Art & Language
Intriguing but ultimately impenetrable overview of conceptual movement
This article is from 2012.
Doing little to counteract the idea that conceptual art is a tough sell at the best of times, this sample display of pieces from the collective body behind the Art & Language movement – conceptual art cause célèbres of the 1960s and 70s whose work and influence persists to this day – is hard to break into. In the delightfully retro surroundings of the Summerhall building’s old Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, however, it’s worth noting that it’s in the perfect location, a 1970s lab or classroom of the kind Lindsay Anderson might have filmed.
The sculptural and conceptual displays in the first room are the most easily accessible, David Rushton’s 1973 piece ‘One and four/five chairs’ itself being an impudent and explorative step on from Joseph Kostuth’s (himself an adherent of Art & Language) ‘One and three chairs’, in which a chair, a photograph of a chair and the dictionary definition of the word chair are displayed next to one another according to Kostuth’s installation instructions. It wasn’t the sculpture that was necessarily the artwork in Kostuth’s case, but the fact of its transportability and the unconscious input of the person installing it.
In Rushton’s piece, he wrests the idea from Kostuth (‘quotes’ it) and adds his own flourish, a small model of a chair on the reverse of the display board, thus in a sense interfering with the signal of Kostuth’s own ‘One and three chairs’. Such ideas of reappropriative testing are explored further with Rushton’s ‘Model’ (1975), which tweaks established Art & Language installations ‘Air Conditioning Show’ and ‘Soft Tape’, while his ‘Noisy Channel’ diptych ‘Chair I’ and ‘Chair II’ – another chair, this time printed with its own photographic shadow – subtly calls into question ideas of representation. Yet the journals and items from the group’s ‘Index’ works that follow are not displayed in such a way that any more than the faintest biographical information is recorded, lending the show an air of closed-off academic exclusivity.
Summerhall, 0845 874 3001, until 27 Sep, free.