Verbally Charged Images

  • Luis Camnitzer, The Path, 1979. Courtesy of the artist.

  • "Verbally Charged Images," installation view at Queens Museum, Flushing, New York.

  • Robert Cumming, Einstein's House, 1980. Courtesy of Castelli Graphics, New York.

  • Roberta Allen, Path to a Forbidden Place/Path from a Forbidden Place, 1982. Courtesy of the artist.

  • Barbara Kruger, Untitled, 1981-1983. Courtesy of the artist.

Curated by Nina Felshin

Many artists of the twentieth century – the Cubists, Dadaists, Surrealists in the early decades and the Pop, Conceptual, and Narrative artists in our own time – have incorporated text in works of visual art. With the 1970s came the critical ascendancy of conceptual art – an art in which words dominate – and its proliferation in this country and abroad. Several focused exclusively on narrative or conceptual art, while others presented broader surveys.


Verbally Charged Images focuses on a specific aspect of that more general interest. The exhibition demonstrates how text can be used to alter one’s perception or preconceptions of the visual image by providing a subjective framework, thus reversing the traditional image-text relationship in which the image illustrates the text. The exhibition also suggests that the tradition of incorporating text in works of visual art remains a viable one, continually adapting itself to the broader conceptual concerns of its particular time. Although the mode of rhetoric varies from work to work, as does the location of the text in relation to image, text in these works “charges” the image as the title suggests, pointing to the artist’s conceptual intentions. The text, it must be emphasized, never simply describes, illustrates, or functions congruently with the image.


Although many examples of the trend isolated in this exhibition were executed during the 1970s, it has only been in the context of the 1980s that the phenomenon itself has become visible. Underlying the relationship between image and text in much of the work is an awareness of certain strategies – albeit manipulated and undermined in the hands of these artists – which are employed by mass media.


—Excerpt from catalogue essay by Nina Felshin, 1981.



Nina Felshin

Nina Felshin, formerly a curator at Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery, The Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnnati and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC,  is an independent curator, writer, and activist.  She is the editor of But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism and the author of numerous articles and catalog essays. Felshin’s past exhibitions include, in addition to the five she curated for ICI,  Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence; Disasters of War: From Goya to Golub; Global Warning: Artists and Climate Change; and Framing and Being Framed: The Uses of Documentary Photography.



touring schedule

Art Gallery, California State College
San Bernadino, CA, United States
April 10, 1985 - May 8, 1985

University Art Gallery, University of California, San Diego
San Diego, CA, United States
February 2, 1985 - March 2, 1985

USF Art Galleries, University of South Florida
Tampa, FL, United States
September 21, 1984 - November 2, 1984

The Queens Museum
Flushing, NY, United States
April 28, 1984 - June 10, 1984

NEW YORK, NY 10013
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