Magazine article Artforum International

Joseph Kosuth: Sean Kelly Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Joseph Kosuth: Sean Kelly Gallery

Article excerpt

Given the increasing number of "constituencies" that art institutions must serve, and their concomitant transformation into entertainment emporia, it is perhaps not surprising that the notoriously sober Conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth has yet to be the subject of a US museum retrospective. Sean Kelly Gallery's recent forty-year survey, whose contents were selected by the artist, reminded viewers why: Simply put, a concentrated dose of ascetic, language-based art makes for a visually numbing experience. What the exhibition offered instead--the elusive trail of an intermittently fascinating intellectual expedition--remains unlikely to win over any less than diligent crowd.

But perhaps this is as it should be. The show was titled "a labyrinth into which I can venture (a play of works by guests and foreigners)," the first half of which is drawn in part from Michel Foucault. A paragraph-long excerpt of a text by the influential thinker celebrating the freedoms granted by authorial evasiveness, which greeted visitors at the entrance, hinted at the self-awareness underpinning Kosuth's retrospective enterprise. Thirty-one discrete works in a wide array of media, from the artist's familiar white neons and dictionary-definition photographs to less well known sandblasted-stone tablets and prints on cloth, were dispersed among the nooks and crannies of a physical labyrinth conceived by the artist especially for the venue, itself covered in vinyl-lettered philosophical and literary quotations.

Many of Kosuth's recent works are site-specific, and the show's press release touted the installation's extension into heretofore inaccessible areas of the gallery. Yet no frisson of transgression accompanied this trespass, masked as it was by the rooms' uniformity; only an occasional patch of carpet indicated that one might be entering normally private territory. Instead, multipart site-specific works, including Whistler's Warning (c. …

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