The second exhibition of art from the collections celebrating the Generali Foundation’s anniversary is dedicated to the creative engagement with language. It is the tenth in a series of thematically focused presentations showcasing works from the holdings of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg and several collections entrusted to its care, including the Austrian Federal Photography Collection and the Generali Foundation Collection. In this era of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” it brings artists’ reflections on the power of language into focus.
The dialogue between image and text has become closer since the early twentieth century, but it has also undergone qualitative changes: language has become an integral part of visual art on the levels of form and content. Words, fragments of words, and entire texts appear in pictures and collages. In concrete poetry, a tendency that has its heyday in the 1950s, language is treated as a kind of physical material; during the next two decades, conceptual art, in works that instantiate ideas, relies on language as the central medium of creative articulation. The exhibition presents numerous works by international artists of the period, juxtaposing them with more recent installations, sculptures, and pictures that probe the entanglements between language and institutional critique, discrimination, or gender issues.
Language shapes how humans think and act. Words can be subtle manipulators; metaphors can change the outcome of elections. The power exerted by the languages of media and politics is evident in the propaganda in countries ruled by dictators, but also in how it influences the idiom of everyday life. At a time when lies are labeled “alternative facts” and people dismiss reporting that contradict their worldviews as “fake news,” the exhibition surveys the representation and use of letters, words, and phrases in works in the museum’s collections dating from between the early nineteenth century and the present. The artists engage with language in a variety of ways, with approaches ranging from critical and formal to poetic and playful.