WordstobelookdatWords to Be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art
2010, The MIT Press
Liz Kotz, author

Language has been a primary element in visual art since the 1960s–in the form of printed texts, painted signs, words on the wall, recorded speech, and more. In Words to Be Looked At, Liz Kotz traces this practice to its beginnings, examining works of visual art, poetry, and experimental music created in and around New York City from 1958 to 1968. In many of these works, language has been reduced to an object nearly emptied of meaning. Robert Smithson described a 1967 exhibition at the Dwan Gallery as consisting of “Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read.” Kotz considers the paradox of artists living in a time of social upheaval who use words but chose not to make statements with them. Kotz traces the proliferation of text in 1960s art to the use of words in musical notation and short performance scores. She makes two works the “bookends” of her study: the “text score” for John Cage’s legendary 1952 work 4’33”–written instructions directing a performer to remain silent during three arbitrarily determined time brackets– and Andy Warhol’s notorious a: a novel–twenty-four hours of endless talk, taped and transcribed–published by Grove Press in 1968. Examining works by artists and poets including Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, George Brecht, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Jackson Mac Low, and Lawrence Weiner, Kotz argues that the turn to language in 1960s art was a reaction to the development of new recording and transmission media: words took on a new materiality and urgency in the face of magnetic sound, videotape, and other emerging electronic technologies. Words to Be Looked At is generously illustrated, with images of many important and influential but little-known works.

hybridHybrid Modernities: Architecture and Representation at the 1931 Colonial Exposition, Paris
2003, The MIT Press
Patricia Morton, author

The 1931 International Colonial Exposition in Paris was a demonstration of French colonial policy, colonial architecture and urban planning, and the scientific and philosophical theories that justified colonialism. The Exposition displayed the people, material culture, raw materials, manufactured goods, and arts of the global colonial empires. Yet the event gave a contradictory message of the colonies as the “Orient” — the site of rampant sensuality, decadence, and irrationality — and as the laboratory of Western rationality. In Hybrid Modernities, Patricia Morton shows how the Exposition failed to keep colonialism’s two spheres separate, instead creating hybrids of French and native culture. Read More →