new-york

Guy de Cointet

Greene Naftali Gallery

Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous Course in General Linguistics (published posthumously in 1916) defines language as “a system of pure values which are determined by nothing except the momentary arrangements of its terms.” Such a characterization—a radical proposition in its day—has over the years become largely taken for granted. Most people, it seems, would admit that words are tethered somewhat arbitrarily to what they signify (“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”), but however well-established the idea might be, we rarely see this premise of instability in action. For the most part, our day-to-day lives are governed by semantic assumptions; if we ask the appropriate vendor, for instance, “May I have a banana, please?” we expect to be handed a yellow, crescent-shaped fruit.

But in Guy de Cointet’s universe, such bets are off. Indeed, the artist—who was born in Paris in 1934 and

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