Joseph Kosuth

Württembergischer Kunstverein

The floor was covered with gray carpet, the ceiling with penetrating, domineering tiles that created a gridlike pattern. I cannot think of another exhibition space in which I have seen less successful uses of the available space. Joseph Kosuth’s installation, A grammatical remark, 1993, is, by contrast, noteworthy. Though presented in his signature manner—a black room with white script—the connection it forged with the architecture of the space was more than just another declination of his concept of art. The viewer entered a boxing ring. The carpet floor became a floor of action. Surrounded by quotes from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Walter Benjamin, and Friedrich Schleiermacher, and cut off from the outside, the borders of the space were well-defined. What Kosuth probably envisions in all his installations was made crystal clear here: punctuation marks (comma, parentheses, etc.) made of neon tubing appeared as windows to the world, like daylight entering from the outside.

“Aspects of the technical interpretation are generally confused with aspects of the grammatical interpretation.” The quote from Schleiermacher began the line of text. In German this phrase is a chopped-up sentence fragment, but its invitation to apply the written word to the visual image is clear. The grammar of art is the architectonic context, and through signs the borders among the various systems are determined. Because of the size of the space, the sentences did not seem like coherent statements—by the end of the sentence the beginning was already forgotten. The borders between art and architecture, between visual and linguistic language, between statement and grammar could be physically felt here by walking along past the quotes and consciously fixing one’s eyes on them. The neon commas were seductive, giving the abutting words greater weight. The remaining words seemed to be held together more by a wire than by a grammatical or some other communicative structure. At the border between inside and outside, unity collapsed.

Kosuth refers to his work in the ’70s as a series of investigations that contain statements about art. Today he relies on architecture and quotes from philosophers, both of which posit conditions for perception that may not be confused with statements or explanations. All the quotes used here seem deeply meaningful, but really express nothing because the actual context is not clear, and neither is its application to the exhibition space. The struggle the viewer must enter here is over the question of the border between empirical and logical thought—on both the level of conceptual knowledge and of visual perception.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.