Idea as work of art: that is the radical proposition examined in Sculpture in So Many Words: Text Pieces 1960–80. Comprised of text sculptures from the 1960s and 1970s, this exhibition sheds fresh light on the intellectual foundations underpinning much of contemporary art.
Because many language-based works were conceived in a context commonly associated with journalism and publishing – gallery announcements, newspaper and magazine ads, posters and broadsheets, articles, flyers, and various other insubstantial and impermanent documents—they are easy to overlook. This ephemeral quality encouraged artists to be experimental and let their imaginations range widely. The result was a sort of laboratory of language that let artists rethink what sculpture could be, leading to the multidisciplinary welter of possibilities comprising its practice today.
Many of the artists included in this show defined their text work as sculpture and referred to it as such in their titles. Moreover, typical for art of this era, all of these works are concerned with the physical and conceptual place of the art object in the real world. At the same time, their unassuming physical character – papers that could be mechanically printed and, just as easily, discarded – is part of their appeal as sculpture, and as conceptual art.
The strategies by which the featured artists generate “sculpture” are as varied as the processes of making sculpture itself. They encompass instructions given to the viewer, who then becomes a participant, or even maker, of a work, as in Alison Knowles’ Proposition: Make a Salad. Artists like Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman also used texts to describe actual installations as well as purely conceptual objects, while others, such as Vito Acconci, Lawrence Weiner, and Robert Morris investigated language’s fundamental role in our very ability to conceive, and reflect upon, art. Other artists in the exhibition include Carl Andre, John Baldessari, Joseph Beuys, Mel Bochner, Dan Graham, Gilbert & George, Walter de Maria, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono, and Robert Smithson.