazing dealer and curator of conceptual art, offering for sale as artworks things that sometimes barely qualified as objects, such as the transmission of a radio wave (by Robert Barry) and text on a page (Lawrence Weiner). He had also become a committed activist. In 1969, he joined the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC), a group of New York artists that lobbied to improve conditions and rights for artists working with museums and dealers. In a letter to the Museum of Modern Art, they made 13 demands, including that a section of the museum be placed “under the direction of black artists” and that artists receive rental fees for artworks loaned to MoMA for exhibitions. That letter is now on view at MoMA, which acquired Mr. Siegelaub’s papers in 2011 with his cooperation and has put a number of them on display. (The museum has also launched an excellent website with images of many of the works in the show. It has also released a guide to its contents.)
The New York-based imprint Primary Information just posted online a series of seminal publications of conceptual art put out by curator, dealer and textile maven Seth Siegelaub in the 1960s and early ’70s, including some that doubled as exhibitions. It’s a treasure trove of some of the era’s vanguard art.