Joseph Kosuth

16 may 2006 - 30 july 2006

Concetto, Corpo e Sogno (Concept, Body and Dream)

Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev


Concetto, Corpo e Sogno (Concept, Body and Dream) is a series of five exhibitions which will be held successively throughout the spring and summer of 2006. Solo shows will be dedicated to conceptual artists. Each exhibition gathers together works and more recent, or previously unseen projects, and is accompanied by an interview with each artist.

Thanks to the support of the Fondazione CRT Progetto Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, many of the works exhibited have become part of the museum’s permanent collection.


Joseph Kosuth (Toledo, Ohio, 1945) is one of the foremost Conceptual artists. Initiating language based works and appropriation strategies, his work has consistently explored the production and role of language and meaning within art.

Conceptual art developed in the mid-1960s as an artistic tendency that considered the practice of art to be essentially a signifying activity, and, unlike Modernism where the limits of the medium defined art, how one produced that meaning was not definitive of the work. In such work, the concept of a work of art is more important than its existence as a physical object. By exploring art and the effect of language, and culture in general, on reality, conceptual artists such as Kosuth moved away from traditional painting and sculpture. Long interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, in Duchamp and the notion of the Readymade, in Wittgenstein and the philosophy of language, Kosuth has explored the linguistic nature of propositions in various social, institutional, psychological, and ethnological contexts, expanding the traditional boundaries of the role of the artist.

Reacting against the cult of personality of expressionism, with its emphasis on the trace of the shaman in the physicality of the art object and its ritualized gesture, and, in general, against the kinds of meaning provided a priori by traditionally defined artistic media, by the mid-1960s Kosuth had staked out a radical position. Kosuth’s mission was to work within the realm of art, but at the same time to shift the object of artistic activity to a strictly intellectual dimension by focusing on the linguistic aspect of art. He rejected formalism and late Modernism and began to use means and materials that had not been part of the vocabulary of art until then, many of them installations utilizing photographs, forniture, and written texts, on walls or made out of neon tubes, and other forms of public media such as newspaper ads or banners in the street. Through the dematerialization of the traditional artwork and the presentation of various sorts of signs, the work of art itself became a linguistic sign and an investigation that did not illustrate anything, and voided traditional external referentiality, symbolism or metaphorical content beyond itself. Art became for Kosuth an interrogation of how its meaning is manifested. For this artist, such a signifying practice also had political implications: knowing how meaning is manifested in art tells us much about how our culture produces consciousness.


Kosuth began applying his Conceptual methodology with early works such as ‘Clear Square Glass Leaning’(1965), which is comprised of what its title describes (four square sheets of glass against a wall). The tautological nature of this work (something that presents only itself and asserts nothing beyond itself) would later be articulated variously throughout his oeuvre. In other works from ‘The Protoinvestigations’ of 1965-1966, such as ‘One and Three Chairs’, he juxtaposes an object, its image, and its definition from the dictionary. Works from ‘The First Investigation’ of 1966-68 are a series of individual works under the form of photographic enlargements of dictionary definitions, all subtitled ‘Art as Idea as Idea’. After his early works, Kosuth’s linguistic interest developed in the direction of producing works which were both a test and a critique of the entire context of the production of meaning in art, and he has created since the late 1960s and early 1970s large-scale site and context-specific public interventions. These include numerous contextually-bound installations, many architectural interior projects as well as major exterior works for major European, U.S., Japanese cities. His work evolved to include, as well, curated museum installations merging art, architecture, design, and curatorial practice.


Kosuth’s seminal work, ‘One and Three Chairs’ is installed in gallery 19 on the second floor of the Castello alongside other two works of the late 1970s and late 1980s. Together these works give the viewer a valuable insight into Kosuth’s approach to art. They present the way in which meaninig is manifested as their intented meaning (the role of language in the conception, and perception, of a chair; the act of becoming aware of one’s own reading process; the effect of context on any appropriation or copy due to the context). On the roof of the Manica Lunga building and on the third floor of the Castello, in a gallery under the roof, the artist has placed two illuminated panels with texts (respectively, in Italian and in English). This site-specific project, titled ‘Seeing Knowing’ was conceived in 2004 for Rivoli and executed on the occasion of this exhibition. This work which quotes, Giovanbattista Vico, makes manifest how knowledge itself is constituted in the ‘knower’ (who makes knowledge his or her own and by thus doing allows for the object of knowledge to be constituted): ‘Create the truth that you wish to know; and in knowing the truth that you have proposed to me, I will make it in such a way that there will be no possibility of my doubting it, since I am the very one who has produced it’ G.V.


Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev