Art & Language

Art & Language is a conceptual artists collaboration which has undergone many changes since its creation at the end of the 1960s. It is said that, their first works, included the Art-Language Magazine published in November 1969, had got an important influence on Conceptual Art as much in The United States as in Great Britain.

Scratched photograph of the cover of Art-Language, Vol.3 No.1, 1974.

First years

The Art & Language group has been founded in 1967/68 in the United Kingdom by Terry Atkinson (b. 1939), David Bainbridge (b. 1941), Michael Baldwin (b. 1945) and Harold Hurrell (b. 1940),.[1] Four artists who began to collaborate around 1966 while they were art teachers in Coventry. The name of the group was derived from their journal Art-Language, which existed as a work conversation since 1966. Charles Harrison and Mel Ramsden joined the group in 1970. Between 1968 and 1982 up to 50 people were associated at the group.[2] Among them, starting at the beginning of the 70’s, Ian Burn, Michael Corris, Preston Heller, Graham Howard, Joseph Kosuth, Andrew Menard, Terry Smith and from Coventry Philip Pilkington and David Rushton. In the facts, to know who did what, in which way and in which quantity is more or less well known. The (relative) degree of anonymity that the name conferred since the beginning, continues to have, however, an historical significance.

The first issue of Art-Language (Volume 1 Number 1, May 1969) is named 'The Journal of Conceptual Art'. By the second issue (Volume 1 Number 2, February 1970) it became clear that there was some Conceptual Art and more Conceptual artists for whom and to whom the journal did not speak. The title has been then abandoned. Art-Language had, however, put in relief the idea of the group. It was the first imprint to identify a public entity called 'Conceptual Art' and also the first to serve the theoretical and conversational interests of a community of artists and critics, who were its producers and users. While that community was far from unanimous on the nature of Conceptual Art, the editors and most of its historic contributors shared strangely similar opinions: Conceptual Art was critical of Modernism for its bureaucracy and its historicism and of Minimalism for its philosophical conservatism; the practice of Conceptual Art was primarily theory and its form preponderantly textual.

As the distribution of the journal and the teaching practices of the editors and others contributors were growing, the conversation expanded and multiplied to include by 1971 (in England) Charles Harrison, Philip Pilkington, David Rushton, Lynn Lemaster, Sandra Harrison, Graham Howard, Paul Wood, and (in New York) Michael Corris, and later Paula Ramsden, Mayo Thompson, Christine Kozlov, Preston Heller, Andrew Menard and Kathryn Bigelow.

The name Art & Language stayed after all precarious. Its significance (or instrumentality) varied from person to person, alliance to alliance, (sub)discourse to (sub)discourse – from those in New York who produced The Fox (1974–76) to those engaged in music projects or to those who continued the journal’s edition. There was confusion and by 1976 a dialectically fruitful confusion had become a chaos of competing individualities and concerns.

Throughout the 1970s, Art & Language dealt with questions surrounding art production, and attempted a shift from the conventional "non-Linguistic" forms of art like painting and sculpture to more theoretically based works. The group often took up argumentative positions against such prevailing views of critics like Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. The Art & Language group that exhibited in the international Documenta exhibitions of 1972 included Atkinson, Bainbridge, Baldwin, Hurrell, Pilkington and Rushton and the then America editor of Art-Language Joseph Kosuth. The work consisted of a filing system of material published and circulated by Art & Language members.[3]

New York Art & Language

Burn and Ramsden co-founded The Society for Theoretical Art and Analysis in New York in the late 1960s. They joined Art & Language in 1970–71. New York Art & Language has been fragmented after 1975 because of disagreements concerning principles of collaboration.[4] Karl Beveridge and Carol Condé who had been peripheral members of the group in New York, returned in Canada where they worked with trade unions and community groups. In 1977, Ian Burn returned to Australia; and Mel Ramsden to Great Britain.

Art & Language, Untitled Painting 1965. The Tate Modern Collection.

Late 1970s

By the end of the 1970s, the group was essentially reduced to Baldwin, Harrison and Ramsden, with the occasional participation of Mayo Thompson and his group Red Crayola. The political analysis and development within the group resulted in many members leaving to work in more activist political occupations. Ian Burn returned to Australia where he joined Ian Milliss, a conceptual artist who had begun to work with trade unions in the early 1970s, by sitting Union Media Services, a design studio for social and community initiatives development of trade unions. Other UK members drifted off into a variety of creative, academic and sometimes "politicized" activities.

At the beginning, in the 70’s they are about 30. The Art & Language group uses the language because it is through it that ideas and concepts are built. That permit to index words which appear, disappear, and for some that persist; and to analyze the words evolution through the different definitions proposed.

Decisive action had become necessary if any vestige of Art & Language's original ethos was to remain. There were those who saw themselves excluded from this who departed for individual occupations in teaching or as artists. There were others immune to the troubles who simply found different work. Terry Atkinson had departed in 1974. There were yet others whose departure was expedited by those whose practice had continued (and continues) to be identified with the journal Art-Language and its artistic commitments. While musical activities continued and continue with Mayo Thompson and The Red Crayola, and the literary conversational project continued with Charles Harrison (1942–2009), by late 1976 the genealogical thread of this artistic work had been taken into the hands of Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden, with whom it remains.

Exhibitions and awards

Art & Language Uncompleted. The Philippe Méaille collection. MACBA 2014-15

In 1986, Art & Language was nominated for the Turner Prize. In 1999, Art and Language exhibited at PS1 MoMA, NY with a major installation entitled "The Artist Out of Work". This was a re-collection of their dialogical and other practices curated by Michael Corris and Neil Powell. This exhibition followed closely the revisionist exhibition:'Global Conceptualism:Points of Origin', at the Queens Museum of Art also in New York. The A & Language show at PS1 offered an alternative account of the antecedents and legacy of 'classic' Conceptual Art and reinforced a transatlantic rather than nationalistic version of events 1968–72. In a negative appraisal of the exhibition art critic Jerry Saltz wrote, "A quarter century ago, Art & Language forged an important link in the genealogy of conceptual art, but next efforts have been so self-sufficient and obscur that their work is now virtually irrelevant."[5]

The works of Atkinson and Baldwin (working as Art & Language) are held in the collection of the Tate.[6]

Papers and works relating to New York Art & Language are held in the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

On March 2011, Philippe Méaille loaned 800 artworks of Art & Language collective to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, also known as MACBA.[7]

In April 2016, the Conseil départemental de Maine et Loire gave the keys of the Château de Montsoreau to Philippe Méaille to set up his contemporary art collection around conceptual art of Art & Language and organize numerous events : exhibitions, conferences...

Theoretical Installations

Art & Language and the Jackson Pollock Bar have collaborated for the first time on January 1995 during the “Art & Language and Luhmann” symposium, organized by the Contemporary Social Considerations Institute (Institut für Sozial Gegenwartsfragen) of Freiburg. This symposium has seen the intervention of speakers as Catherine David, who was preparing the Documenta X, and Peter Weibl, artist and curator. These three days have been memorable thanks to the theoretical installation of an Art & Language text produced in playback by the Jackson Pollock Bar. This theoretical installation was interpreted by five German actors playing the roles of Jack Tworkow, Philip Guston, Harold Rosenberg, Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt, for a “New Conceptual” conversation. The tension of this reconstitution was in the lips movement synchronization of the actors with the pre-recorded text. Since, this collaboration between Art & Language and the Jackson Pollock Bar continues and each new Art & Language exhibition is joined by a Jackson Pollock Bar theoretical installation.

Past members & associates


  1. Neil Mulholland, The Cultural Devolution: art in Britain in the late twentieth century, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003, p165. ISBN 0-7546-0392-X
  2. Charles Green, The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism, UNSW Press, 2001, p47. ISBN 0-86840-588-4
  3. Anna Bentkowska-Kafel, Trish Cashen, Hazel Gardiner, Digital Visual Culture: Theory and Practice, Intellect Books, 2009, p104. ISBN 1-84150-248-0
  4. Charles Green, The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism, UNSW Press, 2001, p48. ISBN 0-86840-588-4
  5. Jerry Saltz, Seeing out loud: the Voice art columns, fall 1998-winter 2003, Geoffrey Young, 2003, p293. ISBN 1-930589-17-4
  7. Un tresor al Macba
  8. Nicolas Rapold, "Interview: Kathryn Bigelow Goes Where the Action Is," Village Voice, 23 June 2009. Access date: 27 June 2009.

External links

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