Making Conceptual Art in Asheville, NC with Joseph Kosuth During a Pandemic (1 of 2).

Like many others out there, COVID-19 has completely changed a lot in our life, some good, some bad. This particular change was good. Back when NYC was the epicenter of the outbreak, we drove to pick up my at-risk uncle who has a studio in Manhattan and bring him back to our home in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC. Due to the spread of the disease, he ended up living with us for just over three months, and thankfully at the end of the stay went home healthy and testing negative for COVID-19. It felt great to know we kept him safe and healthy!

During his extended stay with us, we got to know each other better than we ever had before, the prior visits being short as they tend to be when everybody has lives and work to get back to after a weekend stay. Prior to this unique situation, we hadn’t seen each other for over a year and a half or so. My uncle is the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth. You can read about his impressive influence on the world of art on any number of websites out there covering the topic. His work from 1965 “One and Three Chairs” is part of the permanent collection at MoMA. Suffice to say, he’s a pioneer of conceptual and installation art from it’s beginning in the New York art scene of the mid to late 1960’s. He’s hung out and eaten with the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert (“Bobby”) DeNiro, Sol Lewitt, Richard Gere, John Cale & Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground), David Byrne (Talking Heads) and many others in the art and music world. He spent several late nights at The Odeon in NYC with John Belushi and Robin Williams in the hey day of the early Saturday Night Live years. He’s dated numerous actresses (several famous) and of course…models. Keith Haring was a former student of his. The French government made a postage stamp commemorating his national monument in Figeac to honor his work, and as well as awarding him a Chevalier of Arts & Letters, part of the Legion of Honor. He was also  presented with the Austrian Republic’s highest honor for accomplishments in science and culture, the Decoration of Honour in Gold.

As you might imagine, there are so many colorful, hilarious and amazing stories Joseph tells that it could (and should) fill a book one day. He’s always been a larger than life figure to me when I was growing up. My mom’s only sibling, his visits when I was just a lad were always rather brief (I imagine once he escaped it, suburban Toledo, Ohio was tough to come back to from New York City). Due in part to living different lives, he’s always felt a bit out of reach to me, a somewhat mythical figure. “The Famous New York Artist”. Highly intellectual. Super smart wit, world traveler and a great joke teller.’ “The man in black from the famous city” – The man always dressed in black, ever since the Vietnam War – and of course ever since I can remember. Back in the day, nobody I knew did that. As a kid I recall thinking even his cologne smelled expensive. A hundred and fifty dollar bottle of wine at dinner with the family? No problem. He’s got the bill for dinner folks. “Wow!” – 12 year old me would say.

So fast forward to Spring of 2020 and a pandemic. He’s in the country from his present home in London for a planned show by his gallerist in NYC, Sean Kelly. Of course along with every fun and cool event for 2020, it gets cancelled. So, now he’s living with us in the room downstairs we had been renting through Airbnb, but we basically all spend time together upstairs, eating and watching movies together for 3 months (HUGE shout out here to my wife for cooking some truly amazing meals, at times under Mr. Kosuth’s direction :). He’s got good taste!

Working on the 1st of two art projects for Joseph Kosuth Studio with my uncle, Joseph Kosuth.

The Stay At Home order then hits North Carolina. So now we are definitely not going anywhere at all, really. But, as chance would have it, my uncle has two active art projects in the works that he’d like my help on, both of which need letterpress printing to create. It just so happens, Asheville is home to some of the most talented letterpress artists around! What are the odds? So, there I am working along side-by-side with my uncle the famous artist, in my home studio. Amazing, life is a trip. He directs, I move type; he edits, I change the typeface kerning & leading. He asks my input, I give it to him, he applies the suggestion (!). He creates this piece with me entitled “‘Existential Time (a plan, a diagram, a play) #1’. You can see and purchase it here and on Printed Matter‘s site or Instagram. Printed Matter has an excellent description of the content and meaning that I think you will find very interesting.

We ended up printing it with Sally over at Ratbee Press. She was great to work with and really helped walk us through the process and what can and cannot be done within the world of letterpress. Here are some process photos she was cool enough to send over. We ran a black ink on white stock version, as well as a really sharp silver ink on black stock paper edition.

Here’s the final signed and stamped piece:

We then made a date with Sally to have Joseph sign and edition all of them at her letterpress studio in Asheville.

Enjoying a post art project beer at nearby Highland Brewery after they designed the space for social distancing and mask wearing. Felt amazing to have our first outing, even better that it lead us to beer, thank you Leah, Oscar and the whole HB crew!

Next up on the blog will be the story of the second piece of art created and printed in Asheville, NC with Joseph Kosuth during a pandemic. Stay tuned…