Joseph Kosuth Art Pieces Which went for 6 Figures at Auctions

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January 14, 2019

In our article about Marina Abramovic pieces you should know, we mentioned the problem of collecting performance and conceptual art, or to be more precise, we posed a question: Is it possible to collect conceptual or performance art at all? What is “a piece” in conceptual art? Is it something touchable, a physical object, or is it idea that represents a core of the whole movement? If a conceptual art “piece” is an idea, how is it collectible, how can it be sold at auctions?

This is a very complex topic, and unfortunately we do not have enough space here to elaborate it, but we can say that there are different ways of collecting conceptual art. So, yes, conceptual art is collectable, and speaking about this important art movement and art market, it’s simply impossible not to mention Joseph Kosuth art.

One of the most recognized conceptual artists, Kosuth belongs to a broadly international generation of conceptual artists that began to emerge in the mid-1960s, stripping art of personal emotion, reducing it to nearly pure information or idea and greatly playing down the art object. He is well known for works inspired by complex relations between art and language, while his neon works have been quite popular both among art lovers and collectors (in November and December, Sean Kelly Gallery from New York organized an exhibition of Joseph Kosuth where around 40 neon works by the great artist were exhibited).

As we already mentioned, Kosuth, as one of the most important artists of the second half of the 20th Century is quite popular among collectors. Many of his works were sold at auctions for 6 figures prices, but in this article, we will focus on 10 most expensive ones. So, scroll down, and find out what are the most expensive Joseph Kosuth art pieces sold at auctions.

Five Words in Orange Neon, 1965

Being under big influence of the Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, Joseph Kosuth created a number of works in which he examined the relationship between the words and the context of its representation. His neon signs always state exactly what it is. Therefore, Five Words in Orange Neon is a neon installation/sculpture that states: “five words in orange neon”. Of course, this work is not about aesthetics or form, but what art actually is.

Five Words in Orange Neon was sold for $158,000 at Christie’s London in 2006. For more information on the sale, please click here!

Self-Described Twice (Cobalt Blue), 1966

Kosuth explains that works of conceptual art are analytic propositions. They are linguistic in character because they express definitions of art. This makes them tautological. That is why there is no “answers” in his artwork, but questions, and this is why many of his works looks like semiotics in art.

Self-Described Twice (Cobalt Blue) was sold for $160,000 at Sotheby’s New York, in 2014. Click here for more information!

Four Colors Four Words (Blue, Red, Yellow, Green), 1966

Joseph Kosuth work's validity lies solely in its idea:

Aesthetics are conceptually irrelevant to art. Art “lives” through influencing other art, not by existing as the physical residue of an artist's ideas. (J. Kosuth quoted in “Art After Philosophy” 1969, reproduced in P. Osbourne, Conceptual Art, London 2002, p. 232)

Representative of Kosuth's contribution to one of the most important contemporary art movements of the twentieth century, another variation of Four Colors Four Words can be found in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.

This piece was sold at Sotheby’s Paris in 2013 for $163,000. More information on the sale here!

A Four Color Sentence, 1965

Arguing that art was no longer a matter of formal problems, Joseph Kosuth proposed that art should investigate the structure of meaning and the processes of representation. Using language as the medium itself, the artist demonstrates the tautological, discursive nature of art. Thus, while A Four Color Sentence provides a witty and appealing visual experience, he insists that this is immaterial.

A Four Color Sentence was sold for $187,000 at Christie’s London in 2007. For more info on the sale, click here!

North, East, South, West, 1967

Created in 1967, North, South, East, West is part of the series titled Art as Idea as Idea, in which the artist replaced both image and object with language. Illustrated in clear white letters on a black background, Kosuth pulled out dictionary definitions and made them bigger, turning the words "north", "south", "east" and "west" into objects. This exploration of the connection between language and art investigates the socio-political and economic circumstances through which art was displayed, as well as the means by which objects become elevated to high art status.

The work was sold on February 9th, 2016 at Phillips London during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $187,160. More data on the work here.

One and Eight: A Description (Violet), 1965

Completely self-contained and self-referential, One and Eight - A Description (Violet), executed in 1965, is one of the groundbreaking works with which Kosuth changed the landscape of conceptual art. For it was in works from this year, especially his One and Eight series, that he first truly explored the potential, or rather the limitations, of language and art. By choosing neon as his medium, Kosuth introduces a playful quality to a work in which he illuminates the bounds and fallacy of representation itself.

The piece was sold for $200,000 at Christie’s New York in 2004. Click here, and find out more about the piece!

Four Colors Four Words (Orange, Violet, Green, Blue), 1966

Innovative and intellectual, Four Colors Four Words is a pioneering early work by Joseph Kosuth. Spelled out in clear orange, violet, green and blue neon lettering, both the color and the words describe what we are seeing. By simultaneously displaying these two realities, Kosuth is prompting us to question how, and why, their functioning is different. Executed in 1966 while still a student at the School of Visual Arts, New York, Four Colors Four Words signals how the artist was to examine verbal assumptions and definitions with disconcerting literalness over his career. Along with other Conceptual artists, he sought to demonstrate that the “art” component is not found within the object itself but rather in the idea of the work.

Four Colors Four Words (Orange, Violet, Green, Blue) was sold for $201,000 at Christie’s London in 2013. To find out more about the work and about the sale, click here!

Untitled, Grey Concrete Floor Surface, 1966

Untitled, Grey Concrete Floor Surface is one of the artist's groundbreaking works from his most important and influential period. In it Kosuth introduces a concept that he was to employ and develop in his retrospectively-titled “Proto-Investigations” series (for example One and Three Chairs) by juxtaposing a textual description of an object – “GREY CONCRETE FLOOR SURFACE” - with its physical counterpart. Each of the four square, glass panels has a single word silkscreened at it center, and is lain down on a grey, concrete floor surface in sequence so that looking at the grey, concrete, surface of the floor and the words on the glass occur simultaneously and produce the same meaning. In doing so, Kosuth emphasizes the overlooked conceptual relationships and disparities between an object's description and its visual image - an investigation that has formed the central crux of his concept-based art making ever since.

Untitled, Grey Concrete Floor Surface was sold for $204,000 at Sotheby’s London in 2007. For more info on the sale, click here!

Five Words in Five Colors, 1965

In order to understand Kosuth’s neon works, it is extremely important to understand his understanding of art. As it said about Kosuth’s understanding of art:

Art is an analytical proposition of context, thought, and what we do that is intentionally designated by the artist by making the implicit nature of culture, of what happens to us, explicit - internalizing it's 'explicitness' (making it again, 'implicit') and so on, for the purpose of understanding that is continually interacting and socio-historically located. These words, like actual works of art, are little more than historical curiosities, but the concept becomes a machine that makes the art beneficial, modest, rustic, contiguous, and humble.

Five Words in Five Colors was sold for $210,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2011. For more info on the sale, please click here!

Glass, One and Four Defined, 1965

Here, in Glass - one and four defined, Kosuth juxtaposes word definitions, Clear, Square, Glass, Lean with their physical and active counterparts.  The definitions refer to what we see before us and whose arrangement is carefully instructed by the artist according to Kosuth's original documentation from 1965; four identical clear square glass panels that lean against a wall with their word definitions installed above them, explaining plainly what we already see but may not clearly focus upon.

This piece was sold at Sotheby’s London for $239,000 in 2008. Click here, and find out more about the work and the sale!

Five Words in Yellow Neon, 1965

Five Words in Yellow Neon is a prime example of Kosuth efforts progressing a reality to an idea. The title suggests that art becomes a direct reflection of itself, and this idea is an idea of an idea to infinity. By these means, his art is now defined as truly conceptual. Many of Kosuth's works include a certificate stating that the work can be reproduced or remade for public exhibition purposes. This idea ensures the artist's attempt to reduce the “uniqueness” of an art object, but that in fact it's the idea and concepts behind the image that are inherent to his idealization of art. Despite his efforts to strip art from all associated aesthetic meaning, the process of conceptualization itself highlights the creative process and gives new meaning to banality.

The piece was sold for an amazing $280,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2008. For more info on the sale, click here!

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