Joseph Kosuth PDF



PDF dell'intervista 

JOSEPH KOSUTH. THE SENSE OF THE CENTURY

Miriam Mirolla, original interview published as: "Joseph il concettuale", in Ars, anno V, n.3 (39), Marzo 2001


MM: Recently, we saw you as a testimonial of a very famous coffee producer.


JK: Oh, are we starting with that?


MM: In that occasion, you utilized “Modus operandi”, a very fundamental statment in your conceptual aestethic. How do you combine, today, conceptual strictness and advertising economy?


JK: “Modus Operandi” is a series of works I made over the past eight years to show the mechanisms of presentational strategies. What the work is saying (“Modus Operandi”) establishes what it is doing, based on the context: it has previously funcioned as a book cover, as a rug, as a wall or room installation, and as a flag. The meaning of the work is dependant on all of the situational aspects external to itself, since ‘itself’ is an empty sign which merely designates what it is doing. In this way the material of the work has little actual substance beyond its social and culturale location – and it is more of a verb than a noun. Further, ‘substance’, in this case, consists of a declaration device that suggests a voice which simultaneously constitutes the work (the declared moment of process) as it proclaimes a critical distance. This work is, as well, an ironic, and critical comment on the reception habits of a more traditional view of art which often experiences art in terms of style.

In other words, I do not do endorsements, but if the situation comes up, which I can use for my work,  than I do it. And that was the reason. It wasn’t a commercial thing. However, , of the add, I didn’t know about it, they took my picture, I thought it would be in some little thing, nobody told me I would have been in all the magazines in Italy. So I was as shoked has everyone else. They were doing what they do normally, it was funny in the end. I became very famous for that, I think, locally, in the art world of course people know me how I look like...


MM: Do not you think this is a danger for contemporary art, to be used by commercial advertisements?


JK: Yes, I think that this is a serious problem, however there are ways in which some artists can do it, Warhol have been a perfect example, of how he really mean add material in his work in a way, but he is of course an exeption, and you can see on the other hand how that it can be when it is used badly, essencially Jeff Koons or Kostabi, and tooked as a licence to abdicate their responsability as producers of meaning. No, I am probably more critical than you, I think however there is a big difference between....a friend of mine Philippe Glass, the musician, he did an add for Durs Scotch...they were able to pay for the all opera with his add...Essencially artists do not work with forms, we work with meaning, and if the meaning activity becomes compromised you are in trouble: I mean, I don’t think one has to be moralist about it either, but I think there should be a serious concern. A part of the problem of the 80es, and why Transavanguardia, Wild Painting in Germany, Schnabel and Salle etcetera in America, why their work it seems so empty now is because the art market gave the meaning to it and so with responce for the artists to fight for the meaning of the work, and if you are selling products with your work, because what you have to fight is the market, the market is always...from that meaning, so that is way you loose a certain kind of  critical space. That doesn’t mean that in some situation one can’t use the situation to do work. I think one’s work must index itself to part of the culture at some level that is to say has to come from that horizon of mass culture which all of our conscious is formed. So, for example, my use of neon, on one hand I used it because it was part of signige of certain tradition in popular cultural signige, however, what I do with in neon, I use a tipography you normally don’t find in neon, I play with some of the semiotics of the typography which goes against.... like a sign for beer, but at the same time is a kind of shadow of its part of a cultural use, so it is a play of these elements...

I was a model for Comme de Garcons , some years ago, I wear the clothes, I wear blacks for thirty years, it was always difficult finding blacks, and voilà the giaponise came and they were getting black clothes, it was very funny I only brought my body  was getting cheks as a model. It gave me power, and power I can use for fighting for my ideas, I can also justify that.


MM: Your artworks doesn’t look like traditional painting nor sculpture at all. But in your 5th investigation of art you define your artwork as “the heritage of the western tradition without limits”. Which is in your mind the relation between tradition and avantguard?


JK: Avantguard became a tradition within the modernist context. I think that it appealed to oldest traditions already imbeaded for some hundreds of years, we can also do more than one description of overcome the modern period and in fact you find different disciplines call the modern period different dates depending on the discipline. You know, history it is only a defer about the period we call modernity, is it much smaller in the context of the visual arts, we limited pretty much since Manet, which is the 20 th century, better the 19th. So if you consider that a modernist period than one can see that there was of course the origin avantguard ......obiouvsly politically implications and what they spoke to was simply that the responsability of the artist in the production of the meaning of the work. That’s for me what the tradition came down to be, so that the artists understood that making art had to be questioning process of the nature of art itself and by extencion the nature of culture, society, politics etc.,

so that activity was the questioning one which was again back to the earlier question when you become part of the publicity that you loose that critical aspect  And this is what it is so problematic of it. So anyway I felt that are deep like Levi Strauss, you consider certain non superficial deeper embodied aspects of the responsibility of art, and arts and society, which permitts us to continue something in a way which is a tradition without a negative limiting aspect of a tradition. The conservative implication where on the surface tradition the using means that you have the authority of form... for example when Matisse was first exhibited at the Armory Show people writing and politicians were saying that young girls should not see the work  that corrupted, there was a really violent corruption against Matisse, now the most conservative forces in America, the most right wing republican wealthy people would have a Matisse and do have a Matisse painting in a living room, so it now began to associate itself with power and authority...


MM: Which is, let’s say, the Matisse of today?


JK: That’s a good question, I do not know, cause I am very hesitant to endorse a ...first you look at the work that are taken seriously by intellectuals, they don’t sell, well, than you begun to understand probably the work that is adventurist, if you look again at the 80ies we have this big phallocentric paintings by ...., right? And that was all the work that you saw at museums, reproduced in arts magazine, but the arts of 80ies in fact that remains and is important will be small photographes by women, you know, those big painting by those men seem to be link to people in the minds of rather ignorant collectors that are part of the communication anyway and led more money than culture in most cases... found that, they connect a Schnabel in their mind because it is painted on canvas with the Tiepolo and, because of the market’ scarsity, the prices go up.  So it is not about  any reflection of the historic value, it’s interesting fact that if you would go to buy a Picasso you would imagine that the most expensive Picasso’s would be the earlier and Cubist works, right? I mean, this is in everyone’s mind. This is not true at all, you can buy those for the cheeply to 3 million dollars. The painting that goes for 40 million, 60 million, are the paintings of the kitschy Picasso, because that is what the people wont. It’ s a Picasso, they know it’s famous, they do not know why exactly, and they are bigger and colourfull e they look more like art. The other one’s are kind of drury, gray and brown colours, you know, too intellectuals...Look at the different between a of Picasso and a  of Duchamp. I own of Broken Arm, I was able to own that because in ’85 his work and my work was signed for the same amount, and I was able to do a trade. It was only in this decade that Duchamp price began to go up at all, and even thought the greatest market price for Duchamp is 2 million dollars. So, just to give you some idea of how society reflects through economic engagement the value, how gives the value to the work.. My relation to that is a very strange one in some ways. I was also the most expansive conceptual artist because I was the first, and with my “Andre Breton” complex, I was a sort of the author pushing this idea. Robert Mapplelthorpe, who was a friend of mine, would always say to me: What’s your work on for now? And I tell him: it’s at 70 you know, 10 thousand dollars. He sad: Damn, and you are not even a real photographer! And I did not ever date my pictures, you know chairs and tables, why they would sell for so much more, it was a mistery to them. And at the other hand all my dealers believe me when I said painting was death, so they went out and they got of Brice Marden, Robert Mangold and Robert Ryhman, and they got all the last painters together, and began to show them and sell them. Well the market wants paintings, it doesn’t want videotapes, it does want push painted things on the wall, so the market for these paintings they sell for enormously more money than my work does. Same generation, pretty much. So am I expansive or am I cheep? I have no idea. And it’s always an older work of mine. If I do a new show now it will be the work of 5 years ago that some people buy, it won’t be what I am doing now. I never had the experience of doing a show and having it sold....


MM: Is the context always late in front of the artist’s ideas?


JK: Society’s engagement is late.


MM: When did you choose Rome and why?


JK: Rome was always my second city after NY, When I started I was very young. And I had like 30 shows  before I was 20. So I had collectors. When I was 26 Panza  bought 23 works in one year and a half. That was really the first time in my life I had some serious money and I came to Rome and I had dinner with Giorgio Franchetti, and e was in an informal way a teacher of mine about Italy. So he said Joseph, what are you going to do with all that money? I said: I do not know, Giorgio, Good, come with  me tomorrow. So with a car he took me to San Casciano dei Bagni where there was a farm 5 hundred years old house, quite a few ectars, you are going to buy this, and of corse I didn’t speak italian, my first gallerist Gianenzo Sperone was in Torino, so that was for me where I really started with Europe was in Italy, so I was comfortable, and I said we like here, and 3 days later I bought the farm in Tuscany. And so I would live in NY 8 months and I would come to San Casciano and that was a house without electricity, without telephone, and there I would work like “i contadini”, so it is a great context to work, people know that they can’t bother me and most of my work for the last 30 years , the important work was down there, as a result I would fell a little too much like a priest in the period I was single, so I would go to Rome for the life, Rome is the closest cvity, Florence is a little quiet...I needed a place in Europe, because I work here so much, first I lived in Belgium, I had 2 children in Belgium, but Rome is better, I have a lot of friend...


MM: Which are the italian artists that you get along with in Rome?


JK: My best friend when I was coming in Rome and I was out all night with normally was Gino De Dominicis, and always he would say Joseph, you must move to Rome and I said one day Gino one day, and the month I moved here, he died. It was really strange for me because I never saw him as personal living in Rome. It was so bizarre. Michelangelo Pistoletto and Emilio Prini, these are also artists I respect.


MM: At the end of the Cold War, how do you see the New global scenary in the artworld and which is the relation between Europe and America today?


JK: Well, I think that for a european artist you needed to have a sense of the century, and for that you have to go to NY, to feel you own time, someway. Amerca not having a culture that comes out of the earth, so they had to make a culture in time, Because of all the multeplicity of ethnical sorces, americans they ended up with that cliche of MacDonalds and Hilton Hotel, this kind of idea of things which have no place, but they transform you into always be an aeternal present. For the american artists I think there was a desire throughout the century to go to the source, the source of civilization, the source of  the discorse , and that was always Europe. This need to go to Europe, so it is like to have 2 ....of a dialectic seeking each other binding  between Europe and America. I think thought that begans to open up more to the rest of the world too....the period that the cold war ended I was really interested my family is a well known hungarian family, so I have this feeling of connection wuith eastern Europe, I had always a lot of mail from eastern Europe, my writing and my work  was ......from the very early 70ies and I had a real underground cultural life in the whole soviet ....I think i was the first western to do a show in a western style gallery in Budapest and I did a big show with Illy coffee in Varsaw with the Soros Foundation...  I was invited by Vaclav Havel personally to do a show at the .......Palace, and also when Achille Bonito Oliva was director of Venice Biennale he propose one point that the nation Pavillons invite non nationals and so I was invited by Ungarians to do the work in the Hungarian Pavillon and as I don’t really espect to be invited any time soon to the American one, I thougth it was a nice opportunity so I did the Pavillion.  You know I had these on going connection with eastern, it is very interesting the post communist period.......


MM: How did you start as a conceptual artist?


JK: It is always hard to say where something starts but certainly my personality was extremely introvert (?) I was born in a part of the country which is culturally deprived, in Ohio, in the middle of America, my father was a baseball player, he was from NY. How it ended up is really connected to that. I wasn’t that interested in sports at all, I was out of the social swim, I became very serious, it saved me in a way, it saved my mental life, properly my life. My identity as being artist is far back as I can remember and I never thought to do anything else in my life. As I got older and I got my 18, I was interested in philosophy and that was the second interest. I discover Wittgenstein. At a certain moment I had a crisis and it was both intellectual as well as personal crisis, which I realized that I did not believe in painting anymore. Not because of the philosophy is much, as because what I saw was happening in art. Jasper Johns made on me a big impression, I realized that a painting was always based on the idea of a fictive space, that it was a window to another world. And some of the painting was magical in a way different from the paint on the wall next to it. In the act of this pure painting, even when we begin to do abstract painting, we still have the magic space, well, what Jasper Johns did was to put the magic space right on the edge. In other words, was that a flag that was in that magical space? Or was that a flag th\at was in the room, in the reality in that you are in, for the same target?

So, he made a pick, what have been the trasparency of language, so that language of painting as art collapsed and the painting than begin to be just a painted canvas object and than you have to say: why use that object when there are so many objects that you could do that are not so heavy with history, heavy with prior meaning. Then we saw the paints of Frank Stella thake that even further, they really were painted canvas objects, believe me, and than the work of Judd to that further, and so that was the point of which that was going on one hand and I was watching, and we cannot forget also the importance of Pop Art and the ways on which meaning was being reorganized shall we say by Pop Art in terms of our conception of art. So these things were sort of fusing together for me Ad Reinhard was extremely important kind of persona, a guide of a kind and Duchamp was also an important question. I separete Duchamp very much from a lot of the aspects of Dada activity. There where things that were very clear, very usable, and I thing my writing about Duchamp really did a chang our conception of Duchamp even my enemies who write, who don’t want to give credit for anything, unknowledge that my writing on Duchamp made us really considering him  in the second half of the century, can we say, differently than he was understood in the first half. So all this was the atmosphere intellectually and than I realized that I could not paint anymore, but that I could still make art. And if I was still making art that was not painting, what would it be? For that I think Wittgenstein was very usefull, to find a way. So, works like “One and Three chairs” came out of that questioning process. So that was the period. Before “One and Three chairs” of course I was trying to find a work which was non formal, so I was thinking of the water, because the water was colourless and hade no shape until you put in the container so the water self was colourness and formless, and was still an object, it was still phisical, it was so sadly sweet, I was also only 20 years old....and than I realized the definition of water was one we did, to deal with it. So I did one definition of water and Ice and did the snowboat with different forms of water and than I put that down really and than I worked on “One and Three chairs”. Before even that there was the work “Sheets of glass that lead against the wall” and there the label was very important, it sa: Any 2 meter square sheets of glass to lean against any wall. So that the text of the label became really the work because the phisical part of the glass in a way was uninteresting and in a way violist it was only representing a space in which meaning was remouved essencially, as a way for asending meaning. So these were the first works.


MM: “One and Three chairs”, by the way, it sounds like having links with the christian dogma of Trinity. Has it something to do with that?


JK: No, I was never a good christian, I am not jewish, I am not anything. My father was chatolic and my mother have been some strange american  parson religion A kind of interesting story was that they had no religion, because they were both borned out in the youth by these religions and than they decide to have children, they should have some religion. So every Sunday my parents would take me to a different religion, like shopping, and what they created for me was a kind of  megalomania in which I would think why do not I start my own religion? In the end it was all so relativeized, you understand?


MM: Which is the relation between conceptual art and iconoclastic waves in culture in the world?


JK: Well, it is one of those questions, a question’s statment, and I should ask you what the answer is. Because I think that unlike other kinds of art mouvements, art mouvements tended to very much represent a style and what was interseting about Pop Art was that it was more than a style, it was really an attitude, that was one aspect of Pop Art that one has to consider, it wasn’t reduced to a style. But oterwise conceptual art was very much an attitude and an undestanding of history, I simply understood one day that I was not part of modernism and that my activity was something else after it, and it was an amazing thing. I felt it so strong because I begun to show at Leo Castelli when I was 24.  I have had a first show in ’69, but 3 years later I had the whole gallery. There was the gallery where everything would happened through the 60, Warhol and Johns, all my heroes, I realized that I was no closer  to Pollock than I was to Velasquez: When I had the show I put a thing on the wall in which I announce my work was post modernist, there was no work of post modernist at that time, but I could not think of another word to describe this feeling I had that this idea that one was working with meaning rather than forms and colours.

What I essencially realized was that and it is in Modernism in the form of Clement Greenberg formalism which was the last great modernist mouvement. That was non great art that came of it it was a theoretical child, a theoretical object of Greenberg and it was interesting that it was about the deadning of meaning. In some ways Conceptual Art when begane with this Post modernist thinking, it was going back to meaning and realized that that was the materials of artists.


MM: Which is the role and the limit of the “expression” in art?


To say that art is about expression is true, it is about expression, but that kind of true is “truistically tre”, in other words it is a truism, it’s meaningless, that is because it is so obiouvsly part of it. What’s interesting was a kind of a paradox, that. Expressionistic art, painting with the brush, in which is the brush is a machine of course and yu can only make certain kinds of marks, it’s a sentimental form of technology, in fact, it loaded with authority .........so that it clipses any meaning used in the individual artists with want to assert is already eclipsed by the meaning of the painting. Expressionism is a form of authority in which the great Judeo-Christian wichdoctor idea of heroic male is than put into a market context essencially. It is like the pieces of the 2 cross it is about the idea of christian reliquiary that fits perfectly with market scarcity, it fits perfectly with the idea of why  in so many cultures only a man can be a priest. Which is very intersting from a feminist point of view. There’s no grater paradox of women that are expressionist painters, you know.. It is a form of transvestitism at a certain level, so I mean the kind of art we can see for the next couple of decades I think probably will be made by women, simply because so many limits are attached to the male self conception of art and I think that what the culture needs is in fact what woman can give. Part of my political education has been feminism. In Italy man laugh when you say that, what we realized was that the men of massive things and we really need another mentality to bringing another point of view, another approach, so it is about a deliberation also of men as much as that of a liberation of women as we know the master is victimized as the slave is, in terms of being coopted up in a relationship. It’s a waste of human resource, we limit all the power we can get from half of society....It’s interensting that what expressionism expresses it is only Expressionism and if you look at work like mine it s very very personal very individual kind of work althought its not about myself I am not the subject of my work but in a way it manifests me and cultural life and my intellectual activities. But why shoudl anyone care about my personal life? If the work is value is value an a society level.. Ad Reinhard you would laugh, because photographers always wanted pictures of him shaving, in his undershirt or walking his dog to show he was a human, because they coud not see in his work the personal story  and art historian love the expressionist monographic tradition, this is really the standard by which artists are compared, because they like artist who don’t talk, who don’t like theorys, who make the paintings and shut up, and they can than make culture from that nature produced by the painter. My carrier has been a battle for 30 years because I refused to go along with that arrangement and I have had dealers telling me to stop writing, advising that I was ruing my carrier, you know...


MM: Which is the relationship between your Conceptual Art and Psychoanalysis?


JK: The way that the freudian theory manifested itself in the culture in many ways both directly and indirectly I found was very fascinating. I decided in a way to quote Freud, quote the practice, quote the Psychoanalysis and I work for 9 years with this., in the 80ies.

 

MM quotations

Previous Succ.
"Ogni artista della seconda metà del secolo nasce all'insegna dell'esperienza diretta o indiretta della guerra, e dal modo in cui risponde simbolicamente alla morte, alla perdita e al lutto attraverso la propria creatività" (Miriam Mirolla, 2001)
"Any individual, before he can be considered an artist, is an explosive mixture of collective biography and individual pathology" (Miriam Mirolla, 1999)
"Gli Stimoli Psycho-Pop sono degli autoritratti spietati, antigraziosi, ready-made psichici che conducono la nostra percezione verso il limite del guardabile" (Miriam Mirolla, 2011)
“Nelle diverse poetiche delle giovani artiste del nostro tempo riconosciamo un comune denominatore, ovvero la ricerca di una nuova fisionomia femminile capace di tenere uniti desiderio e creatività, corpo e mente, come mai la cultura patriarcale era riuscita a proporre finora”. (Miriam Mirolla, 2010)
“Grande è la fiducia che riponiamo nel giovane artista. Cosa ci aspettiamo? Semplicemente che cambi la storia introducendo suo malgrado un nuovo sistema di valori.” (Miriam  Mirolla, 2010)
“Mi chiedo quali siano le sensazioni e i pensieri di un giovane artista oggi, quali siano i suoi convincimenti e dove affondi il proprio ideale dell’io. Come siano articolati i suoi dubbi e i momenti di incertezza. I sintomi del malessere e le forme del benessere. Da dove tragga forza per difendere i propri contenuti emotivi e intellettivi. E quale possa essere il motore mobile della sua ricerca estetica.” (Miriam Mirolla, 2010)
“L’arte ha lo scopo di allungare il nostro sguardo sulle relazioni d’amore” (Miriam Mirolla, 2010)
“Il rapporto del soggetto con la presenza fantasmatica è il nuovo asse conoscitivo del XXI secolo” (Miriam Mirolla, 2010)
“La realtà più la sua interpretazione è oggi la linea maestra dell’arte, scopo e prospettiva, futuro dell’immagine e immagine del futuro” (Miriam Mirolla, 2010)

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