I tend to like about 5% of the “conceptual art” that I see. Even so, I seek it out, because for me, personally, that 5% is worth it. Someone else might also like 5%, but a different 5%.
Even of the 95% I don’t care for, there’s another group of stuff that makes me think. Many, although certainly not all, conceptual artists provide some sort of explanation for what they were thinking and aiming for while they were creating the piece of art. By looking at the art, weighing the statements of the artists, evaluating if I think the artist was successful in meeting their goals, and considering my own response to the art, I’m engaging in a process which is valuable to me, even if the end result is a big thumbs down for the piece in question.
Also, most of this type of art is better in person. I often find I have a very different reaction after seeing the actual piece than I did after reading the reviews or seeing it on TV.
Even though my personal relationship with museums like the Whitney is in that love/hate category that sometimes threatens to overwhelm me and cause me to run screaming from the biennial, this art definitely should be displayed. Conceptual art incorporates many ideas that are for the most part unique to that particular kind of art, for example, that “found objects” can take on an aesthetic beyond their original intent; that the viewers’ reactions to a piece add a layer of meaning to the work; and that it is often the combination or juxtaposition of images/objects that provokes an emotional response, rather than the images themselves.
One neat thing that I find about conceptual art is that many pieces combine images and text. This is found in some of the earliest art, such as Egpytian painting and in sculpture of the ancient Near East. The idea that the written word can add power and authority to an image has been around for a long time, and conceptual artists use it both to reinforce images, or to twist traditional meanings.