To mark contemporary art as being "post-conceptual" is correct both in the historical sense and in the substantive sense. Historically, because work made in the mode after conceptual art continues unbroken to our mode now, and substantively because conceptual art made possible the work that is being made.
Nevertheless, the term "post-conceptual" is still extremely misleading and one must stress the ways in which contemporary art is not conceptual. To Peter Osborne, his claim was that the conceptualists tried to eliminate the materialisation of their work into aesthetic objects, but ultimately failed. THey learned that every object of art required a bare minimum of formalisation, and this reinstitute the art object into artistic practice but with an emphasis on its conceptual character.
While this assertion is totally true, it does underscore one pre-existing confusion, which also manifests in the way the term "post-conceptual art" is misleading. How?
Firstly, it still implicitly accepts certain precepts held by the conceptualists that must be rejected: specifically the conceptualists, in approaching of the horizon of complete dematerialisation, totally placed form subordinate to concept. While many works today are "dematerialised" it is actually incorrect to suggest they place form subordinate to concept the way the conceptualists did.
For the conceptualists, there was some inherent value of the "concept" - individual works could be evaluated for being conceptually clever or conceptually innovative. There remained a desire to continue making better and better and more interesting concepts, which is to say concepts as a medium.
To suggest concepts be used as a medium is to remain within the modernist paradigm of medium specificity. Conceptualism takes concept as a medium in that it is the null set of medium specificity. Medium specificity is inherently modernist because it implies a notion of refinement, or incremental improvement. Conceptual art must thus be seen as the final point of modernism, as the perfect counterpart to abstract expressionism. Here we see the form and concept becoming disentangled, and we can see here the simultaneous manifestation of the advent of post-structural theory. This is to say that inherent in Modernism, progress, capitalist logic and so forth is the complete splitting of sign and signifier, and in these two movements we see high modernism come to its natural conclusion.
But the point to emphasise is the way conceptualism, even while advocating complete dematerialisation, was necessarily modernist, privileged concept over form, and implicitly suggested that an innovation in concept could lead to an incremental progression in art.
A common misreading is that of conceptualism as the beginning of our current trajectory and this problematic is most visible in practice, when we see the academicist approach of trying to "materialise" a concept. This strategy always falls flat. It is a strategy of which I have certainly been guilty, and it relies on the notion that current art-making is in someway valuable for its conceptual character, or entails a type of conceptual exploration. For the most part I now believe that this is not the case. This approach always puts the cart before the horse.
SO the question can thus be reposed - what is the status of the concept in contemporary art?
While I will take up this question in a later post, I would at this stage suggest towards a paradigm that understands form itself to already be conceptual in nature. THis is what allows one to "read" the conceptual nature embedded in any form and opens up the strategies of 'unpacking' the form conceptually.
It is probably also important to then ask how this does or not depart from the trajectory instituted by the readymade. But cursorily we only need to note that no-one has ever stressed the precise character and specifications of Duchamp's toilet, (ie it has always been read conceptually). Contra, in the contemporary era we see numerous works of objet trouve that underscore specificity and actual use - such as Mike Kelleys soft toys - here we have the found object as the forensic object, and like the ritual object is always linked to its use in social performance.
In this way, the forensic object is exactly equatable to the work of "social practice" (notwithstanding it being a heterogenous and broad field), we an thus see the fetishising of the commodity back into direct social life, by being re-inscribed within the field of use (value) .
And so Modernism increasingly appears as a historically severable phenomenon, a language of a relatively brief process of epistemological change.