Whitehot Magazine

Final Week: 'The Verbal Visual': Reflections of (or “on”) Language and Art at Shin Gallery

Installation View of The Verbal Visual at Shin Gallery, New York 2023 © SHIN GALLERY


By WM, August 2023

In the heart of the diverse Lower East Side, Shin Gallery’s exhibition “The Verbal Visual” unveils a narrative of the uniquely human visual expressions of language. “There are two distinct languages,” sculptor Yaacov Agram observed, “There is the verbal, which separates people . . . and there is the visual that is understood by everybody.” 

The collection weaves modern art – including works by Robert Indiana, Ed Ruscha, and Lawrence Weiner – with Egyptian, Greek, Renaissance, and Early Modern textual artifacts. The exhibit’s works span an impressive 3,500 years. The collection is a salient historical retrospective, but it does something more interesting. It is an exploration of human communication and expression through time, a meditation on language as a living, evolving cultural artifact. 

Installation View of The Verbal Visual at Shin Gallery, New York 2023 © SHIN GALLERY

As you first walk in Joseph Kosuth’s "Art Made with A Rubber Stamp and Signed by Joseph Kosuth" invites reflection on authenticity and the value we place on ‘original’ works of art. This piece challenges the notion of the artist's hand as sacred, questioning the boundaries between art and replication, between creation and documentation. In a world where communication is instant and replication easy, Kosuth's piece becomes an icon for our struggles with authenticity and the evolution of creation in the modern age.

Walking deeper into the gallery, the intricately embroidered pigeons in Duke Riley’s "Army of the Night" with their delicate and precise stitches, are more than aesthetic; they hint at the primal, natural roots of our complex communication systems and subtly hint at the parallels and connections between birdsong and language. 

Installation View of The Verbal Visual at Shin Gallery, New York 2023 © SHIN GALLERY

The "Carta Executoria de Hidalguía" of Juan de Nurueña y Alava, an illuminated manuscript from Spain dated May 8, 1622, stands as a testament to the dual nature of language. This beautifully crafted document, with its ornate calligraphy and vivid illuminations, is not merely an object of art; it is a legal document that conferred nobility. It is a poignant reminder of how language can be wielded to both elevate and separate, serving as a tool of privilege and division as Agram described.

Each work offers a unique tapestry woven from the threads of literature, religion, culture, art, history, geography, identity, sculpture, politics, and coloniality. At the intersection of these diverse concepts is language - a kind of living, evolving cultural artifact itself. Not in a traditional sense, but like physical artifacts, languages are created by human beings, it serves as a record of human history and culture, and it is a representation of culture and identity. While language itself is intangible, it is manifested in the tangible forms you will see in this exhibition. These products of language, both modern and ancient, are physical artifacts that represent the intangible heritage of language.

Installation View of The Verbal Visual at Shin Gallery, New York 2023 © SHIN GALLERY

Language, as traditionally understood, is a system of symbols and rules, uniquely human, utilized to communicate complex thoughts and emotions. Here, in this space, language takes on a dual persona—both as the verbal codes that can separate us and as the visual symbols that unite us under a shared human experience. It is through this duality that the exhibit crafts its narrative, showing us that language, in all its forms, is more than words—it is a profound reflection of our collective human journey.

In a world where language can be wielded as a political tool to divide, this exhibition stands as a celebration of the ways it can also unite. It urges us to approach language with care, to listen deeply to different voices, and to embrace the rich tapestry of human expression with empathy and understanding.

"The Verbal Visual" is more than an art exhibition—it is a profound exploration of who we are as a species. It is a testament to our innate need to communicate and connect, and a reminder of the power of language and art to shape, record, and reflect our shared human journey.

Shin Gallery, Through Saturday August 25, 2023, 68 Orchard Street, New York, NY. WM 



Whitehot writes about the best art in the world - founded by artist Noah Becker in 2005. 


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