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Kay Rosen

United States of America

1949 –

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    Latex paint on wall
    dimensions variable
    Signature & date

    Signed l.l. certificate of authenticity, black fibre-tipped pen "Kay Rosen". Not dated.

    Purchased 2014
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Kay Rosen

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Kay Rosen

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Kay Rosen’s work forms part of a long tradition of text-based art in the USA. She studied languages and linguistics rather than art, and from this base has consistently played with the possibilities and slippages of language through drawings and wall works.

    Nobody summarises Rosen’s practice better than the artist herself, who says “my work zooms in on language, scrutinizing the structure and meaning of very few words in a minimal and succinct context …”1

    Rosen is known for her striking use of colour to make puns and draw out unforeseen meanings in word combinations. She treats language as a kind of readymade, making a few adjustments to colour and placement to draw out a double or hidden meaning. She says: “The co-incidence of message and structure is the point where the work happens, where they meet to say the same thing linguistically and non-linguistically, and where meaning discovers a comfortable repository in a linguistic operation.”2

    Renowned curator Connie Butler notes the richness of Rosen’s engagement with language, extolling “her obvious love of the words themselves, their form as well as their content.”3 The balance between the form and content of words is what gives her work its unique flavour – a light touch with a sting in the tail.

    It is this love for the word as both visual and cerebral phenomena that makes Rosen’s ‘BLURRED’ so compelling. First realised in 2004, ‘BLURRED’ is a large wall painting that folds into a corner of the gallery. Breaking language down into component parts through the cunning use of colour, Rosen has rendered the first half of the word (BLU) in blue, and the latter half of the word (RED) in red, with the single letter R in the centre in purple – a combination of the two colours. Deceptively simple, this work can be read on several different levels. The red and blue elements of the work embody the binary politics of American democracy in which Blue represents the democrats and Red the Republicans. The single letter that holds these two teams apart is also the point at which they bleed into one another, enacting the very meaning of the word ‘blurred’. To quote the artist, "blurred is ‘stabilised’ by ‘R’s diplomacy’".4 The meeting of two walls at a right angle becomes a central part of this work’s metaphor.

    1. Kay Rosen and Matthew Higgs, ‘20 questions’ in ‘Kay Rosen’, New York: Yvonne Lambert, 2006, np
    2. Kay Rosen and Matthew Higgs, ‘20 questions’, 2006, np
    3. Cornelia H Butler, ‘the forest for the trees’, in ‘Kay Rosen Lifeli[k]e’, The museum of contemporary art, Los Angeles, 1998, p 13
    4. Kay Rosen and Matthew Higgs, ‘20 questions’, 2006, np

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 6 exhibitions

    • Kay Rosen: Halfull, University Art Museum, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, 2004–2004

    • Kay Rosen: (No) Comment, Klosterfelde, Berlin, 12 Nov 2005–23 Dec 2005

    • WORDS FAIL ME, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, 16 Sep 2007–20 Jan 2008

    • La Parola nell'arte, Museo d'Arte Moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Trento, 10 Nov 2007–06 Apr 2008

    • A Thousand Words and Counting, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, 22 Aug 2012–02 Jan 2013

    • Colourwheel, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 May 2015–29 May 2016

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 4 publications

    • Kay Rosen, Kay Rosen AKAK, New York, 2009, 220.

    • Brian Sholis, Artforum, 'Review: Kay Rosen', New York, Sep 2005.

    • Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, 'Making walls talk', pg.14, Sydney, Dec 2014-Jan 2015, 14 (colour illus.). installation view 'Kay Rosen: Halfull' University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara 2004. Photo: Tony Mastres

    • Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York, Kay Rosen, ‘The centre is a concept’, New York, 2006.

Other works by Kay Rosen