Joseph Kosuth: A Short His­to­ry of My Thought

Tiarney Miekus
Art Guide Australia, 6 October 2017
Amer­i­can artist Joseph Kosuth once said of his work, All I make are mod­els. The actu­al works of art are ideas.” As a lead­ing fig­ure in con­cep­tu­al art since the 1960s, Kosuth’s bold neon state­ments, self-ref­er­en­tial signs and min­i­mal­ist instal­la­tions are fuelled by his thoughts and philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­nings. Anna Schwartz is pre­sent­ing a range of Kosuth’s text and neon light works, from the last 50 years, as part of Mel­bourne Fes­ti­val 2017. The ret­ro­spec­tive show, A Short His­to­ry of My Thought, strings togeth­er words, phras­es, dia­grams, images and quotes. This includes one of Kosuth’s well-known ear­ly works from 1965: the word neon” shin­ing in white neon on a black wall. The exhi­bi­tion also includes more recent pieces such as (Wait­ing for-) Texts for Noth­ing #6, 1999, which quotes Samuel Beck­ett who said, To be an artist is to fail, as no oth­er dare fail.” The show also high­lights Kosuth’s pen­chant for lan­guage games, as well as the artist’s cul­tur­al allu­sions and appro­pri­a­tions (in this case Beck­ett, Freud, Mon­dri­an and Dar­win, as well as news­pa­per com­ic strips).

As gal­lerist Anna Schwartz says, The exhi­bi­tion pro­vides an oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­sid­er how Kosuth’s work, for more than five decades, has engaged with major thinkers, writ­ers, philoso­phers and poets, select­ing appo­site and salient phras­es and thoughts to present these as res­o­nant con­cepts; as an artwork.”


Lan­guage is a key cor­ner­stone of Kosuth’s con­cep­tu­al mis­sion. The artist uses words and phras­es to recon­fig­ure the rela­tion­ship between ideas and how they are for­mal­ly expressed. Kosuth’s work con­sid­ers how art is cre­at­ed, while also seek­ing to under­stand how we con­struct mean­ing and arrive at aes­thet­ic judge­ments. For Kosuth, ques­tions about art can­not be answered with writ­ing, reflec­tions or crit­i­cism, but with art itself. In an 1996 arti­cle titled Inten­tion’ Kosuth wrote, Texts about art­works are expe­ri­enced dif­fer­ent­ly than texts that are art works.” Through such rig­or­ous ded­i­ca­tion to con­cep­tu­al­ism, Kosuth has cre­at­ed a body of work that is known for both push­ing and divid­ing audi­ences. View­ers of this work may be chal­lenged, pro­voked, amused,” says Schwartz. Yet they will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the work of one of the great liv­ing artists of the era they live in and to think about it.” A Short His­to­ry of My Thought Joseph Kosuth Anna Schwartz Gallery 7 Octo­ber – 25 November Pic­tured: JOSEPH KOSUTH, Neon’, 1965. White neon mount­ed direct­ly on the wall, 1240 cm. Cour­tesy Joseph Kosuth and Anna Schwartz Gallery.
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