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Joseph Kosuth:

In a quote that encapsulates the premise of Conceptual art, Joseph Kosuth pronounced in 1969: "The 'value' of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art." For Kosuth, modern art is essentially self-reflective: its intention is to interrogate what art is, to define the concept of art. It is no longer a question of producing beautiful objects, but of producing questionable or problematic ones.

Duchamp, by putting a urinal on display in a museum, did precisely this: he forced the viewer to consider under what conditions we call something "art." As if in reply to Duchampís question, Kosuth answers that art exists in the artist's ideas rather than in the object itself. However, Kosuth does address the paradox: as an artist, he is consigned to produce objects, and yet he develops objects that cast off their identities as things and become pure ideas.

In "One and Three Chairs" (1965), 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.

In later works, Kosuth omitted the first two, leaving us with nothing more than the concept: he reduced his art to definitions of art. In 1966 Kosuth exhibited the dictionary definition of the word "painting" in simple, unadorned text. The work, titled "Art as Idea as Idea," shows the progression from reality to idea, from image to abstraction, and from abstraction to further abstraction. As the title suggests, art becomes an infinite reflection on itself, in which the "referent" -- the object itself -- is progressively transcended. It becomes an idea and then an idea of an idea. Obviously, the process goes on infinitely.

Since an idea is no oneís property, Kosuth allows art to slip beyond the museum, to become public. In fact, he attempts to disseminate the concept behind his art to the widest possible audience and to publicly defend the ideas inherent in his work. And yet, Kosuth does in fact produce actual objects, which exist in museums and private collections. Despite all attempts to reduce art to the idea of art, the object persists. Ultimately, materiality is unavoidable; like an irreducible remainder, it lingers in the wake of Kosuthís adamant idealization of art.

 

 

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