NEW YORK—American collectors compete with European collectors for the works of conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, says Maureen Bray, director of the Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, where a show—featuring three rooms of new work—opened March 30 and continues through April 30. The exhibit includes both small-scale and installation-size pieces, of text formulated in white neon, and face-dipped in black paint. They are installed along the entire perimeter of the main gallery, mounted in a single line near the tops of the walls, which are painted black.
One room-size installation uses lines borrowed from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Texts for Nothing, while the other takes its cues from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Another room features smaller-size pieces from 1968 that offer definitions of the concept of nothing.
Kosuth, who has worked in neon tubing since the start of his career, was born in 1945 in Toledo, Ohio, and had his first solo exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1969. In the past few decades he has divided his time between New York and Rome, and the audience for his work is also divided equally between the United States and Europe, Bray says, adding that “buyers are probably half and half.”
Language has long played a central role in Kosuth’s conceptual artwork, which is marked by definitions of individual words or displays of neon or incised sentences and paragraphs on a plastic or glass surface. These sentences may be in different languages, but those in English tend to be most sought-after, Bray says.
Prices for pieces in the show range from $42,325/1.4 million (€30,000/1 million); Bray says setting prices in euros is “not unusual for us
. . . . We quote Joseph’s works in euros because the artist’s principal studio is in Europe and often the production of the work takes place in Europe and [is] paid for in euros. The majority of the clients, American or otherwise, pay the invoice in the foreign currency.”
The $42,000/1.4 million price range is typical for Kosuth’s newest work and also for pieces created since the 1980s, with prices varying according to size, complexity, the language and the color of the neon. For pieces dating to the 1960s and ’70s, the price range is $450,000/1.4 million, Bray says, adding that there “isn’t a very hectic secondary market for Joseph’s work.”
Kosuth is represented by galleries including Sean Kelly (since the mid-1990s); Lia Rumma, Milan; Sprüth Magers, Berlin; Anna Schwartz, Melbourne; Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid; and ArtFront, Tokyo.
Bray says Kosuth’s prices “have steadily increased in the past decade,” which she attributes to increasing collector interest in conceptual art, as well as the ongoing exhibitions of his work in galleries and museums.
A nine-month-long neon installation by the artist (Oct. 22, 2009–June 21, 2010) was commissioned by the Louvre, and another installation on the island of San Lazzaro was commissioned in 2007 for the 52nd Venice Biennale.
A recent Kosuth neon piece will be a permanent fixture in the lobby at the new 14-story HL23 Manhattan building in West Chelsea. The building, which opens on June 1, will have short-term installations of works by such artists as Ed Ruscha, Jack Pierson, Jason Rhoades, Tracey Emin and Kate Shepherd, among others.
Kosuth’s works in a variety of formats (glass, mixed-media installations, tubing) have come up at public sales from time to time; the highest price of $337,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000) was achieved at Sotheby’s in 2008 for the 1965 Five Words in Yellow Neon.