About the exhibition
Image Language presents the work of New York artist Sarah Charlesworth (1947–2013), tracing elements of her creative output over the course of forty years, across her formative involvement in art publications to her later camera-based projects. Charlesworth worked serially throughout her career—in the sequenced format of magazines, in her production of photographs, and in her methodical and thematic organization of reference images. Bringing together publications, ephemeral materials, and photographic works from the artist’s archive, the exhibition focuses on Charlesworth’s early formal and conceptual strategies, exploring how she utilized photography and appropriation to investigate the cultural influence of images.
Associated with the Pictures Generation of the late 1970s and 1980s, Charlesworth’s art production comprised numerous investigations that challenged and exposed forms of representation. As one of the first of the postmodern artists to re-purpose found images, Charlesworth adhered to a regimented practice of gathering and archiving images from newspapers, press clippings, advertisements, and cultural magazines ranging in type from fashion to lifestyle to pornography. Charlesworth’s work was shaped by the idea that an image contained references to a history of other images, and that this quotational gesture functioned as a strategy of access and communal language. Learn more about the exhibition.
Virtual Walkthrough with Christine Robinson and Matthew C. Lange
Friday, April 24, 3PM EST
Meeting ID: 985 0159 6122 - Password: SC
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Curator Christine Robinson and Matthew C. Lange (Studio Manager, Sarah Charlesworth Estate) deliver a virtual walkthrough of Sarah Charlesworth: Image Language.
Using the exhibition as a guide, Robinson and Lange will look at Charlesworth’s long engagement with publications, including writings, artists’ books, and her early involvement with the magazines The Fox and BOMB. They will also share and discuss process material drawn from the Charlesworth archive, including the artist’s image research, production paste-ups, and experiments from her photographic projects.
View the conversation on Printed Matter’s YouTube Channel here
Digital Exhibition Guide
The archives of Sarah Charlesworth
In putting together Image Language, exhibition curator Christine Robinson and Printed Matter were able to work closely with the Estate of Sarah Charlesworth to draw material directly from the artist’s personal archive. The archives themselves, located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, offered an in-depth look into Charlesworth’s varied practice while giving a fuller view of her approach to working with images both in publications and later camera-based projects.
With more than a hundred boxes on-site, the archives include project notes and source materials, newsprint clippings, critical writings, handwritten letters, objects, and more. The material gives both a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the artist’s working process, as well as other facets of her thinking: her teaching methodology, her intelligence and rigor as a theorist of photography, and her broader engagement with images and how they might be inflected with cultural and political possibility.
The archive is meticulously kept and organized, first by Charlesworth and later by her Estate, including numerous image banks that show the artist’s hands-on process for collecting and organizing the photos that were the foundation to her work. In one filing system, she accumulates reference and source images, carefully torn out of newspapers and trimmed from science magazines, according to a number of categories—“Explosions,” “Stars,” “Lightning,” “Planets (NASA Photos).” Some of these photos would go unused, while many others would be altered, enlarged or combined to comprise well-known series such as Stills, In-Photography, and Objects of Desire.
The archives also serve as a valuable documentation to particular moments of art history, with correspondence and meeting notes that speak to Charlesworth’s involvement in co-founding the New York branch of Art & Language, detailing the ambitions and challenges that characterized the group, and soon after their formation of the important art periodical The Fox.
In working on Image Language, there was a lot of material that simply couldn’t fit within the limited vitrines and walls of Printed Matter. And so here are some additional views into what the Charlesworth Archive holds—paste-ups, rough drafts, working notes, false starts and preliminary versions, as well as some shots of the unlikely, title sequence for Saturday Night Live which Charlesworth produced in 1985.
Index of Archive Images
2) Fourteen Days invitation card and diagram on poster board, MTL Gallery, 1977
3) Paste-ups for Arc of Total Eclipse, February 26, 1979, 1979
4) Paste-up for Arc of Total Eclipse, February 26, 1979, 1979
5) Paste-up for Arc of Total Eclipse, February 26, 1979, 1979
6) Paste-ups for Arc of Total Eclipse, February 26, 1979, 1979
7) Working materials for Modern History: Second Reading, 1979
8) Working materials for Modern History: Second Reading, 1979
9) Italian newspaper clipping, headline reads: “Executed with cigar in mouth”
10) Archived images of falling bodies, from collected source material for Stills series
11) Image clipping of Dar Robinson, Toronto, 1980, Stills collection
12) Newspaper clipping, source material for Stills series, 1980
13) Paste-up test, Unidentified Man, Stills series, 1980
14) Associated Press photo with image description, source material for Stills series, 1980
15) Newspaper clipping, source material for Stills series, 1980
16) Image clipping of unidentified man, Corpus Christi, TX, source material for Stills series, 1980
17) Cover mock-up and sketch for BOMB No. 1, 1980
18) Charlesworth’s sketchbook, containing drawings of planets, space, furniture, c. 1980
19) Acetate test for Tabula Rasa, 1981
20) Paste-up for Tabula Rasa, 1981
21) Paste-up and source image for Light Break, from the series The White Lady, 1981
22) Detail of source image for Light Break, caption reads “Electrical energy in the skies—photograph of a flash of lightning,” from the Picture Collection at the New York Public Library
23) Sketch for Rietveld Chair, 1981, for the series In-Photography
24) Collected pictures of lightning, source materials for In-Photography, c. 1981
25) Glassine folder labeled “Explosions,” containing press photos, clippings, source materials for In-Photography, c. 1981
26) Glassine folders labeled “Explosions,” “Lightning,” and “Planets” containing press photos, clippings, source materials for In-Photography, c. 1981
27) Assorted images from picture collections, manipulated by Charlesworth, on a folder labeled “Blast Offs; Missiles”
28) Invitation card for a dance “given by Cindy Sherman and her girlfriends,” 1982
29) Paste-up for Café Aubette, from the series In-Photography, 1982
30) Paste-up for Café Aubette, from the series In-Photography, 1982
31) Paste-up for Japanese House, from the series In-Photography, 1982
32) Paste-ups for Cube II (left) and Cube I (right), from the series In-Photography, 1982
33) Mock-up for the cover of In-Photography (1982), annotated with color and type specifications
34) Index card with typewritten quote by Sarah Charlesworth, process for the portfolio “Glossolalia,” created by Charlesworth and Barbara Kruger for BOMB No. 5, Spring 1983
35) Index card with typewritten quote by Walter Benjamin, process for the portfolio “Glossolalia,” created by Charlesworth and Barbara Kruger for BOMB No. 5, Spring 1983
36) Two index cards with typewritten quotes by Dorothea Lange and Roland Barthes, process for the portfolio “Glossolalia,” created by Charlesworth and Barbara Kruger for BOMB No. 5, Spring 1983
37) Assorted source images of film stills for the publication A Lover’s Tale (1983)
38) Folder labeled “A Lover’s Tale, Vampire etc. – Unused Photos”
39) Paste-up for Saturday Night Live title sequence, 1985
40) Paste-up for SNL, 1985
41) Paste-up for SNL, 1985
42) Logo treatment for SNL, 1985
43) Charlesworth working on Tabula Rasa Photographer Unknown, 1981
44) Snapshot of Charlesworth, c. mid-1980’s
45) Photo of Sarah Charlesworth, seated in front of a print from the series Objects of Desire, unknown photographer, c. 1986
46) Polaroid proof of Sarah Charlesworth photo by Anthony Barboza, 1991