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Art & Language Comes to Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Kathryn’s Intro

“It is an astonishing but inescapable conclusion that we have reached.. the seemingly erudite, scholastic, neutral, logical, austere, even incestuous, movement of conceptual art is, in fact, a naked bid for power at the very highest level — the wresting from the groups at present at the top of our social structure, of control over the symbols of society.”
-Art-Language no.2 February 1970

I open Artforum and Rhona Hoffman Gallery has a full page ad for Art & Language, opening next week. My only thought was “Oh my God! Do we have this on the calendar?”

My passion for de-materialized art centers on the questions like: How far can it be taken? How anti-art can you get? I find their work of this group to be pretty close [1] to the top of the mountain of dematerialized art — because Art & Language  replaced art objects with an analysis of the art.

Today, as you read their work in books, you have to remind yourself constantly that that is not an essay, this is the artwork itself.

Art and Language: The Rebellion Within

Carrie McGath

It all really started with a mental breakdown. The Art and Language Movement of the late 1960s was born out of an disillusioning realization among many Conceptual artists that Modernism, which was a reaction against the traditional way of doing things — even that was becoming a tradition that needed to be rebelled against.

Conceptual Art in general, and the Art and Language movement in particular, was a rebellion against this Formalism. By this moment in the late 1960s, Modernism had become a commodity, and the resulting mental breakdown from this realization by many Conceptual artists became a manifesto of sorts, a passionate mission to create art that included philosophical discussion, linguistics, social science, and popular culture.

In 1968, artists Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin and Harold Hurrel (estranged art professors in Coventry in the West Midlands of England) officially named themselves Art and Language. The resulting journal, Art-Language, would become the catalyst for a discussion within art, a discussion that was lacking in Modernist Formalism. The issues were touted to be a journal of Conceptual art, but Art-Language was a constantly evolving and philosophically intricate arena for these artists and for the work of Art and Language. This publication was not language talking about art, but was instead language as art. This initial mental breakdown of these artists toward Modernism’s vapid and hermetic state by 1968, led the Art and Language artists to began a dialogue about art theorizing about art.
Throughout the 1970s, Art & Language dealt with questions surrounding art production, and attempted a shift from “non-Linguistic” forms of art like painting and sculpture to works seeped in theoretical practice. The Art & Language exhibited in the international Documenta exhibitions of 1972 and included Atkinson, Bainbridge, Baldwin, Hurrell, Pilkington and Rushton and the American editor of Art-Language, Joseph Kosuth. The work, titled Index, was eight metal filing cabinets, each with six drawers, on four gray stands. What was contained within this “index”? Issues of Art-Language of course. The issues were ordered meticulously: alphabetized and then sub-alphabetized with a nearby referencing system for viewers. Index was literally the archive of their movement, an artwork literally made of theory.

The issues and beautiful theory raised by Art and Language have become a deep aspect in the world of Conceptual art and will be aptly celebrated here in Chicago in a show curated by Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden.