Art & Language

Art & Language is a conceptual artists' collaboration that has undergone many changes since it was created in the late 1960s. The group was founded by artists who shared a common desire to combine intellectual ideas and concerns with the creation of art. The first issue of the group's journal, Art-Language, was published in November 1969 in Chipping Norton in England, and was an important influence on conceptual art in the United States and the United Kingdom.[1]

First years

The Art & Language group was founded around 1967 in the United Kingdom by Terry Atkinson (b. 1939), David Bainbridge (b. 1941), Michael Baldwin (b. 1945) and Harold Hurrell (b. 1940).[2] These four artists began their collaboration around 1966 while they were art teachers in Coventry. The name of the group was derived from their journal, Art-Language, originally created as a work conversation in 1966. The group was critical of what was considered mainstream modern art practices at the time. In their work conversations, they created conceptual art as part of their discussions.[3]

Between 1968 and 1982, the group grew to nearly fifty people. Among the first to join were critic and art historian, Charles Harrison, and artist Mel Ramsden,[4]. In the early 1970s, individuals including Ian Burn, Michael Corris, Preston Heller, Graham Howard, Joseph Kosuth, Andrew Menard, and Terry Smith joined the group. Two collaborators from Coventry, Philip Pilkington and David Rushton, followed. The relative degree of anonymity held within the group continues to have historical significance in the art community. Due to an uncertainty of the exact member lists, it is hard to know unequivocally not only who all of the contributors were but also what their exact contributions were.

The first issue of Art-Language[5](Volume 1, Number 1, May 1969) is named The Journal of Conceptual Art. By the second issue (Volume 1, Number 2, February 1970), it became clear that there were conceptual art pieces and conceptual artists for whom and to whom the journal did not speak. In order to better encompass the purpose of the journal, the title was abandoned. Art-Language had, however, brought to light the beginning of a new art movement. It was the first imprint to identify a public entity called Conceptual Art. The journal was the first of its kind to serve the theoretical and conversational interests of a community of artists and critics, who were also its producers and users. While that community was far from a unanimous agreement as to how to define the nature of conceptual art, the editors and most of its historic contributors shared similar opinions about other art movements. Conceptual art was critical of modernism for its bureaucracy and its historicism, and of minimalism for its philosophical conservatism. The practice of conceptual art, especially in its early years of origin, was primarily based on theory, and its form, predominately textual.

As the distribution of the journal and the teaching practices of the editors and others contributors expanded, the conversation grew to include more people. In England, by 1971, artists and critics including Charles Harrison, Philip Pilkington, David Rushton, Lynn Lemaster, Sandra Harrison, Graham Howard and Paul Wood had joined. Around the same time in New York, Michael Corris joined, followed by Paula Ramsden, Mayo Thompson, Christine Kozlov, Preston Heller, Andrew Menard and Kathryn Bigelow.

The name Art & Language remained precarious due to the various interpretations of both the many pieces of art and the purpose of the group. Its significance, or instrumentality, varied from person to person, alliance to alliance, discourse to discourse, and from those in New York who produced The Fox (1974–1976), for example, to those engaged in music projects and those who continued the Journal's edition. There was disagreement among members, and by 1976, there was a growing sense of divide that eventually led to competing individualities and varied concerns.

Throughout the 1970s, Art & Language dealt with questions about art production and attempted a shift from conventional "nonlinguistic" forms of art, such as painting and sculpture, to more theoretically text-based works. The group often took argumentative positions against such prevailing views of critics like Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. The Art & Language group that exhibited in the international Documenta exhibitions of 1972 included Atkinson, Bainbridge, Baldwin, Hurrell, Pilkington, Rushton, and the American editor of Art-Language at the Joseph Kosuth. The work consisted of a filing system of material published and circulated by Art & Language members.[6]

New York Art & Language

Burn and Ramsden co-founded The Society for Theoretical Art and Analysis in New York in the late 1960s. They joined Art & Language in 1970-71. New York Art & Language became fragmented after 1975 because of disagreements concerning principles of collaboration.[7] Karl Beveridge and Carol Condé, who had been peripheral members of the group in New York, returned to Canada where they worked with trade unions and community groups. In 1977, Ian Burn returned to Australia and Mel Ramsden to the United Kingdom.

Late 1970s

By the end of the 1970s, the group was essentially reduced to Baldwin, Harrison, and Ramsden with the occasional participation of Mayo Thompson and his group Red Crayola. The political analysis and development within the group resulted in several members leaving the group to work in more activist-oriented political occupations. Ian Burn returned to Australia, joining Ian Milliss, a conceptual artist who had begun work with trade unions in the early 1970s, in becoming active in Union Media Services, a design studio for social and community initiatives and the development of trade unions. Other members from the United Kingdom drifted off into a variety of creative, academic and sometimes "politicized" activities.

At the beginning of the 1970s, there were about thirty members. The Art & Language group emphasized the use of language on the theory that language is the basis from which ideas and concepts are built. Their philosophy was that language permits index words which appear, disappear, and for some even persist, thus allowing viewers and artists alike to analyze the evolution of a word through the proposal of different definitions.

Exhibitions and awards

Awards and critics

In 1986, Art & Language was nominated for the Turner Prize. In 1999, Art & Language exhibited at PS1 MoMA in New York, with a major installation entitled The Artist Out of Work. This was a recollection of Art & Language's dialogical and other practices, curated by Michael Corris and Neil Powell. This exhibition closely followed the revisionist exhibition of Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin at the Queens Museum of Art, also in New York. The Art & Language show at PS1 offered an alternative account of the antecedents and legacy of '"classic" conceptual art and reinforced a transatlantic rather than nationalistic version of events from 1968-1972. In a negative appraisal of the exhibition, art critic Jerry Saltz wrote, "A quarter century ago, 'Art & Language' forged an important link in the genealogy of conceptual art, but next efforts have been so self-sufficient and obscure that their work is now virtually irrelevant."[8]

Permanent collections

Other exhibits around the world include the works of Atkinson and Baldwin (working as Art & Language) held in the collection of the Tate in the United Kingdom.[9] Papers and works relating to New York Art & Language are held at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

In March 2011, Philippe Méaille loaned 800 artworks of the Art & Language collective to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, also known as MACBA.[10] In June 2015, the Conseil départemental de Maine-et-Loire and Philippe Méaille signed a long term lease agreement for the Château de Montsoreau to promote contemporary art in the Loire Valley.

Selected exhibitions

Selected group exhibitions

Theoretical installations

Art & Language and the Jackson Pollock Bar collaborated for the first time in January 1995, during the Art & Language & Luhmann symposium, organized by the Contemporary Social Considerations Institute (Institut für Sozial Gegenwartsfragen) of Freiburg. The 3-day symposium saw the intervention of speakers including Catherine David, who prepared the Documenta X, and Peter Weibl, artist and curator. There was also a theoretical installation of a Art & Language text produced in playback by the Jackson Pollock Bar. The installation was interpreted by five German actors playing the roles of Jack Tworkow, Philip Guston, Harold Rosenberg, Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt. Using lip sync, the actors used pre-recorded text for a "New Conceptual" conversation. Ever since this collaboration, each new Art & Language exhibition has been joined by a Jackson Pollock Bar theoretical installation.

Past members and associates


  1. "Art & Language | Artists | Lisson Gallery". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  2. Neil Mulholland, The Cultural Devolution: art in Britain in the late twentieth century, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003, p165. ISBN 0-7546-0392-X
  3. "Art & Language | Tate". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  4. Charles Green, The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism, UNSW Press, 2001, p47. ISBN 0-86840-588-4
  5. "Art & Language".
  6. Anna Bentkowska-Kafel, Trish Cashen, Hazel Gardiner, Digital Visual Culture: Theory and Practice, Intellect Books, 2009, p104. ISBN 1-84150-248-0
  7. Charles Green, The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism, UNSW Press, 2001, p48. ISBN 0-86840-588-4
  8. Jerry Saltz, Seeing out loud: the Voice art columns, fall 1998-winter 2003, Geoffrey Young, 2003, p293. ISBN 1-930589-17-4
  10. Un tresor al Macba
  11. Nicolas Rapold, "Interview: Kathryn Bigelow Goes Where the Action Is," Village Voice, 23 June 2009. Access date: 27 June 2009.
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