Art & Language Chapter 3

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S.R.: But when I put it right, can you find something, can you find a practice maybe that is or was a strong influence on your work. For example you were talking about post-, [...] late-minimalism or critical opinions on late surrealist influences or practices. So if you would focus –  do you have something like an influence in the history of art or would you say no, we conceive ourselves as a part of the whole modernist movement? [...]

Mel: We both do and don't conceive ourselves as being part of the modernist movement and there were a lot of influences. I mean for example Judd, Morris, Robert Smithson. their writings as well as their work. The fact that a lot of that writing came out in »art forum« was read in England, where the work wasn't seen, just photographs. [...] Those were the first artists [...] in Artforum who seemed to plausibly be able to defend their own work. So there was a lot of influence...

Michael: And as a non-artistic influence in the 60s, the later work of Wittgenstein was published. And this was something of a revelation in the sense of one of the implications of that work was that [...] we could not easily bifurcate or separate our perception and our description, that seeing something and describing it were usually so interlocked as to make it quite frequently impossible to tear them apart.


Michael: But these influences again [...] there were many. I mean Barnett Newman was extremely influential, in as much as Barnett Newman had a rather pretentious approach to explaining his work for example. It was rather interesting. There were many things. It came in large measure from... certainly for a person who was not American. First time I went to the United States was in 1965. I was 19. But the »Weltanschauung« from which this material erupted in our minds – with the exception of the Wittgenstein connection – was in American painting, was in modernism, was in the Greenbergian hegemony and so on. Clement Greenberg, negatively or not, is therefore a powerful influence, on what drove, negatively, the conditions of our production [...] in the mid 60s.


Mel: I mean, even dematerialization which we practiced of sorts for a moment. [...] Because one of Michael's works, [...] »The Oxfordshire Show«, which was the nomination [...] of a block of air above Oxfordshire as a work of art. It was invisible. The only way that you could make it count [...] as a work of art somehow was to write about it. The point is, was the block of air the work of art or was the text written about it the work of art?

Michael: That's what I said, the art of appropriation immediately became problematic. And then if you write about it, in what particular genre do you write about it? Do you write about it in terms of chemistry, physics, of a sort of poetry? The thing [...] that drove me almost to distraction about a large number of American artists who were involved in conceptual art was their assumption that their language was transparent. That you could make this act and it was a perfectly transparent thing. Again through the agency of people like [...] Willard Van Orman Quine, Wittgenstein and so on, what I began to realize that one's language was opaque [...]. And it seems entirely invidious to expect to have a critique of, among other things, the institutions of art, and to have no critique of the apparently and fraudulently transparent language that they thought they transacted its business in.

Mel: You see there's a couple of ways you can point to a column of air over Oxfordshire as being a work of art. You can get the sentence and put it in a frame and say there's a column of air over Oxfordshire and it's a work of art, and sign it. Or you can think about how and what the conditions are, whereby you assert this column of air over Oxfordshire as a work of art and then things start getting complicated. And then you get to somebody else and they have something to say and then a whole conversation starts, [...] not just something which is a pictorial replacement of a painting. but a conversation starts.

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