Innovative and intellectual, Four Colors Four Words is a pioneering early work from one of the forefathers of Conceptualism, Joseph Kosuth. Spelled out in clear orange, violet, green and blue neon lettering, both the colour and the words describe what we are seeing. By simultaneously displaying these two realities, Kosuth is prompting us to question how, and why, their functioning is different. Four Colors Four Words is interrogating the artist's observation that 'When you describe art, you are also describing how meaning is produced, and subjectivity is formed. In other words, you are describing reality.' (J. Kosuth, quoted in N. Spector (ed.) Guggenheim Museum Collection: A to Z, New York 2004, p.180).
Executed in 1966 while still a student at the School of Visual Arts, New York, Four Colors Four Words signals how Kosuth was to examine verbal assumptions and definitions with disconcerting literalness over his career. Along with other Conceptual artists, Kosuth sought to demonstrate that the 'art' component is not found within the object itself but rather in the idea of the work.
Arguing that art was no longer a matter of formal problems, he proposed that art should investigate the structure of meaning and the processes of representation. Using language as the medium itself, Kosuth demonstrates the tautological, discursive nature of art. Thus, while Four Colors Four Words provides a witty and appealing visual experience, Kosuth insists that this is immaterial.
His work's validity lies solely in its idea: 'Aesthetics are conceptually irrelevant to art. Art 'lives' through influencing other art, not by existing as the physical residue of an artist's ideas' (J. Kosuth quoted in 'Art After Philosophy' 1969, reproduced in P. Osbourne, Conceptual Art, London 2002, p. 232). Representative of Kosuth's contribution to one of the most important contemporary art movements of the twentieth century, another variation of Four Colors Four Words can be found in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.