Joseph Kosuth bathes gallery in sig­na­ture neon for first Aus­tralian survey

Tim Stone
The Art Newspaper, 16 October 2017

Exhi­bi­tion brings high priest of con­cep­tu­al­ism to Mel­bourne Inter­na­tion­al Festival

The first sur­vey in Aus­tralia of work by the US artist Joseph Kosuth opened this month at the Anna Schwartz Gallery in Mel­bourne. The show includes 19 works select­ed from across Kosuth’s career. 
Joseph Kosuth was a mere 24 years old when he penned the influ­en­tial Con­cep­tu­al art text Art After Phi­los­o­phy (1969). Its pub­li­ca­tion cat­a­pult­ed the US artist into a van­guard that includ­ed Sol LeWitt, Don­ald Judd, Robert Mor­ris and Daniel Buren. 
In the late 1960s the US was deeply divid­ed. Anti-Viet­nam War ral­lies were a reg­u­lar occur­rence, and an entire gen­er­a­tion demand­ed wide­spread social change. Clement Green­berg, the con­ser­v­a­tive art crit­ic, became a tar­get for up-and-com­ing artists. 
Green­berg reduced every­thing but for­mal­ist art to nov­el­ty art. Yeah, well, who wouldn’t be angry? It was stu­pid and it was wrong,” Kosuth tells The Art Newspaper. 
In Art After Phi­los­o­phy, Kosuth railed against the for­mal qual­i­ties of the art object and cham­pi­oned an art-as-idea argu­ment. The impact was imme­di­ate and far-reach­ing. When Clement Green­berg came to Saint Martin’s [art school in Lon­don] to give a lec­ture, there were some stu­dents that fixed some speak­ers on the roof and read my text over his lec­ture,” Kosuth says. Kosuth sensed he was on to some­thing, and in 1969 insert­ed Con­cep­tu­al art text pieces in sev­er­al news­pa­pers around the world, includ­ing The Her­ald in Melbourne. 
Joseph Kosuth’s Self-Defined Object [Orange] (1966)

The exhi­bi­tion, part of the Mel­bourne Inter­na­tion­al Art Fes­ti­val, of which Kosuth is a guest, takes up two floors of Anna Schwartz Gallery. Sev­en­teen works in neon and one light­box buzz away in a large white-walled down­stairs gallery, while a sin­gle wall-mount­ed neon work from his Ety­mo­log­i­cal Series — W.F.T. #1 [Yel­low] (2008) — occu­pies the entire upstairs gallery. 
The three ear­li­est works in the exhi­bi­tion — Neon (1965), Five Fives (to Don­ald Judd) [Ruby Red] (1965), and Self-Defined Object [Orange] (1966) — are among Kosuth’s first for­ays into the com­mer­cial light­ing medi­um of neon for which he is now best known. 
Neon, a gas in con­stant flux that is unable to bond with oth­er mol­e­cules, is a near-per­fect medi­um for Kosuth’s art. The propo­si­tion that art is a ques­tion that can nev­er be answered has afford­ed Kosuth a seem­ing­ly end­less inves­ti­ga­tion into what art is: The ques­tion about art is about why, not how,” he adds. Pic­tured: Joseph Kosuth, Self-Defined Object’ [Orange] (1966) and W.F.T. #1′ [Yel­low] (2008). Photog­ra­phy: Zan Wim­ber­ley. Cour­tesy of Joseph Kosuth and Anna Schwartz Gallery.
• Joseph Kosuth: A Short His­to­ry of My Thought, until 25 Novem­ber, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Mel­bourne, Australia
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