The Artist Out of Work: Art & Language 1972–1981 is the first opportunity for a New York audience to see a major selection of work produced during the 1970s by the legendary conceptual art collective, Art & Language.
Work by Art & Language challenges the traditional relationship between artist and audience. By reaching beyond the usual parameters of visual art and incorporating political posters, philosophical texts, musical scores, imagery from pop culture, and transcripts of informal conversations into their work, the group asks viewers to re-evaluate the categories of contemporary art and the role of the contemporary artist.
Art & Language are “out of work” because they disregard the modernist ideal of the artist who originates and then perfects a single skill or style. To them, “out of work” can also mean existing in a fertile moment, perplexed and invigorated by the promise of exploring new roles and categories.
The work itself—posters, sheet music, flags, drawings and paintings—is presented not in chronological order, but "simultaneously," in a painstaking edge-to-edge collage that highlights the relationships between the individual works. A puzzle is created for the viewer, who is encouraged to invent his or her own model of interpretation.
At opposite ends of the gallery space, two installations, Index 01 (1972), an ensemble of card files and a wall display, and Index: Wrongs Healed in Official Hope (1998-99), a similar structure composed of painted canvases, bracket the exhibition physically and historically. This pair of artworks exemplifies and undermines the strict chronological system which Art & Language attempt to throw into question throughout the exhibition. Without the protocol of a strict chronological ordering of works, viewers can apply their own readings.
This was a troubled though productive era for the Anglo-American group as the membership turnover was high and the U.S. contingent supplemented work in the journal Art-Language to produce three issues of a more journalistic publication, The Fox. Many of the artists in New York worked independently from the group or sought collaborations outside of it. Several LP records and singles, including Corrected Slogans (1975), were recorded at this time with the rock band The Red Krayola. Organizers Michael Corris and Neil Powell, in collaboration with Art & Language, have produced an enlightening exhibition which displays contrasting projects from this period of dissent.
The Artist Out of Work is part of a series of exhibitions and publications developed collaboratively under the name “Invisible College” by Michael Corris and Neil Powell. Forthcoming projects include A Spectre at the Feast, a two-part exhibition of conceptual art and concrete poetry, and Invisible College: Reconsidering Conceptual Art, a collection of new writing on conceptual art, to be published by Cambridge University Press. The third volume of the new series of the journal Art & Language, as well as a free brochure, will be available at P.S.1.
On October 10, 1999, P.S.1 hosted a special performance by the German group Jackson Pollock Bar, who will present a “theory installation” in which they mimed a recording by actors of the text Art & Language Paints a Picture. As the title of the text suggests, the actors will also paint a picture.