Not in so many words
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands
February 1 – September 13, 2020
The exhibition Not in so many words brings together a wide variety of works from the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, in which words, letters, sentences and text fragments play a prominent role. The exhibition shows the versatile application of language and text by artists in a light-hearted manner.
The exhibition features about forty works by artists such as Robert Barry, Marcel Broodthaers, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Kosuth, Bruce Nauman, Marc Ruygrok, Paul Sharits, and herman de vries. The work presented is highly diverse, from word puzzles and poems to philosophical contemplations and political commentary. From text subtly incorporated into collages to incisive social statements. A wide range of art forms is included in the exhibition: films, installations, sculptures, neon art, works on paper and paintings, but also performances.
A 1966 short film, “Word Movie,” by the Fluxus artist Paul Sharits, presents the viewer with a fast-changing series of random words, such as “duck,” “hormone” and “chrome,” while a male and a female voice alternate speaking one word each, composing a language of gibberish. If each voice were heard separately, the museum’s description informs us, each would make sense. But spliced together, they lose coherent meaning.
As with this work, others highlight the fact that while we think of language as a way of conveying meaning, it can also be a tool for disorientation.
“He’s playing with our senses,” [exhibition curator Renske Cohen] Tervaert said of Mr. Sharits. “As a human being, we want to understand things. When we see text we want to read it, but in a playful and humorous way, he wants to shake up our desire to comprehend things.