Joseph Kosuth proposes in his most recent installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, An Elementary Parallelism, that art and life are one and the same, and college is all about seeing life through new perspectives. The work is a homage to Duchamp, and it combines preparatory drawings from both "Green Box" and "White Book." Penn students looking to find non–traditional art in a museum that mostly focuses on older movements will be highly pleased to encounter this exhibition in the modern art wing of the hallmark Philly institution. Also, it's just fun to go to if you're high or drunk (and even sober).
In my attempt to Van Gogh fucking wild, I thought the best route was to down a good ole’ 40 in less than eight minutes (Ed. note: this is a horribly inefficient way to get drunk). I chose to rip some extra shots, just in case, only to be met with an instant gag reflex and yep, you guessed it, booting back into the Gatorade bottle that I had so recently used to hold my chaser. I call it splatter art. I don’t really remember anything, but apparently I did text a friend, “yo fucked up and going art museum.” Once at the museum, I bought a ticket and was then handed a map. How the hell am I supposed to read a fucking map? I know two things at this point. I am plastered. I have to pee. I start to wonder if I will ever make it to the exhibit I came to see. “That’s okay,” I think. "We can’t win ‘em all? Maybe I should just get some pizza. NO. Stay focused." So as I go to find the bathroom (for the first of ten times this afternoon), I eventually stumble upon the exhibit.
The first term I see is “Elementary Parallelism,” and I immediately know there is just no way this is going to go well. I’m plastered trying to write a review of an abstract exhibit.
First, I come across a shovel, then a picture of a shovel, then a definition of a shovel. At this point, I start to feel a mixture of panic and sadness. I think, “Am I actually an idiot because I don't get this? I should be understanding this, right? What am I missing?” As two hipsters wearing rimmed glasses and beanies circle around me and discuss the depth and profound meaning of the shovels, I strain my face and furrow my brow to make it seem like I am intently thinking about the true meaning of the shovel; but really, I’m just thinking about the quickest route to the bathroom.
Even when drunk, the deliberately ambiguous and rough landscapes in the Van Gogh pieces and Cezanne's stunningly poignant collection of Mont Sainte–Victoire are always breathtaking. The subtle, grey mist rising above the blue–and–white–capped mountain peaks would stop anyone in their tracks. These are paintings that can be immediately appreciated and understood, even if you don’t quite know what you are looking at. The exhibit of Joseph Kosuth is a more raw matrix of conceptual art. The exhibit delves into the nuance of what art truly is by introducing language as a means to question not only what rigidly defines art, but perhaps more importantly, what inspires it. (Somehow, I got this last bit out while still drunk).
Disappointed that we went in the back so I didn't get to run up the Rocky steps, we got lost on our way to our target exhibit in Cezanne’s folding mountains. After 30 minutes of wandering through my imagination and subconscious (Salvador Dali took me for a ride), we finally arrived at Plays of / for a Respirateur. First of all, who puts a slash in the title of an exhibit? Second of all, I'm really hungry. Most importantly: this exhibit is ridiculous. There is a live shovel on the wall, next to a picture of a shovel, next to a white rectangle with the definition of shovel and some German etymologies. This exhibit is supposed to be about "Elementary Parallelism," (read that in sarcastic air quotes) and has something to do with Sigmund Freud. I'm calling bullshit.
Shortly before his death, Duchamp described himself as a respirateur—a breather—to underline the fact that art and life are inevitably entangled. Kosuth’s An Elementary Parallelism is a homage to his teacher, and it presents this very idea: the installation redefines boundaries between reality and its interpretation.
By juxtaposing his own work with Duchamp’s works from the PMA’s permanent collection, the American conceptual artist creates a work of art that inspires and challenges its audience. By taking as its springboard Duchamp’s elementary parallelism, Kosuth’s An Elementary Parallelism resonates and rhymes with Duchamp’s original ideas.
Kosuth is a pioneer of modern conceptual art, who in the 1960's began to use processes and methods based on language and linguistics to challenge the traditional conceptions of art. Like Duchamp, Kosuth wanted art to interact with the mind—art was “to be at the service of the mind.” It was to use ideas as the fodder and primary material of the work. Kosuth, ultimately, intertwines the visual and the verbal, exposing the intrinsic, intimate relationship between the two concepts with fluorescent lighting, a shovel, and Duchamp’s bicycle wheels.