Joseph Kosuth is one of the pioneers of conceptual art and installation art. His work has consistently explored the production and role of language and meaning within art.

His more than thirty year inquiry into he relation of language to art has taken the form of installations, museum exhibitions, public commissions and publications throughout Europe.

Kosuth was born on the 31st of January 1945 in Toledo, Ohio.

He attended the Toledo Museum School of Design from 1955 to 1962 and later moved to New York to study at The School of Visual Art from 1965 to 1967.  The philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, among others, influenced the development of his art from 1965 to 1974.

Kosuth founded the Museum of Normal Art in New York in 1967 and his first solo show took place there that year.

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In 1965 Kosuth created the piece Clock (One and Five).  Like many conceptual works, it is concerned with different modes of representation. It is thus an examination of a fundamental aspect of art. It brings together a real object with representations of different aspects of that object. It consists of a working clock, a photograph of it on the same scale, and enlarged entries from an English/Latin dictionary for the words, ‘time,’ ‘machination’ and ‘object’.

Another of his most famous works is the linked piece “One and Three Chairs”, a visual expression of Plato’s concept of The Forms.  He displayed a photograph of a chair, an actual chair, and a dictionary definition of the word “chair.” The piece distinguishes between the three aspects involved in the perception of a work of art: the visual representation of a thing (the photograph of the chair), its real referent (the actual chair), and its intellectual concept (the dictionary definition). Reality, image, and concept: the three “sides” of a perceived thing.

 

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In these two pieces and other, similar works, Five Words in Neon and Glass One and Three, Kosuth forwards tautological statements, where he works literally are what they say they are. At the time, Kosuth was interested in ‘linguistic anthropology’ and the effect language has on the way we see and represent the world. He made a number of such works combining everyday things with photographs and descriptions or definitions translated from English into other European languages.

In addition to his artwork, he has written several books on the nature of art and artists.Like the Situationists, he rejected formalism as an exercise in aesthetics, with its function to be aesthetic.  Formalism, he said, limits the possibilities for art with minimal creative effort put forth by the formalist. He further argued that the “change from ‘appearance’ to ‘conception’ (which begins with Duchamp’s first unassisted readymade) was the beginning of ‘modern art’ and the beginning of ‘conceptual art’.  Kosuth explains hat works of conceptual art are analytic propositions.

Since 1968, Kosuth has been a faculty member of the School of Visual Arts.  In 1969, the artist organized an exhibition of his work, Fifteen Locations, which took place simultaneously at 15 museums and galleries worldwide.In his 1969 essay “Art after Philosophy”,  Kosuth argued that traditional art-historical discourse had reached its end. In its place he proposed a radical investigation of the means through which art acquires its cultural significance and its status as art. Kosuth Commented,“Being an artist now,” “means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art . . . That’s because the word ‘art’ is general and the word ‘painting’ is specific. Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art”. Along with other Conceptual artists Kosuth waged an attack on conventional aesthetics that has informed the strategies of a younger generation. From Kosuth’s initial enterprise, these artists have inherited a deconstructive approach to art in which a critique of the production of meaning takes precedence over the communication of meaning. “The ‘value’ of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art” – Kosuth   

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