Art & Language were formed in 1967/68 out of the collaboration of four artists: Mike Baldwin, Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge and Harold Hurrell. The group’s name derived from their journal Art-Language, that existed ‘as a work in conversation’ from 1966 onwards. During the 1970s the name served as a common identity for various artists involved in a range of international collaborations, though from the late 1970s Art & Language have consisted of Mike Baldwin, Mel Ramsden and Charles Harrison, until the latter’s death in 2009. Widely considered to be one of the first, most influential and controversial conceptual art groups, Art & Language have exhibited globally, including at Documenta, the Lisson Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Tate Gallery, the Getty Museum and Barcelona have holdings of their work. They were nominated for the Turner Prize in 1986.
Art & Language’s work is characterized by a diverse array of activities and projects commonly characterized by the resistance to categorization and by an ‘openness of effect’ and meaning. Their oeuvre marks a historical turn toward a more theoretical, linguistic and critical intervention into the context of fine arts production. Much of their work provokes reflection on the institutional conditions of making and contemplating works of art and reflects critically on the history of modern art and contemporary practice, as well as the uses and functionality to which culture and cultural objects are put. A central concern of their oeuvre from the beginning, as the name Art & Language implies, is the exploration of the relationship between the linguistic and visual and the questions involved in the interrelation and understanding of the one in terms of the other.
The installation Portraits and a Dream involves a series of interrelated works, including written texts, poster-portraits pasted on the gallery walls and another set of the same printed writings cut up and fashioned into paper-chains. This is a demotic motif Art & Language have been using for the past couple of years, but one whose meanings are linked to the swirling linear forms of the paintings of Jackson Pollock, whose Portrait and a Dream (1953) is referenced in the work’s title. As Charles Harrison has commented, the apparently ‘perverse’ motif of the paper-chain represents a response to ‘the critical requirement that…whatever in practice is inflated – in scale, in genre, in professional ambition, in technical adventure – must at some point be brought low.’ The ‘decorative’ paper-chains of Art & Language simultaneously bring the work of art down to earth while re-configuring its form and meanings.
Portraits and a Dream was first exhibited at the Lisson gallery in 2010; the exhibition at Gallery 3 presents a new version of the work. A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by the curator Jon Kear and texts by Art & Language is available. Mike Baldwin and Mel Ramsden will also be doing a number of seminars in conjunction with the exhibition.
Jon Kear, Curator Portraits and a Dream
3 Oct to 16Dec
Free, Disabled Access
Studio 3 Gallery
School of Arts
University of Kent
(tel: 01227 827228, web: www.kent.ac.uk/arts.hpa/exhibitions)