Joseph Kosuth is a key figure in the redefinition of the art object that took place during the 1960s and 70s with the formulation of Conceptual art, which questions art’s traditional forms and practices, as well as the assumptions surrounding them. To do this, Kosuth was among the first to employ appropriation strategies, texts, photography, installations and the use of public media. With Kosuth, art itself is essentially a questioning process. As a result, all aspects of the activity of art has been reconsidered, from the function of objects to the role of the exhibition, and its installation, itself. The context of art—how it both produces meaning and is itself affected by the world—is reflected in two recent works of Joseph Kosuth, both constructed on the writing of Giordano Bruno. The installation in Pescara, included in the series ‘(A Grammatical Remark)’, 1988, can in fact also be seen as a parallel to the permanent work in the courtyard of the Galleria Nazionale in Rome, ‘De iis quae ad speculum et in speculo’. In his work Kosuth utilizes our inherited meanings – as in this case the Sixteenth century philosopher’s – to construct a new meaning of his own, one located in the present. His activity poses questions about the presentation and reception of art by approaching the very categories that define what art is. For Kosuth, the ‘visual’ is but one part of a complex structure which produces meaning within art, and not its sole basis. Since the 1960’s the elements in his work have all been employed from other contexts: philosophy, literature, reference books, popular culture, scientific theory and various other sources. As his practice was one of those that initiated post-Modernism, his work is concerned with meaning itself, not the use of forms or materials as an end in themselves. Thus he has utilized various formal solutions in his work while avoiding a practice which is media-defined in the traditional modernist sense.
In 1991 Jan Avgikos wrote about the work ‘(A Grammatical Remark)’: “As readers, we have an immediate relation to any text in the simple and preliminary activity of organizing marks as alphabetical symbols, words and sentences according to rules of grammar and syntax. The relation of reader and text, however, does not presume knowledge of the subject or meaning of the text, but only a material or structural correspondence; hence, we must qualify the immediacy of relation as that of a partial relation. Immediacy could be said to constitute a preeminent code for a partial relation in ‘(A grammatical Remark)’, 1988, and is powerfully reinforced by the spatial merger of the morphology of text and architecture. The reader literally enters into the text, walking its length, pausing at its punctuation marks, a physical activity analogous to the conceptual process of reading and constructing meaning. Art’s function as discourse that both informs and is informed by the culture that surrounds it finds phenomenological extension. The accidental relations that surround the work are incorporated as its constructive parts as well.” She further states, “The actual [original] quotation in ‘(A Grammatical Remark)’ is excerpted from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations I, and reads, in part: “A proposition, and hence in another sense a thought, can be the ‘expression’ of belief, hope, expectation, etc. But believing is not thinking. (A grammatical remark.)” The conceptual function of quotation marks signals a nexus of intersecting surfaces of meaning. Now the quotation marks as electrified looping cords and luminous neon pulse throughout ‘(A Grammatical Remark)’. They bracket the work environmentally and what they qualify is the equivocality of effective presence. Perhaps they indicate that the visuality of this work is a sign for a sign. Perhaps the sensual experience of white and wired words against a continuous wrap around black surface, is another low-level interference that, this time, short circuits the desire to possess works of art (the viewer’s, the market’s, history’s), and the belief that meaning could ever be distilled as a matter of presentation or style. The effective presence of meaning makes an appeal to perceptual experience, but only provisionally and always contingently. Considering effective presence as a type of speculative discourse, Lyotard’s observations are helpful. “…a proposition is posed which, when examined more closely, has the movement of disappearing through itself. Thus happens to it the object, represented as ‘its becoming’, that is ‘the concept in the process of moving and taking its determinations back into itself’… ‘The whole itself is never given in all in one; it is either not yet there, or already no longer there, or both at once… Meaning is consequently both ahead of itself and behind itself, anticipating itself in the singular formation, taking itself up again in the ‘life of the whole.’”
The series of installations, ‘(A Grammatical Remark)’ started in 1988 and has since then been shown in a number of locations around the world, among them Montreal, Budapest, Madrid and New York.
Presently one can view works by Kosuth permanently installed in Italy – in Venice on the facade of the Querini Stampalia, in Napoli in the Metropolitana at piazza Dante, in Torino near the ponte Vittorio Emanuele and at Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna in Rome. International public works, both permanent and temporary, can be seen for example in Germany – in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and at the German Parliament in Berlin, in Figeac in France, in Yokohama and Miyagi in Japan, at the Parliament of the Region of Brussels in Belgium.