– Spring 2009
On Language and the Public Art of Lothar Baumgarten
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Lothar Baumgarten, Tetrahedron, 1968. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris
Critical language, in reviews and catalogue essays, often reflects the subject it seeks to canvas. In an unconscious act of mimesis, writers adopt the tone of artists, repeating phrasing and concepts in almost mathematical parallel. This is compounded when the artist's work is language-based by a seamless meshing of the artist's writings into critical prose. If the artist's writings are his or her occasional - or only - form of art, then the scholarly text may take on the status of artwork, while the artwork becomes art history. Artists such as Daniel Buren, Lawrence Weiner, John Baldessari and Michelangelo Pistoletto - along with many others who have used writing and commissioned the writing of others - often design their own exhibition catalogues, choosing paper types and fonts for essays and articles that are thus both on and by them.
The risk for the artist is that even in public forums, from museums to urban spaces, a web of support and cocoon of reception is created that insulates the artist from engagement with the general populace. Artists often do not create really public works for the 'man on the street' because this kind of work is neither solicited nor mandated by commissioning institutions or entities. Artists of a certain stature are generally remarkably free to adopt whatever theme or form they desire, and their public works may take on relatively abstruse forms. There are exceptions, artists who seek to engage this public and engender a more direct kind of speech. Gillian Wearing, Ken