Saturday, February 11, 2006

Joseph Kosuth, Spruth Magers Lee

Joseph Kosuth’s first solo survey show in London is a must see but, for anyone who didn’t know something about the artist, might seem like a homage to the power of neon lighting. The gallery is almost sizzling with the stuff. You’ve got to love Kosuth a bit, for the shades, for the dogmatic conceptual stance, for the sheer Kosuth-ness of his attitude. Dude! But at the same time he’s also pretty hilarious. Certainly, some of the works in this exhibition seem solipsistic in the extreme. I’ve seen many many art students go down the road of text based cod-conceptualism which tends to end up meaning lots of text written at funny angles or otherwise semi-obscured so that it is to all intents and purposes illegible. They appropriate the look of conceptual art rather than its content (I blame a basic misunderstanding of the structuralist term 'text' which actually means anything that can carry a meaning, rather than text per se).

But guess what? It turns out that the high priest has fallen into the same trap himself. While several generations of artists in the last 40 years have taken the ideas of dematerialisation, institutional critique etc and used them to open up an expanded vocabulary of a whole variety of material forms, Kosuth has been ploughing the same long lonely furrow.

I’m guessing that the artist himself was heavily involved with the curation of this exhibition, and it looks great. The long gallery has been divided up into several smaller rooms, painted institutional grey and each crammed with work from the last forty years. There’s the pane of glass (Any 2 by 2 metre pane of glass leant up against the wall, from the early 60s), there are some dictionary definitions, some photos of clocks. It’s a lot like a museum show. Then there are the more sprawling neons from the 1980s that add a degree of sensuality through handwritten red text, and some huge wall pieces that give you a crick in the neck as you stumble across the room trying to read them. But it’s too much, you just can’t read it all. So you end up looking at them as images. The linguistic content becomes pretty much irrelevant, whether it’s philosophical quotes about the nature of art, or newspaper clippings about phallocentrism.

I don’t know, maybe it could be a failure on my part. I’m lazy. On the other hand, when did art become such hard work? Plus, when you do actually read through one of these pieces in its entirety you invariably end up thinking “so what”, and wondering why he didn’t just hand out a bunch of photocopies instead. Kosuth doesn’t actually offer much else. Unlike some of his peers like Art & Language, for instance, who have moved on and developed ways of making serious artistic points that seem to take the contemporary situation into account much more. Time has moved on.

So it’s a good show, interesting to see what he’s been up to all these years, but hardly earth shattering. Incidentally, I sat next to someone at a wedding last year who turned out to have worked as the nanny for his kids several years ago, and she said he was very particular about turning the lights off. Say no more.


Anonymous canvas art said...

Love neon artwork

3:25 pm  

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