Collaborators at heart, Art & Language has been described as “not quite an art movement, not quite a research institute, not quite an activist group, and not quite a rock-and-roll band,” but understood to be all of these things and more. Operating for over fifty years in a variety of configurations and manifestations—from an artistic duo to a fully-fledged international network and back again, Art & Language were and remain leaders in the sphere of a critical artistic practice reacting to, as art historian Robert Bailey explains, “the legacy of modernism, specifically as it was formulated in the United States after WWII...”
Shortly after coming together in the mid-1960s, UK artists Terry Atkinson, Michael Baldwin, Harold Hurrell, and David Bainbridge launched the publication Art-Language a “journal of conceptual art” in 1968, and with it created, according to the artists, “the first imprint to identify a public entity called ‘Conceptual Art’ and the first to serve the theoretical and conversational interests of a community of artists and critics who were its producers and users.” Over the years, Art & Language developed along several tracks, expanding into other countries, onto other continents, and from there diversifying its activities (music, film, politics, et al.) according to the interests of its extensive cohort. By 1976, Art & Language evolved into a more concentrated form to pursue its ongoing critical agenda. Today, Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden (who joined in 1969) spearhead and represent its efforts working in a studio outside Oxford with sheep grazing outside their windows.
A trademark quality of Art & Language’s critical artistic output is an unflagging challenge of art’s definitions, parameters, assumptions, and genres—a dedication to questioning, “what art might become when it becomes conceptual.” Devinera qui Pourra continues their investigation. Named in reference to a comment Gustav Courbet made about his painting L‘Atelier du peintre (The Artist‘s Studio) (1854-1855), which depicts the collision of the painter’s discrete social circles in single scene, the exhibition invites attendees to “figure it out who can.” It challenges viewers to unravel the intellectual knots that Art & Language tie within each artwork. It is also an assessment, in the spirit of Courbet’s painting, of global politics in the present—a complicated world incommensurate with, yet inextricable from, itself.
Text by Patrick J. Reed
1 Robert Bailey, Art & Language International: Conceptual Art Between Art Worlds (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016), 1.
2 Ebda., 4.