Kosuth Chapter 1

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S.R.: Which practice in the history of art is or was the strongest influence on your work?

J.K.: This question presumes that it was one. In fact it was a sort of bouquet as you say of influences, both internal, in terms of my own problematic I was trying to resolve, a view to art history which I realized quite recently, quite shortly thereafter which was essentially the collapse of modernism, but I quite saw this in artistic practical terms, initially. And on one hand those were what we said the internal aspects. Externally it was a variety of –  first my second interest was always philosophy and looking for a resolution and the fact that I was really interested in art, in art there was a fantastic potential to address certain things that I had when I was a painter and couldn't answer. And how could you make art that wasn't painting when in fact the conception of art was painting and sculpture as it is in modernism. I couldn't paint anymore I didn't believe in it but in the same time I wanted to make art. It was really the investigations of Wittgenstein, which I found very very useful. Also very formative was... I was given a typescript, a translation of Walter Benjamin, before he wasn't really published and known in the States and this was influential. The Argentinian writer Borges in a certain relationship with taxonomy I found also extremely useful and enriching. Within art itself, I was... the two artists I was most interested in on the one hand Marcel Duchamp and on the other Ad Reinhardt, and I was trying to find a resolution between these two artists. I was very interested in aspects of Pop art, aspects particularly of Rauschenberg's and Warhol's use of photography, but at the other hand, the issues of the collapse of modernism for me it came out of Jasper Johns, that idea that we had inherited an idea that the painting was really a window to another world and there was this fictive space that one entered. And when he painted the «Flag« and «Target,« all of a sudden he made a he made a peg at that window. Because the question – you looked at that flag and you said: is that a window to another world –  the flag is in – , or is that a flag that's an object –  in the room I'm in –  . This act made the language of painting – which must be transparent to be believable as all language must opaque. And in that point you put the project in Frank Stella they were painted objects in the room you were in, he pushed it right over the line. Resolutions there you found in Judd, because Judd, who had been a painter, found his resolution of painting problems was to make objects which, this is very important, I think, were not sculpture at all. He spoke very clearly that they weren't sculpture. It was not a painting nor a sculpture. Later the market decided they were sculpture and they had a cultural life as sculpture, and he gave up the fight, which is the sad part of Judd I think. He left the market define the meaning of his work in the way I think was very judgmental in fact. The generation that preceded me, the Minimal artists, that's why one can really see that it was the last modernist movement, they resolved the end of the mess that Greenberg made where a painting really became a kind of necktie for over the couch; the Minimalists did their best. But I think that it was really up to my generation, my working context to raise the issues of language and context. The language is always there, the question is whether you deal with it critically at the frontdoor or if you let come it in uncritically through the backdoor – I realized that. The only way of taking political responsibility for the production of meaning was to deal with the language from the front door, critically, and use it, put it up front, deal with language issues. But I don't know, was that an answer to your question?

S.R.: Sure. That was really really bringing to the point.

Joseph Kosuth »