No sooner than I offered to answer your questions about art, this message from Louis arrived:Doug Huebler
What makes a piece of art conceptual? Is this a term that can be observed on the surface of a "conceptual" piece? I.e.- We are standing in front of one of the artworks on display at the MOCA:Index show you just wrote about in a previous post and you point to this feature or that element of a work in a way that you might describe pointillism through a Seurat?
For many art makers who would be classified as conceptual artists, it's the idea behind the work that takes primacy over its final outcome as an object, so observation may not always be the best way to determine if a work of art is conceptual.
That being said, I think there are contextual cues in most situations that help one to determine where a particular work "fits" into a continuum of artistic movements. If a painting is made of dots and is in a room (or a chapter of an art history textbook) with other post-impressionist works, it's safe to expect it to be pointillist. Likewise if the accompanying text says it's a Seurat. If the spots are on some pre-Colombian pottery, it's probably safe to say it's something else.
Marcel Duchamp made a big deal about drawing a distinction between the stuff he made and what he called "retinal art." That should give us a clue that using one's powers of observation may not be enough. Often conceptual work can look like something else. It might be a urinal, a can of shit, or a piece of furniture. Sometimes it may look like a hand-crafted work, but the artist may be following rules she or he set for themselves when they executed the piece.
A case in point could be the Sam Durant lightbox in the previous post. A friend who was with me at the show thought the "We Are The People" text looked similar to the text in a Corita Kent. Sam finds 60's-era photographs of protest marchers, and reconfigures the hand-made plackards in the images into lightbox signage. So the "look" of his work is predetermined by the system he uses to aquire the images.
In works like the Doug Huebler in Index, he posts his "system" next to the images he made, so the evidence that the work is conceptual comes from the text he includes. With other folks like Sharon Lockhart, one would need to be made aware of her system for photographing the kissing children to know that the work has some conceptual foundation.
If a work's conceptual underpinnings isn't evident--and it's included in a show of conceptual art like Index--then it's the curitorial and education departments who dropped the ball. Knowing the sources for the imagery in the Jack Goldsteins and the Bruce Conners would make for a richer viewing experience, and if MOCA wants to frame itself as a responsible caretaker and presenter of contemporary art, then education should be made a bigger part of the mix.