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Exhibition at Mazzoleni London investigates the idea of colour
Installation view of ‘Colour in Contextual Play’ at Mazzoleni Courtesy Mazzoleni.

LONDON.- Mazzoleni London announces ‘Colour in Contextual Play’, an installation by American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth (b. 1945). Part of a series in which Kosuth installs contemporaries or forebears, the exhibition incorporates a selection of work by artists proposed by influential Arte Povera artist Emilio Prini (1943–2016), namely Enrico Castellani (b. 1930), Lucio Fontana (1899–1968), Yves Klein (1928–1963), Kosuth himself and Piero Manzoni (1933–1963). The exhibition investigates the idea of colour, a theme that is explored by each of these Post-War artists conceptually as well as technically. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Cornelia Lauf, an art historian based in Rome and Sicily.

The exhibition juxtaposes monochrome works by Castellani, Fontana, Klein and Manzoni with works from Kosuth’s 1968 series ‘Art as Idea as Idea’. This series made a conceptual investigation into the relationship between words, ideas and objects. It comprised photographs of dictionary definitions of words including ‘meaning’ and ‘idea’. For ‘Colour in Contextual Play’ Kosuth created a site-specific installation produced especially for Mazzoleni that places the examples ‘white’, ‘black’, ‘grey’, ‘red’, ‘green’, ‘yellow’ and ‘violet’, works never before exhibited, in company with works by the other artists utilising those colours.

Colour, or its absence, is a theoretical as well as aesthetic consideration in all the works displayed. The artists share an uncompromising analysis of conceptual structures that interrogate the nature of space, colour, form and time. From raised canvases punctuated by nail points (Castellani), to an indigo so profound it received its own Pantone number (Klein), explorations of the space beyond colour (Fontana) and natural colour that was also a noncolour (Manzoni), each artist explored the nature of vision in depth over the course of their careers.

Theories of colour link the study of optics, physics, and mathematics with philosophy, art and religion, providing insights into changing world views over millennia. Colour theories also show how thought can be condensed into visual models and all the artists included in this exhibition are or have been at the forefront of picturing cognition. The exhibition hopes to display their respective advances in a vibrant and new model of study. An homage to all five artists, the exhibition has been divided into chromatic and achromatic parts and features sections in which wall colours match works of the same hue.

The installation also calls to mind other cross-historical exhibitions by Kosuth, including ‘The Play of the Unmentionable’ at the Brooklyn Museum (1990) and ‘The Play of the Unsayable: Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Art of the 20th Century’ at the Vienna Secession and the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels (1990), as well as installations of Magritte, Ad Reinhardt and others. Lauf was actively involved in several of these projects, and herself curated numerous cross-historical shows, beginning in 1989 with ‘Natura Naturata’, installed by Annabelle Selldorf and featuring Baroque still lifes juxtaposed with contemporary ones.

The artist selection in ‘Colour in Conceptual Play’ was the suggestion of Emilio Prini. Lauf initially invited Prini to mount a monographic exhibition for Mazzoleni London. In typical fashion, Prini counter-proposed a quintet of artists including himself. However, a few months before his untimely passing in 2016, Prini requested that Joseph Kosuth, a long-standing colleague, replace him. Cornelia Lauf has stated:

“Thus, one of the most important proponents of the Arte Povera group extended the notion of Italian art, to show the transnational dialogue uniting artists, evidenced also by his selection of Yves Klein.”

Prini’s lifelong adherence to subtraction and economy distinguish him as one of the most radical, though least-known, members of Arte Povera, a movement identified by the influential art historian and curator, Germano Celant, in 1967. Prini often reflected on colour himself, confirming this exhibition’s theme as a fitting theoretical matrix uniting all of the artists. He frequently demonstrated to Lauf how a simple comparison of two colours could reveal significant differences in meaning and importance. Despite speculation as to his actual output and a reputation for doing nothing that Prini himself underlined (often stating “non faccio mai niente,” – “I never do anything”), Prini was a consummate aesthete who dwelt on every aspect of the making process, finding meaning in each shade and nuance. On one occasion Prini scrutinised a Picasso harlequin painting, over days of discussion with Lauf, to analyse Picasso’s use of grey. On another occasion, the whiteness of regular typing paper from the 1970s became a subject of inquiry. A few sheets of empty paper spread on a table acquired the majesty of any white monochrome.

The personal relationships among the selected artists are an additional sub-text to the exhibition. It is the nature of artistic inspiration, and the close observation of the work of friends and mentors, that is the curator’s fundamental subject of study. The spiral-shaped or Greek meander patterns in the making process are ones that greatly fascinated Prini and witnessing this process firsthand inspired Lauf to propose this highly personal, yet simultaneously art historical, project.

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