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Art & Language at Rhona Hoffman

by Robin Dluzen

 

Michael Baldwin and visitor.

The highly anticipated Art & Language exhibition opened at Rhona Hoffman Gallery Friday, February 19, 2010. This heavily theoretical movement has a fluid cast of collaborators including Ian Burn, Joseph Kosuth and Mel Ramsen, and the founding Britain-based members, Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin. What is on display in the gallery spaces is a collection of framed works on paper, ranging from laser-printed works of text, to acrylic paint on photographs composing what is understood to be the group’s theoretical interests made into the actual art objects; basically Art & Language’s criticisms of the nature of conceptual art are literally the works, not merely an application or documentation of the concepts of the movement.

The chosen works for exhibition are from various points in the group’s forty-year period,

"Drawing for Index 18," 2002

however, considering the fact that individual makers of the group more or less surrender their authorship under the group moniker, and that the exhibition varies in content, material and style, a chronological understanding of the work is difficult to decipher. One of the signifiers of chronology, besides the exhibition list, is the employment of newer technology as it appears, for instance the laser print, Now they May be, from 1992. Formally, the works vary in their relationship to observers; works like Now they May be or Study for Projekt ’74 index, from 1974, consist only of systematized text, while the series, There were Sighs Trapped by Liars, dated between the ten year period from 1997 to 2007, engages with the notions of material, illusionistic space, and metaphor of works with more recognizable formal consideration. What accounts for this formal shift in interest, from a severely conceptual practice to one that seems to have had care taken in its aesthetic properties? Perhaps it is, as has been Art & Language’s intention from the beginning, a means to subvert the structures of Conceptual Art; in other words, what could be better to undermine Conceptualism, but with formalism and aestheticism? Maybe an abandonment of thoroughly conceptual language is the only means in which the group’s criticism can be realized or continue to be poignant.

 

Detail of "Drawing for Index 18," 2002

Admittedly, it takes a lot of effort on the part of the casual, younger, or more uninformed viewer to interpret this exhibition; sometimes it is difficult to truly assess the content, or meaning of what one is looking at here on the gallery walls. Even though attendees of the exhibition are presented with a whole handful of papers containing descriptive information about the group and the individual works themselves, it does still necessitate a pretty extensive prior interest in the subject, and Art & Language itself, to passively enjoy in the manner of other genres of fine art; the Art & Language show demands of its audience an active role in the dialogues to which the group has invested their forty-year efforts for intellectual freedom from authoritarian artistic establishments.

This exhibition is on display February 19 through March 27, 2010 at 118 N. Peoria Street, Chicago.