• Post-War & Contemporary Art Da auction at Christies

    Sale 12245

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Auction

    7 October 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 231

    JOSEPH KOSUTH (B. 1945)

    ‘Four Colors Four Words’

    Estimate

    JOSEPH KOSUTH (B. 1945)
    ‘Four Colors Four Words’
    orange, violet, green, blue neon and transformer
    4 ¼ x 78 x 4in. (10.8 x 198 x 6.4cm.)
    Executed in 1966, this work is unique


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    “We understand the meaning of an individual word by seeing it in reference to the whole sentence; and reciprocally, the sentence’s meaning as a whole is dependent on the meaning of individual words. By extension, an individual concept derives its meaning from a context or horizon within which it stands; yet the horizon is made up of the very elements to which it gives meaning ... understanding is circular then.”
    —J. KOSUTH, quoted in R. Damsch-Wiehager, No Thing, No Form, No Principle (was certain), Stuttgart 1993, p. 79

    Executed in 1966, Four Colors Four Words (Orange-Violet-Green-Blue) is an early work by Joseph Kosuth: one of the forefathers of conceptual art. Spelled out in clear orange, violet, green and blue neon lettering, both colour and text describe one another in a circular, hermetically-sealed loop. The work bears witness to Kosuth’s desire to investigate the nature of art through the medium of language. Adopting a wholly deconstructive approach, Kosuth considers the definition of his chosen word to be the actual work of art, whereas the medium itself serves merely as a means of exhibition. As such, Kosuth challenges the formerly enshrined notion of the art object, instead locating the work’s value in its conception. ‘We understand the meaning of an individual word by seeing it in reference to the whole sentence’, Kosuth explained; ‘and reciprocally, the sentence’s meaning as a whole is dependent on the meaning of individual words. By extension, an individual concept derives its meaning from a context or horizon within which it stands; yet the horizon is made up of the very elements to which it gives meaning ... understanding is circular then’ (J. Kosuth, quoted in R. Damsch-Wiehager, No Thing, No Form, No Principle (was certain), Stuttgart 1993, p. 79). With another variation held in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., Four Colors Four Words (Orange-Violet-Green-Blue) is a powerful and poetic statement of analytic rigour.

    Along with other conceptual artists, Kosuth sought to demonstrate that ‘art’ is not found within the object itself, but rather in the idea of the work. As such, he proposed that art should investigate the structure of meaning and the processes of representation. In particular, Kosuth’s project was informed by his reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Just as the philosopher set out in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of philosophy by articulating a perfect philosophical language, Kosuth sought to delimit the presentation of meaning in art by establishing an unequivocal and circular relationship between content and form. Each word in the sentence signifies only the elements that compose the work. The semantic and aesthetic are thereby wholly aligned. ‘Art’s only claim is for art’, Kosuth asserted. ‘Art is the definition of art’ (J. Kosuth, Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1966-1990, Cambridge 1991, p. 24).

    Provenance

    Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist in 2010).
    Anon. sale, Christie’s London, 26 June 2013, lot 255.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.


    Post Lot Text

    This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

    Other works from this series are in the permanent collection of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and in the permanent collection of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt.