Edward Ressle Gallery is pleased to announce “John Baldessari”, on view from November 10th through December 17th, 2016. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Sonnabend Collection, the LeWitt Foundation, amongst other distinguished private collections. The gallery would also like to thank the Baldessari Studio for their support and guidance.
John Baldessari, a forefather of conceptual art, is known for amalgamating text with image and holding a tradition of lively colours. Through a wide range of media including photography, video/performance, lithograph, painting, and illustrations, the exhibition will feature Baldessari’s exceptional works that speak his accustomed concepts from the artist’s prolific oeuvre.
The distinct period of the 1970s is characterized by the artist’s shift of interest towards experimentations of photography and film. “I could never figure out why photography and art had separate histories,” as Baldessari accounts, “so I decided to explore both. It could be seen as a next step for me, getting away from paintings. That might be fruitful. Later, that was called conceptual art.” The exhibition features two of Baldessari’s early 70s photography series from the Sonnabend Collection. Cigar Smoke to Match Clouds that are Different (By Sight – Side View), 1972 - 1973 is a series of three images, through which the same gesture is methodically repeated, like three shots in a film sequence. As clouds as a motif have featured in many of Baldessari’s work, he’s tried to mimic the shapes of clouds using cigar smoke. Puffs of smoke from the artist’s mouth are paired with rectangular reproductions of clouds in a group of prints, ambiguously simulating one another. Documenting a performative action, this work raises the emulation through the dual nature of contrast and comparison.
Similarly, dancing with the idea of chance and spontaneity, the other series in this exhibition Strobe Series / Futurist: Dog on Leash (For Balla), 1975 uses a set of black-and-white photographic montages and captures 8 drastic moments of the animal’s motion. Under the inspiration of Futurist painter Giacomo Balla’s painting Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912, the Futurist: Dog on Leash series has achieved to identify the visual instantaneity of movement using the medium of photography.
His video I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, 1971 betrays the promise of its own title when it is revealed to be thirty-one minutes of Baldessari performing the most banal of schoolboy punishments by writing out the title phrase over and over again. He both mocks “serious” conceptual art and makes a promise (in words) on which the (visual) words itself signally fails to deliver. We wait for something to develop. It does not. There is no attempt at all to satisfy conventional expectations of action, development, or denouement. It is, on the other hand, deeply compelling. As a product of the performance, the lithograph I Will Note Make Any More Boring Art, 1971 nevertheless offers a contrast to the monotonous process. For Baldessari, it is suggested that each iteration of the phrase is clearly unique, not the same as the one before or the one to come. The columns are all different, all offer their own potential delight.
In Baldessari Sings LeWitt, 1972, the title, again, gives a straightforward account of the content. Baldessari sings Sol LeWitt’s thirty-five “Sentences on Conceptual Art”,1969, transforming LeWitt’s text into the melodies of well-known tunes, including “Some Enchanted Evening” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”, among others. Baldessari wants to help these sentences “escape”, because they “have been hidden too long in exhibition catalogues”, and, through singing them, to help them reach “a much wider audience”. Baldessari Sings LeWitt, 1972 is shot in grainy black-and-white. The camera never moves. The artist sits in a black metal folding chair in front of a cinder-block wall. Everything connotes great seriousness. Right up until Baldessari begins to sing, that is when two incongruent registers are forced into juxtaposition.
In A Fix’d Inflexible Sorrow,1988, by the deliberate obfuscation of faces with a colored dot, a transformed product subtly emanates. Facial expressions are masked, certain figures are segmented thus accentuating “what is left”, may it be body language or perhaps a peeking smirk. Shapes and lines hold a character of their own, serving to recompose the original images into an arbitrary compositional decision. To this end, what is concealed actually becomes more visible, prompting the viewer to look again, to question what is not there as well as what is. Baldessari explains to The New Yorker, “David Foster Wallace once said that the duty of the writer is to make the reader feel intelligent, and let them fill in the gaps. I feel that way, too.” These works contest the accustomed methods of viewing, thus compelling a heightened receptivity to detail, absence, and spaces in between.
Containing more printed version of Baldessari’s modified photographic images, including A Fix’d Inflexible Sorrow, 1988, the illustration book, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which is part of Lewitt Foundation’s collection, is an accordion-fold edition that includes 41 panels with an essay by Melvyn New and 39 photo-collage illustrations by Baldessari, as an homage to the original author of one of the most experimental novels in English literature.
For his recent series Prima Facie, Baldessari reinvestigates old themes in a new way. Derived from the Latin term meaning “at first sight”, Prima Facie series juxtaposes a photographic portrait alongside a textual phrase. At a first glance, the phrase appears to be descriptive of the content of the image, but the appearance of emotion may conflict or complicate the simple association. What other expression does the sitter hint other than amazement Prima Facie: Amazed (Maquette), 2005, or arrogance Prima Facie: Arrogant, 2005? Is that shade of green actually “frog belly” or “spinach”, in the case of Prima Facie (Fifth State): Fresh Cut Grass / Frogs Belly / Lizard Green / Spinach, 2005? These are the questions Baldessari continues to ask with his work, which is still just as wryly entertaining as it was in 1967.
In Noses & Ears, Etc. series, Baldessari exposes an isolated nose and ear on a facial profile in silhouette. He views physiognomic elements as singular organs, rather than organs that relate to the whole of a face or a body. While context has been deleted, (Black) Face and (Yellow) Face with Noses, Hands, and Bookcase, 2006 leaves only the sensory organs in black and yellow space, and leaves the viewer to invent their own narrative to explain them. It is an important insight that has implications for the way we look at images. It reminds us of how we respond to cues in public imageries such as advertising, and of how all manner of connotations hover uncertainly around certain motifs.
For nearly five decades John Baldessari’s prolific and highly varied work has challenged our ways of looking at art, images, and text. He has deeply influenced an entire generation of the world’s leading artists. Jerry Saltz concludes by describing Baldessari as “the single most influential conceptual artist.” His works have been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions and in the U.S. and Europe and in over 750 group exhibitions. From 2009-2011, John Baldessari received international acclaim with his retrospective, Pure Beauty, which exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Tate Modern and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In April 2017, John Baldessari: Catalogue Raisonne Volume 4, spanning the years 1994 - 2004, will be published by Yale University Press.