Meditations on Nothing

Language based Conceptual art has always puzzled me, so I was pleasantly intrigued to contemplate Joseph Kosuth’s “Nothing Paintings “at the Sean Kelly Gallery. Selected from his well know series 'Titled (Art as Idea as Idea)’ these works present the idea of “Nothing” in paradoxically tangible form.  Here, the word nothing is presented in a series of square-format wall-text pieces on which definitions of the word “nothing” appear in white text on black ground. Each articulates various dictionary definitions ranging from one sentence to the more extended meanings and literary usages of the word.


As I see it, however minimal, Kosuth does not fail to neglect visual concerns altogether. There is a controlling minimal aesthetic throughout. Painterly concerns are evident in their uniformity of installation, composition, and color. All text is systematically centered on a void ground and the group coalesces into a total unit. Their austere surfaces and equidistant spacing call to mind the serial works of Donald Judd.  This anonymous format seeks to question the assumption of the artist as the special creator of a special kind of object. In Conceptual art the artist becomes nothing. A central motive here is to undermine or deny the supposed originality of the artist and the work they produce.  Ironically these works come with a certificate of authenticity (not to be exhibited) which thereby advertises each, not merely as a unique objet d’art, but a genuine Kosuth.  While it is pleasantly absurd to ponder purchasing “Nothing", but the question that remains is whether one is purchasing the object or the idea? 


Another text work is inspired by James Joyce's Ulysses. Here the names of his eighteen characters which form the titles of the book’s chapters are festooned in neon across the gallery wall. Time stamps appended to each title reify the novel’s non-linear narrative time in concrete form.  Lastly, I highly recommend a new installation by Kosuth which runs along the perimeter of the main space.  The work’s title is a play on Beckett’s most famous work, and is called 'Texts (Waiting for-) For Nothing'.  I apologize for having waited this long to publish the post that should have been done so much earlier, because this show ends on April 30.

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