Magritte’s Use of Speech

                                                                                          

                                                                                           René Magritte: ‘L’usage de la parole’, 1928

Luxembourg & Dayan recently invited Magritte expert Sarah Whitfield and leading conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth to discuss the gallery’s excellent presentation* of the ‘word pictures’ which Magritte made in Paris in the late 20’s. Kosuth, a Magritte fan, recounted how he’d once responded to the claim that Magritte wasn’t a painter of Baselitz’s quality by saying that, even if that were so, he was a great artist, whereas Baselitz is a mediocre one. Whitfield emphasised that Magritte read poetry and philosophy far more than he looked at the art of his peers, and linked the precision of his style of painting to his life preferences – for example, he wouldn’t drink at a bar unless the bottles were correctly arranged behind the counter! ‘The Use of Speech’ is typical in exposing the arbitrariness of the connection between sign and meaning, and setting up an interaction between words and pictures which generates new metaphorical potential – even though Magritte, said Whitfield, hated metaphor. Whitfield and Kosuth talked about ‘The Use of Speech’ as depicting a landscape of rocks and wispy clouds. The claim that one rock is a mirror and the other the body of a woman knocks away certainty in order to counter what Magritte saw as the hierarchical imposition of language on us. Indeed, he appropriates the format of a children’s reading primer, an explicit assertion of the authority to be resisted. That said, the image looks to me just as much like smears of paint on an old desk. And, of course, we know that it really is just paint on canvas. The waters get deeper…
* René Magritte (Or: The Rule of Metaphor), 27 Feb – 26 May, 2018

Luxembourg & Dayan’s Yuval Etgar with Sarah Whitfield and Joseph Kosuth
Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head

About Paul Carey-Kent

Art critic and curator, based near Southampton. I write most regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, Elephant, State, Photomonitor... and, of course, FAD.