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Joseph Kosuth at Sean Kelly
Artists are not always the best editors of their own work -- that's a job that more often falls to curators, critics, dealers and biographers. Moreover, artists don't always reveal their sources, motivations or feelings about their past exhibitions.
Not so for Joseph Kosuth. In this show of eight large color photographs, titled "Essays," the Conceptual Art maestro cannibalizes his own history in an unusual and brilliant way.
Ranging in size up to nearly five by seven feet, each of these elegant compositions features a documentary photo of an earlier Kosuth installation, plus new blocks of text set into the picture like a caption. Usually the texts are quotes by philosophers and writers, including Beckett, Joyce, Derrida, Foucault and Kristeva.
The results are both thematically engaging and formally inventive. They suggest an incongruous illusionistic space that refers at once to the grid, the printed page and the exhibition space. Among the works that appear in the photos are his 1965 neon piece Four Words Four Colors, and more recent installations at the Brooklyn Museum and at Documenta in Kassel.
Ironically, though these photos address the artist's past, they are unlike anything he has produced to date. Kosuth's work has always involved a kind of curatorial procedure, but the new pieces explore working methods and thought processes in a manner that may have been sublimated in his earlier work. This exhibition represents for the artist a summing up as well as a breakthrough. A bit of patience may be required to read all the texts, but this crash course in Kosuth was richly rewarding.
Joseph Kosuth, "Essays," Oct. 28-Nov. 25, 2000, at Sean Kelly, 43 Mercer Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.