Noah Becker's whitehot magazine of contemporary art

May 2011, Joseph Kosuth @ Sean Kelly Gallery

Joseph Kosuth, 'Ulysses, 18 Titles and Hours', 1998.
Neon, transformers
Photograph: Jason Wyche, New York

Joseph Kosuth, 'Texts (Waiting for-) for Nothing', Samuel Beckett, in play,' 2011
Neon, transformers
Photograph: Jason Wyche, New York


Joseph Kosuth: 'Texts (Waiting For-) for Nothing' Samuel Beckett, in play
Sean Kelly Gallery
528 West 29th Street New York, NY
10001 March 30 through April 30, 2011

Joseph Kosuth is a writer's artist. He values the subtleties of language  and the conceptual minefield of philosophy. Kosuth's obsession with meaning and context denies a superficial reading of his work any satisfaction. The colors and forms speak for themselves. One rarely benefits from a formal analysis of Kosuth's work. His strength comes from a relentless enthusiasm for challenging the viewer, refusing to give them any easy aesthetic outs. Sean Kelly Gallery recently presented an array of work, entitled 'Texts (Waiting for --) for Nothing', Samuel Beckett, in play, spanning Kosuth's career. The exhibition explores several of his prime modes of communication and emphasizes the misconstrued ambiguity of his conceptual art.

Ulysses (2008) is the introductory piece in the exhibition and highlights the dexterity of meaning. The work is based upon James Joyce's epic, and notoriously obscure, novel of the same name. Joyce took pride in the perplexing plot and dialogue of the eighteen episodes that describe a day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Kosuth extracted each episode's title and linked it to the time discussed in the book. White neon script fuses with the hum of the neon itself. The viewer relocates to their inner sanctum of thought. If Ulysses wasn't on the audience's sophomore year reading list, the installation lacks contest. Are the titles that circumnavigate the room at different heights corresponding with tone or sentiment? Does each span of time parallel a particular sentiment? In his ambiguity, Kosuth emphasizes the inadequacies of language. Despite hinting at Joyce's Homeric references and the importance of time, the simplification is lost in an abysmal web of allusions.

The poignant shapelessness in Ulysses is juxtaposed with the accessibility of Titled (Art as Idea as Idea), also known as the Nothing Installation. This work was being shown in its entirety for the first time in the United States since its original incarnation in 1968. Kosuth stamped an assortment of definitions of 'nothing' to aluminum sheets, framed the sheets, and placed them in a single horizontal row at eye-level. The abundance of synonyms is imperfect, inefficient, and, thusly, human. Which definition is “best”? Kosuth forces the viewer to consider meaning, even with a word so widely understood, within the momentary silence of an art-viewing experience.

Kosuth calls upon the words of Samuel Beckett in the exhibition's title work, Texts (Waiting for --) for Nothing (2011). Kosuth identifies with Becket's incessant, Kafkaesque search for meaning. Waiting for Godot and the lesser known Texts for Nothing meld in a continuous stream of white light along the upper echelon of an ebony room. Kosuth exposes the waiting game of Vladamir and Estragon in Godot and their inability to break from the suspense. Uniformity, specifically the grey skies and "dim omnipresent light" in the text, summons a fear of plateauing and its subsequent mediocrity. Kosuth battles this paranoia aesthetically by denying the ability to see all the words in the installation simultaneously. He enforces an interaction with the room rather than a stationary viewing experience. The obligatory stroll also surrenders the body to Kosuth's singular search for meaning. The audience looks up as if in praise or veneration to ennui. The concentric saunter attaches the viewer to the space. Repetitive reads allow memory to inject meaning into the words and inform the work through individual experience.

In these three colossal works, the extent of Kosuth's fascination with meaning is unequivocal. He provides a challenge to his viewers based on their intellect and memory, supporting Manifestation, Not Description ('No Number #2 (Not on a Color/Blue), 1991). Kosuth believes culture is an implied component of society, and thusly artists must "attempt to see questions rather than 'supply' solution" and make a difference. Meaning is a cyclical beast, revitalized with each generation and dependent on experience rather than hear-say. In his adoration of open-ends, Kosuth is the embodiment of the powers of suggestion.

Installation view of Joseph Kosuth
'Texts (Waiting for-) for Nothing' Samuel Beckett, in play at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.
Photograph: Jason Wyche, New York

Joseph Kosuth, 'Titled (Art as Idea as Idea)', 1968
10 mounted photographs each: 48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm)
Photograph: Jason Wyche, New York


Joseph Kosuth, 'Texts (Waiting for-) for Nothing', Samuel Beckett, in play,' 2011
neon, transformers (Detail)
Photograph: Jason Wyche, New York

Joseph Kosuth, 'Texts (Waiting for-) for Nothing', Samuel Beckett, in play,' 2011
neon, transformers
Photograph: Jason Wyche, New York


Lynn Maliszewski

Lynn Maliszewski is a freelance writer and aspiring curator/collector residing in New York City. She can be reached at

PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Norman (

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