Art & Language returns to New York with HOSTAGE, a rare exhibition that focuses solely on the conceptual artists’ paintings. Featuring the seminal 1990 Hostage series, the presentation underscores Art & Language’s continuous experiments with the painting surface. Presented alongside are studies for the internationally acclaimed series as well as the more recent Sea Ghost works that continue Art & Language’s exploration of visual and conceptual realms of art. The presentation marks the artists’ first in New York since their 2019 performance, Letters to The Jackson Pollock Bar in the Style of The Red Krayola.Read more
HOSTAGE is Art & Language’s 16th solo exhibition with the gallery, marking a relationship that spans just under 50 years. Founded in 1968, Art & Language has assumed many forms central to the origins and development of Conceptual art. The pioneering artists, now a collaboration between Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden, have combined text, performance, painting, music and publishing to persistently question the complexion of a historically significant art practice. Painted 25 years apart, the Hostage and Sea Ghost works examine aspects of Modernist and post-Modernist ideology.
The Hostage paintings incorporate a composite and purposeful layering process. The works begin with realistic impressions of poplar trees in bucolic landscapes, transferred from preparatory drawings to vertical canvases. This verticality is highlighted through bands of color that obscure various segments of the scene. The initial drawings are marked in certain areas by graphic deformations of the letters S.U.R.F. indicating ‘surface’. These areas are covered in tape during the original painting process and subsequently removed when the next layer of thicker paint is planted over the marked fields. While the final painting surface is still wet a glass panel is screwed onto the canvas, flattening globs of paint in different directions across the façade. The glass is not used as the familiar protective layer but rather as a means to reflect the surface and make the act of looking at the painting also one of looking into a mirror.
This play of feints and disguises is at the core of Art & Language’s painting practice. The primary landscape is no longer the focus and the subject is shifted to the material itself. The viewer is asked to reflect on painting and its histories. The multiple layers have a fragmenting effect on the surface. Images are obscured by strata of paint, architectural plans and even by the reflection in the glass faceted to the exterior. The artists have described these works as performative satires: ‘These works are satire but not simply satire. You might say they tell truth through lying and lie by truth-telling. The aspects of imposture, performance and production conceal and reveal each other.’
The Sea Ghost paintings carry the memory, both conceptually and physically, of the Hostage works. Sea Ghosts, an anagram of Hostage, were a revisitation in 2014 to previously completed painting surfaces, further layering and confusing the subject. The artists’ featured new gestures, swirling colors within new borders, parodying historical painterly styles. They are layered amongst non-specific architectural plans of buildings and representational fragments of ceiling from various galleries and art institutions. These additions explore the idea of paintings and culture being held hostage by institutions. The body of work contains an indexicality; they are levels of past conversations, other paintings, and the artists’ histories. Worlds of detail are squashed between planes of canvas, paint and glass. The term ‘hostage’ recalls jeopardization, uncertainty, and possibly deceit. The displaced images of art, continuously obfuscated, elude easy looking.