Joseph Kosuth was born in 1945, in Toledo, Ohio. Kosuth attended the Toledo Museum School of Design from 1955 to 1962 and studied privately under the Belgian painter Line Bloom Draper. From 1963 to 1964, he was enrolled at the Cleveland Art Institute.
In 1965 Kosuth moved to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts; he would later join the faculty. He soon abandoned painting and began making conceptual works, which were first shown in 1967 at the exhibition space he co-founded, known as the Museum of Normal Art. In 1969 Kosuth held his first solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York and in the same year became the American editor of the journal Art and Language.
From 1971-1972 he studied anthropology and philosophy at the New School for Social Research, New York. The philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, among others, influenced the development of his art from the late sixties to mid seventies. Kosuth's work has consistently explored the production and role of language and meaning within art. His nearly forty year inquiry into the relation of language to art has taken the form of installations, museum exhibitions, public commissions and publications throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia, including Documenta V, VI, VII and IX (1972, 1978, 1982, 1992) and the Biennale di Venezia in 1976, 1993 and 1999. Most recently, he exhibited Il Linguaggio dell'Equilibrio / The Language of Equilibrium at the Monastic Headquarters of the Mekhitarian Order on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice. This was presented concurrently with the 2007 Biennale di Venezia.
Awards include the Brandeis Award, 1990, Frederick Weisman Award, 1991, the Menzione d'Onore at the Venice Biennale, 1993 and the Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government in 1993. He received a Cassandra Foundation Grant in 1968. In February 2001, he received the Laurea Honoris Causa, doctorate in Philosophy and Letters from the University of Bologna. In October 2003, he received the Decoration of Honor in Gold, the Austrian Republic's highest honor for accomplishments in science and culture.