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b. 1945, United States

Joseph Kosuth Biography

Often described as the father of conceptual art, Joseph Kosuth engages with art as an idea and explores the relationship between objects and the words that attempt to define them. In his seminal essay 'Art After Philosophy' (1969), Kosuth calls for artists to use their practices to question what art means and what it means to make art.

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In his own practice, Kosuth does so by engaging directly with pure distillations of concepts, prioritising critical discourse over aesthetics. In this way, Kosuth questions the methods with which one may present concepts in language, and the role of language and meaning in art.

Kosuth began his practice as a painter before turning away from traditional styles and structures of creation. He came to consider such media to be inherently taking for granted the notion of 'art' as a stable concept, thus unable to act in revolutionary ways. Later in his life, he would say that just as one may go to an art store and buy tubes of readymade paint, so too may he mine materials from the history of philosophical thought and create his art with them: 'A shift from "how" to "why"'.

Joseph Kosuth's One and Three Chairs (1965)—made when he was only 20 years old—is perhaps one of his most well-known works. It was part of his 'One and Three' series, in which he would present installations of three items: an object, a photograph of the object, and an image of the dictionary passage that defines the word for that object. In One and Three Chairs, a chair is presented alongside a 1:1 scale photograph of the same chair and the definition of the word 'chair'.

One and Three Chairs illustrates three ways of being a chair, each equally valid to the other. In doing so, it questions how we come to understand the object, the object's containment in the word, and the word's containment in the object. In works such as this, the objects themselves are not special; Kosuth prioritises conceptual skill over physical skill and does not attempt to elevate the craft of any one element.

Another strain of Kosuth's practice exists within a structure of 'curatorial installations'. In this method, Kosuth brings together other artists' works to make his own. A well-known example of this is his 1967 exhibition, Fifteen People Submit Their Favorite Book, at Lannis Gallery, with contributions from artists such as Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson and Ad Reinhardt.

In Kosuth's series 'First Investigations', displayed works are accompanied by certificates for sale that state the work may be made and remade for various exhibitions. This action attempts to locate the art in its idea rather than its physical manifestation. 'First Investigations' distilled the actions of the 'One and Three' series to focus on the containment of meaning in words. For the series, Kosuth would present the dictionary definition of a word (for example, water) on the gallery wall. In doing so, he removed the art object entirely in favour of words and the essential provocation.

Kosuth initially took his inspiration from thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sigmund Freud. He was interested in how Freud changed humanity's ideas of personal and social identity within Western paradigms, and in Wittgenstein's analyses of language. In 1993, Kosuth received not only the Menzione d'Onore at the Venice Biennale, but also the Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. He first taught in 1967 at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and has since acted as visiting professor for several institutions including the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart, Yale University, Pratt Institute in New York, and Oxford University.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2017

Joseph Kosuth
featured artworks

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'Existential Time #17' by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture
Joseph Kosuth 'Existential Time #17', 2020 Warm white neon, clock with added neon and sped-up, mounted directly on the wall
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
One and Three Saws [Ety.] by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture, photography
Joseph Kosuth One and Three Saws [Ety.], 1965 Two black and white photographs mounted on board, saw
85 x 127 cm
Cardi Gallery Request Price & Availability
Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) #1, [Chinese] by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture
Joseph Kosuth Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) #1, [Chinese], 2018 Orange neon mounted directly on the wall
21.3 x 80.5 cm
Almine Rech Request Price & Availability
'Object and Subject' [Cobalt Blue] by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture
Joseph Kosuth 'Object and Subject' [Cobalt Blue], 1966 Cobalt blue neon mounted directly on the wall
10 x 285 cm
Sean Kelly Request Price & Availability
Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) #1 by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture
Joseph Kosuth Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell) #1 Cobalt blue neon mounted directly on the wall
18 x 94.1 cm
Almine Rech Request Price & Availability
Self-defined object by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture
Joseph Kosuth Self-defined object, 1966 Yellow neon mounted directly on the wall
11 x 173 cm
Sprüth Magers Request Price & Availability
There was nothing to it by Joseph Kosuth contemporary artwork sculpture
Joseph Kosuth There was nothing to it, 1988 Warm white neon mounted directly onto the wall with white bar neon mounted over the text
12 x 171 cm
Sprüth Magers Request Price & Availability
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Joseph Kosuth
recent exhibitions

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Joseph Kosuth
represented by

Almine Rech contemporary art gallery in Brussels, Belgium
Almine Rech Brussels, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai
Sean Kelly contemporary art gallery in New York, United States
Sean Kelly Los Angeles, New York
Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany
Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles, New York
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Joseph Kosuth
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