At Sean Kelly, Joseph Kosuth Pioneers Conceptualism

THE DAILY PIC: Already in 1965, Kosuth was giving form to pure ideas.

OSEPH KOSUTH Installation view of ‘Agnosia, an Illuminated Ontology’ an installation by Joseph Kosuth.
Courtesy of Sean Kelly, New York.


THE DAILY PIC (#1457): I’m always amazed at how Joseph Kosuth managed to start making full-blown conceptual art when the mainstream art world was still obsessing over the colors and shapes, textures and lines of Greenbergian abstraction. This piece, called “Five Fives (for Donald Judd)” is from 1965, and it’s the earliest work in the survey of Kosuth’s “signage” works that is now entering its final days at Sean Kelly gallery in New York.

Kosuth’s 1965 piece isn’t miles from the formalism that was the order of the day when it was made; it’s right up against it, giving it a sharp elbow in the ribs. After all, it is about color and shape and space – it just insists that there can also be ideas behind the look of things. The piece, you could say, turns a mathematical sequence into one of the “specific objects” that Donald Judd, its dedicatee, identified as the next big thing in advanced art.

Another, more personal, reason I like Kosuth: My hero Andy Warhol recognized the value of his difficult art before most people did, in another refutation of the idea that Warhol was some kind of “accidental genius”, or even a straight-ahead fool who struck it lucky in his own work. Kosuth returned the favor by recognizing Warhol’s importance at just the moment when some Important People in the art world were dismissing him. Kosuth was one of the first people to spot the “fifteen minutes of fame” line as getting at something central in Warhol – even if in fact Andy may not even have coined the phrase. (©2015 Joseph Kosuth/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; photo by Jason Wyche, New York, courtesy Sean Kelly, New York)

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