“One and Three Chairs” — A Review (September 2019)

In honor of my upcoming graduation from my Creative Writing M.F.A. program at the California Institute of the Arts, here is what I imagine was my first, maybe second, writing assignment I ever turned in for my program (September 2019): a 250-word review of Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs.”

This installation also served as my introduction to conceptual art.



There’s a “chair,” and then two more. The one at the center of the installation is tan, edged, symmetrical, wooden, mint, and very average. To its left, and slightly raised in level on the wall is a life-size, black and white photograph of what may be the same chair, but might also be its somewhat raggedy twin. To the far right is a white canvas, also raised, with the textual definition of a chair; this portion differs from the other two in size and shape. All are set against a white wall, upon or over a wooden floor.

In this conceptual art work, titled “One and Three Chairs,” Joseph Kosuth challenges us to reconsider the mundane using a demonstration that is among the first of its kind. One way he achieves this is by inviting us, the viewers, to observe his tangibly basic yet conceptually complex piece in a manner similar to how he, the artist, must have fashioned it: by expending minimal physical and medium to maximum mental labor. Everything about the installation and everything in it is so startlingly commonplace, yet Kosuth’s composition comments on such great phenomena as time through the diverging conditions of the central and left depictions of the chair, as well as the definitional variations he offers in the text. 

The artist also makes us contemplate where we belong in his installation, if at all. Are we to sit in this chair, or does it simply imply our corporeal absence?

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