A Collection is an Archive is a Work of Art: Art&Language
Founded in Coventry (UK) in 1968 by Michael Baldwin, Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge and Harold Hurell, the group Art & Language brought together the collaborative work that these artists had been producing since 1965. One year later they published the first issue of the group’s magazine, “Art-Language”, which would become the most significative vehicle used by the group to develop and spread their ideas. Mel Ramsden, Ian Burn, Joseph Kosuth and Charles Harrison joined between 1969 and 1970, and, at one point, the group was comprised by over thirty artists. Since 1977, Art & Language has conveyed the artistic collaboration of Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden, along with the theoretic intervention of the art historian and critic Charles Harrison, who died in 2009.
Materials produced by Art&Language range from visual artworks to various magazines, posters, typed texts, intervened photographs, sketches, etc. The group’s practice has always eschewed the commonplaces of artistic production: starting up as a work-in-conversation, Art & Language is sustained by a conversational relation and distributes its work publicly through a magazine. And so does the huge Art & Language collection built up by the French collector Philippe Méaille, whose relationship with Baldwin and Ramsden, developed over a fifteen-year period, has been crucial.
Processing and managing a collection such as this may be the pride and joy of any museum, but it can also become a nightmare due to the inextricability of documents and artworks in Art & Language’s practice. Most museums still make the distinction between their “artistic” and their “documentary” collections, describing them in separate databases.
MACBA became one of the few exceptions to this rule the moment we decided that the Study Center’s holdings would be described in the same collection management database as the artworks. Though the administration of a collection such as Méaille’s is never a simple matter, it is one of the many examples which prove that bridging the gap between artworks and documents, in practical terms, makes a lot of sense, both in terms of management and –more crucially– accessibility for researchers.
More info about Art & Language here.