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How often does an artist turn the tables and ask an exhibition's organizer to elaborate his thoughts to serve as the artist's contribution to an exhibition catalog? It's the kind of thing that can happen at an innovative place like the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. And in connection with a show like the current ``SIGNS'' (ending July 7). Here nine American artists' versions of road signs, logos, billboards, etc., reflect their ``concerns with the struggle for individuality in a society that relies increasingly on anonymous sign systems to communicate or instruct.'' John Knight is the artist giving the unexpected assignment to the organizer, Ned Rifkin, who is curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. We've enjoyed trying to follow a new sort of sign language in these few words of what Mr. Rifkin wrote for and to Mr. Knight (whose bone china plate bearing the floor plan of the Metropolitan Museum of Art appears below). THE artist is the one who sends the signal, while the viewer needs to be prepared and active in order to creatively receive and thereby enhance this transmission. I wondered about my role now, in this context, as a sender and initiator. I knew that I was good at responding and interpreting, but rather startled to be considering the blank pages and my responsibility to send. Then I began thinking about the exhibition and the thesis presented.

My notion of the work in this show, taking pre-existent signs or sign systems (in your case the floor plans of museums, those containers of objects iconic to art) and witnessing the ``de-signing'' of those signs, i.e., the removal of the conventional meaning or function, is critical to the concept of the show.

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On the other hand, what we are dealing with here is another step beyond that. You are really ``re-signing'' (or perhaps ``resigning'' your space) by skewing the context. What becomes important to me about this publication and the process you have deflected back to me is that the ``re-signing'' is also in the form of an ``assignment.''

The assignment of meaning has been bounced back and forth by us in an attempt to bracket it and thereby get a handle on it. I think immediately of that curious writing on the passenger's side view mirror of newer cars that tells the driver, ``Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.'' The further away the other cars appear, the easier it is to determine the appropriate action. I suppose that this involves a form of intellectual, rather than visual, perspective. The paradoxical trade-off here, of course, is that the further from the sign and its initial reading, the richer its meaning can become.

From elsewhere in the catalog -- or rather ``artists' book'' intended as an extension of the exhibition -- here are a few more words from Mr. Rifkin as context for the pictures on the opposite page. (Top left is the cover of the book ``SIGNS''.)

These particular artists were invited to participate based on my feeling that, for several years, their work has been creating a fundamentally new mode of art and an original way of responding to the world. . . .

The fact that we, as responsible citizens of the roads, are taught to understand and anticipate situations through the imposition of generic arrows, abstract phrases, and silhouetted images struck me as disarmingly simple yet ironically complex. . . .

Rather than delving into their psyches, the SIGNS artists responded in kind, as it were, usually issuing a message, often a warning of sorts, which would be delivered in the same or a similar medium that the artists felt was creating the very condition they were critiquing. . . .

The cool hand of the minimal art of the '60s and early '70s has resurfaced, now harnessed to a decidedly purposeful end. . . .

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It appears that these artists have taken Laurie Anderson quite literally when, in her epic performance piece ``United States'' (1979-83), she paraphrases Ludwig Wittgenstein by saying, ``If you can't talk about it, point to it.'' 30{et

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