Level 2 Gallery: Learn to Read
Tate Modern: Exhibition
19 June 2 September 2007
John Baldessari Learn to Read poster 2003

John Baldessari
Learn to Read poster 2003

courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris
© John Baldessari

Learn to Read draws together artists who play with text and erasure. The exhibition presents work by 29 international artists, some of whom are exhibiting in the UK for the first time. It offers a dense and playful exploration of language and meaning, one as much to be seen as read. Each artist questions language through miscommunication (shifts and slippages through translation, repetition, memory and humour) and erasure (subtraction, reduction, alteration). Much of the work in the exhibition is informed by the strategies employed by Modernist and later artists to elide the distinctions between the textual and the visual. These include Stéphane Mallarmé’s reconfiguring of poetry into something resembling a musical score by playing with its typography. In Mallarmé’s work the visual and literary were intertwined; margins and silence played a crucial role in his work and in the work of those Conceptual artists he influenced, such as Marcel Broodthaers and Robert Barry. Guillaume Apollinaire also used text to generate images, exploiting the tension between the words themselves and the way in which they were displayed on the page. Finally, Raymond Roussel’s deconstruction of the rules of language in works such as Locus Solus 1918 was a crucial influence on André Breton and Surrealist artists.

With the inclusion of texts in the paintings and collages of Cubism, Futurism and Dada, and the interplay of words and poetic texts in Surrealism, the first half of the twentieth century offered a vital precursor to the use of words in contemporary art. In the 1960s Conceptual art radicalised this visual use of words. Language was established as a primary medium of aesthetic production by artists whose play with words resulted in radical propositions, redefining the production and reception of the art object. More recently, language has become a favoured medium for many contemporary artists, a tool with which to criticise systems of communication, the production of meaning and notions of authorship. The research of artists such as John Baldessari, Robert Barry, Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman has been crucial for the development of a younger generation, as some of the works in the exhibition testify.

The featured artists are

Saâdane Afif, John Baldessari, Robert Barry, Carol Bove, Peter Coffin, Annelise Coste, Shannon Ebner, Simon Evans, Mario Garcia Torres, Graham Gillmore, Mauricio Guillen, Kevin Hutcheson, Bethan Huws, Július Koller, Christopher Knowles, Friedrich Kunath, Glenn Ligon, Maria Lindberg, Kris Martin, Jonathan Monk, Lia Perjovschi, Philippe Parreno, Kirsten Pieroth, Damien Roach, Vittorio Santoro, David Shrigley, Frances Stark, Sue Tompkins, Jordan Wolfson.