Biography of Joseph Kosuth
As a pioneer of the conceptual art movement that emerged in the mid-1960s, Joseph Kosuth revolutionized art by questioning its very premise. One of Kosuth’s most celebrated works was One and Three Chairs, 1965, in which a chair, a photograph of that chair, and the dictionary definition of the word “chair” were installed side-by-side. Kosuth did not make the chair, take the photograph of the chair, or write the definition of it, all he did was write out the installation instructions. Art would never be the same again.
Joseph Kosuth was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1945 to an American mother and a Hungarian father. He attended the Toledo Museum School of Design, from 1955 to 1962, and then won a scholarship to study at the Cleveland Institute of Art. In 1971 Kosuth, then troubled by his “ethnocentricity as a white male artist”, studied anthropology at the New School in New York.
Joseph Kosuth is renowned as both an artist and as an essayist and intellectual. He was, along with Mel Bochner and Bruce Nauman, one the earliest proponents of using text as visual art. He is concerned with language and philosophy and frequently references Sigmund Freud’s psycho-analysis and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. Aged just 24, in 1969, Kosuth wrote Art After Philosophy, in which he argued that art is the only extension of philosophy. The text has since become a staple of art theory classes across the world.
Today Joseph Kosuth is one of the world’s most respected living artists. He is, however, very critical of the commercialization of art and of those who conflate financial value with artistic worth. According to Kosuth, the “value” of all art after Marcel Duchamp’s should be judged only according to how much it “questions the nature of art”.
Joseph Kosuth’s high-profile international career, spanning over five decades, has resulted in countless retrospectives and solo exhibitions. His work was included in documentas 5, 6, 7 and 9 and in the Venice Biennales of 1976, 1993 and 1999. He has also received numerous awards including the Decoration of Honor in Gold for services to the Republic of Austria—Austria’s highest honor for accomplishments in culture and science. In 2012 he was inducted into the Royal Belgian Academy. Kosuth’s works are included in the collections of world-famous institutions including MoMA, New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Tate in London. Today the 72-year-old Kosuth is still working and he divides his time between New York and Rome.