Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jill Krementz visits John Baldessari at the Met

John Baldessari Pure Beauty
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
October 20, 2010 - January 9, 2011

Widely renowned as a pioneer of conceptual art, John Baldessari (b. 1931) is one of the most influential contemporary artists of the last fifty years. Originally organized by the Los Angeles County Museum in association with the Tate Modern in London, this presentation at the Met has been organized by Senior Consultant Marla Prather.

Pure Beauty is Baldessari's first major U.S. retrospective in 20 years. Spanning the period from 1962-2010, the exhibit brings together the full range of the artist's career: his early paintings, his photo-and text works, the photographs using found imagery in the 1980s, and the irregularly shaped and over-painted pieces of the 1990s. Also included are his videos, artist's books, and large-scale installations.

Mr. Baldessari's life-long interest in language, both written and visual, has been at the forefront of his work. He has expanded the parameters of what we consider art. All this he has done with great humor.

On November 21st at 2 PM, Mr. Baldessari will participate in a discussion with David Salle at the museum in a program called Sunday at the Met. The two artists will be introduced by Ms. Prather.
Entrance to the exhibition.
John Baldessari seated in front of one of his murals, Palm Tree/Seascape. It is one of the two monumental photo-compositions created by the artist for the Museum's dramatic, domed Great hall. On the other wall (not seen here) is Brain/Cloud. The two murals are 27-foot-wide printed canvases.
The Lesson #3, 1967
Ink and acrylic on canvas

Baldessari came upon a sheet left in a classroom demonstrating how to draw objects in proper perspective and to make them appear three-dimensional. He projected the sheet onto canvas using an opaque projector, a tool he had used in his own teaching, and traced the curious objects with a pen. "I think," he has said, "when I am doing art, I'm questioning how to do it." While the didactic nature of the exercise had little to do with his own methods of teaching or art production, the deadpan depiction of common objects organized in a grid offered an appealing source of found imagery.
Bird #1, 1962
Oil on paper on board
Falling Cloud, 1965
Acrylic on canvas
God Nose, 1965
Oil on canvas

Forty years after making this cartoonish depiction of a divine, disembodied nose floating in a blue sky, Baldessari rediscovered it in an exhibition of his work in Vienna; it had an immediate impact on his current thinking. He explored isolated body parts in the series Nose & Ears, Etc. and in 2007 he produced a sculptural relief in hand-painted aluminum of a nose amid a constellation of clouds for a multiple also titled God Nose. Literary treatments of the nasal appendage, such as Nikolai Gogol's The Nose (1836) or one of the artist's favorite novels, Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759-67), no doubt played a role in these works.
Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966-68
Acrylic on canvas

For an artist whose work was hardly selling and whose subject matter ran defiantly counter to the formulaic clichés, the choice to depict these commercial tips on a large canvas was deeply ironic. The least autocratic or didactic of teachers, Baldessari has relentlessly inveighed against "tasteful" subjects and the value judgments inherent in such formulas for success. At the same time, by their very presence in his work, we are asked to consider these art maxims, which no doubt contain a grain of truth. While many of Baldessari's text paintings typify his subversive wit, he has always maintained that, as much as humor may be a byproduct of his work, it is not its aim.
Pure Beauty, 1966-68
Acrylic on canvas
Portrait (Self) #1 +11 Alterations by
Retouching and Airbrushing,
Twelve color photographs with airbrushing on board
Structure by Color Series: Imperfect Drawing Based on the Shape of a Cone (with Cylinders and Rods), 1975
Inkjet prints on aluminum, tape and graphite

After first drawing a major vertical axis directly on the wall, Baldessari arranged along it photographs of rods and cones in the six colors of the color wheel. More pictures are planted on the periphery and connected to the central ones via additional drawn lines, all based on the order of the color wheel and forming the shape of a cone. As Baldessari said, "I call it an imperfect drawing since I'm not sure if all the possible permutations will give perfect intersections."
Art Critic Jason Kaufman with Gary Tinterow. Mr. Tinterow is chairman of the Met's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.
Gary Tinterow's tie made with John Baldessari's assistance and permission. The tie was fabricated by Fashion Designer Gelila Puck, who had some material made and designed some ties, as well as her dress, for the opening night of the exhibition. Carter Foster, Curator of Drawing at the Whitney.
Police Drawing, 1971
Conte crayon on paper, gelatin silver prints, and black-and -white video with sound, 23.09 minutes

This film and the accompanying works document Baldessari's visit to a friend's figure-drawing class. He entered the room of students who did not know him and set up his equipment to record the session. He then left the classroom and sent in a police artist who, based on the students description of the man they had just seen, sketched Baldessari's portrait. What had been a standard life-drawing class became a likeness in memory, and portraiture of a different sort. As Baldessari commented, "The police artist said the likeness he had drawn was good enough that normally I would have been arrested."
I Am Making Art, 1971
Black-and-white video with sound
A view of the exhibition space.
Four photographs showing cremation process of Baldessari's work.
Fable: A Sentence of Thirteen Parts (with Twelve Alternate Verbs) Ending in Fable, 1976
Artist's book published by Anatol AV and Film Production
Virtues and Vices (for Giotto), 1981
Fourteen gelatin silver prints

A longtime admirer of Giotto's famous fresco cycle (ca. 1305) in the Arena chapel, in Padua, Baldessari applied his own methods to incorporate the entire architectural space of the gallery wall. "I liked the idea that one could describe and dissect the virtues and vices so exactly back then," he said. "More important is that he makes things look so effortless." Baldessari has likened Giotto's tightly constructed narratives to comic strips, in the sense that "they are meant to be (easily) read, but they are profound at the same time. It's that kind of complexity and simplicity being paradoxically side-by-side that interests me. They could be a storyboard for a movie."
Planets (Chairs, Observer, White Paper), 1967
Gelatin silver prints and color photographs with oil tint and vinyl paint

Baldessari's multipanel photoworks of the 1980s could assume highly eccentric configurations. This fan-shaped image of four men, three of whom direct their gazes toward a mysterious sheet of paper held by one of them, has been sliced from a single image. It was prompted by a Renaissance engraving that Baldessari recalls having seen of three men looking down at a drawing, awed by the theory of perspective.
Embracing Figures (Partial): Skaters/Cyclist, 1992
Gelatin silver prints, color photographs, oil tint, crayon, and Masonite
Patricia Friedman, a collection tour guide for the Met.

On the wall: Hope (blue) Supported by a Bed of Oranges (life): Amid a Context of Allusions, 1991

In the mid 1980s Baldessari sometimes painted colored dots (similar to the red, yellow, and blue price stickers that stores put on their products) on the faces he found in photographs. He found that obscuring the face lent anonymity to his subjects and encouraged the viewer to focus on other aspects of the images.
Arms & Legs (specif, Elbows & Knees), Etc.
Part Two): Green Knee/Red Elbow,
Three-dimensional print laminated with Lexan and mounted to Sintra with acrylic paint
Prime Facie (Third State) From Aghast to Upset, 2005
Digital print and acrylic on canvas

In his first works entitled Prima Facie, Latin for "on its face" or "at first sight," Baldessari paired a single adjective such as "blissful" or "malicious," with a face appearing to signal that emotional state. Grappling with the impossibility of knowing exactly what emotion underlies a particular expression, he created this series, in which he attaches an alphabetized list of words to a single film still (depicting, of course, a manufactured emotion). Despite their array of meanings, all the adjectives function on some level as apt descriptions and linguistic equivalents.
Prime Facie (Fifth State): Warm Brownie/American Cheese/Carrot Stick/Black Bean Soup/Perky Peach/Leek, 2006
Pigment prints on canvas with latex

In this body of work, the artist again investigates color by way of conceptual, rather than aesthetic, strategies. Having explored color structure and sequencing in the 1970s, Baldessari here indulges his fascination with the language of color. Working in a hardware store as a young man, he was drawn to charts of paint colors and the names assigned by various hues. He has since noted different types of chromatic nomenclature, including "artist colors" (cerulean blue) or "landlord colors" (light green). Among the most amusing discoveries were "designer colors," names assigned to American paint companies that invented such unlikely appellations as "Avant-Garde" (mustard yellow) or Organic Order (mulchy green). Here the color coding links hues to common foods.
Nose & Ears, Etc: Head (with Nose), 2006
Three-dimensional digital print with acrylic paint

With the series Nose & Ears, Etc., Baldessari returned to an early subject, creating abstract visages by isolating parts from the whole and blocking out critical information with acrylic paint. The artist was attracted to noses and ears for the alien quality they exhibit when detached from the body. Eyes and lips, on the other hand, are freighted with emotion and as the artist has said, "get a lot of attention" in art history. Although he was still relying on film stills as source material, the works may in part refer to his own six-foot-seven frame. He once told an interviewer, "I never thought of the parts of my body as going together. I saw them as separate. Maybe because I'm so tall. I have to use willpower to glue them together."
Noses & Ears, Etc; Blood, Fist and Head (with Nose and Ear), 2006
Three-dimensional digital print with acrylic paint

The Sediment (Part Two): Hand, Ladle, Spaghetti, Pot, Plate and Chair, 2010

Baldessari recently produced some of his most reductive images since the photo-text paintings of the 1960s. For the Sediment series, he limited himself to a grisaille palette and worked with a single, enlarged eight-by-ten film still for each composition. Here, concealing much of the original content with paint, he nearly eliminated the human figure from the action. As usual, the title provides the inventory of the composition; "sediment" refers to what remains in the picture once the other ingredients have been removed.

The Sediment (Part Two) series is presently on view at the Marian Goodman Gallery.
Christina Galbraith and George Petrides with their 10-month-old baby, Sofia. Ms. Galbraith is a writer and film producer; Mr. Petrides is a designer and builder.
A.M. Homes, one of my favorite writers. Isabelle Dervaux, curator of modern and contemporary drawings at the Morgan Library & Museum.
Gallery owner Julie Saul with Robert Parker. Mr. Parker is an art historian who is currently working on a Gertrude Stein exhibition scheduled to open at the Met in 2012.
Kim, Clancy, and Michael McCarty. Clancy McCarty is a 24-year-old film producer whose "No Women, No Cry" showed at both the Tribeca and London Film Festivals. Its subject is maternal mortality. Wolfgang Puck and his wife, fashion designer Gelila Puck. Ms. Puck designed the fabric and the dress she is wearing in homage to the artist.
Charles Cowles, an American art dealer and a collector of contemporary art. Artist Vija Celmins. Ms. Celmins was born in Riga, Latvia, immigrating to the United States when she was 10. I love her work.
A Visit to the Gift Shop
Published by LACMA and Prestel Publishing, the exhibition catalogue features 400 illustrations and essays by ten writers, curators, and art historians. Among the contributing essayists are Douglas Eklund, Associate Curator in the Metropolitan's Department of Photographs, and the painter David Salle, a former student of Baldessari. ($75 hardcover, $45 paperback).
Four Balls T-shirt, sizes S, M, L, and XL: $30. Baldessari mementos.
Duress Series: Person Climbing Exterior
John Baldessari poster of exhibition, unframed, $24.95.
Baldessari mugs.
The pencils are inscribed with Baldessari's vow: "I will not make any more boring art."
A slowly unfolding narrative sequence of enigmatically fragmentary images initiates this superbly designed book. These fragments, derived largely from B-movie stills, lead into a second chapter reproducing the complete pictures. Juggling themes of composition, information, omission and rhythm, Parse consolidates Baldessari's signature concerns into a great work of book art, $95.
There was a reception for the artist and invited guests in the Great Hall
John Baldessari and Cindy Sherman. In the background, painter Pat Steir (seated) is talking with Connie Rogers, an art adviser and collector.
Twin brothers Doug and Mike Starn whose current exhibition Big Bambú can be viewed (and climbed) on the roof of the Met. As of last weekend more than 600,000 agile visitors had climbed around the site-specific installation.

"Last Sunday we tied our last knot and now we're starting to untie the knots and dismantle," said Doug Starn.

Their roof exhibit will end on Halloween.
The Met's Christine Coulson and Thomas Campbell. Ms. Coulson is Senior Advisor to the Director.
David Byrne, a co-founder of the musical group Talking Heads. Mr. Byrne's art includes photography and installation books. An avid bike rider, his published Bicycle Diaries (Viking) chronicles his observations and insights as he pedals through some of the world's major cities. Art Dealer Richard Feigen, who was the first to show John Baldessari in New York. The exhibition, Commisioned Paintings, was in 1970 in Feigen's SoHo Gallery. None of the paintings sold.
John Baldessari and Mike Starn.
John Baldessari and his gallerist, Marian Goodman.
Vija Celmins and John Baldessari.
Randy Bourscheidt and Steve Mazoh. Mr. Bourscheidt is the President of the Alliance for the Arts; Mr. Mazoh is a fellow of the museum and a private art dealer. John Chase and his wife Esme Rene. Mr. Chase is a writer for magazines and Television. Ms. Rene is an art director for Tommy Hilfiger e-commerce.
Andrée Hayum (art historian) with Vicki Goldberg (Photography critic).
Patricia Fidler. Ms. Fidler is an editor at Yale University Press which is publishing the Catalogue Raisoneé. Artist Lawrence Weiner is one of Baldessari's oldest and closest friends. Mr. Weiner will be showing at Marian Goodman's Gallery following the present exhibition of John Baldessari.
David Ross greets his pal Lawrence Weiner with a big kiss on the lips.

Mr. Ross, former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco MoMA, is now heading London's Albion Gallery in New York.
Julie Saul with her boyfriend, Roger Jazilek. In Julie's words, he is "a painter photographer, provocateur."
Artists Sarah Charlesworth and Cindy Sherman.
Artist Judy Hudson with art critic Linda Yablonsky. Ms. Yablonsky writes for Artforum.com and T Magazine (New York Times). Jason Kaufman with Rachel Vancelette, a
fashion designer.
Anne Strauss and Rebecca Herman. Ms. Strauss, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, is the curator of Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú. Ms. Herman is the senior press officer working on Mr. Baldessari's exhibition. Holly Chen and Eric Chaves. Ms. Chen, 26, is a graduate student at IFA (Institute of Fine Arts, which is part of NYU) and Mr. Chaves, 27, is a web designer.
Artists Ewelina Ferruso and Eric White. Ms. Ferruso's exhibit, "Meanwhile in Purgatory," opens in San Francisco with a reception for the artist on November 6th at Gallery 1988. "It's a collection of 10 works about spiritual growth and discovering womanhood through the paths of the heart."

Mr. White is a 2010 fellow in Painting from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Leaving the Met, Robert Dean and the artist. Mr. Dean is the Editorial Director of John Baldessari Catalogue Raisoneé.
John Baldessari: Sediment (Part 2)
Marian Goodman Gallery
October 21-December 4, 2010
Each of these photo-based works sell for upwards of $275,000.
Patrick Pardo, Editor, John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné.
John Baldessari and Cora Rosevear, associate curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA. John Baldessari and his sister Betty talking with Steven Berger and Brian Reneski.
Shaye Remba (Mixographia) and Julião Sarmento. Mr. Sarmento is an artist from Portugal. His next show in America will open April 16th at the Parrish Museum in Southampton.
Betty Sokol, John Baldessari's sister, who lives in Leonia, New Jersey. When I asked Ms. Sokol if she too was an artist, she replied: "I arrange flowers well, but no, I'm not an artist." Yasmin Bilbesisi, who covers the arts for Glass Magazine, a Conde Nast quarterly lifestyle magazine.
Marian Goodman with Cora Rosevear.
Marian Goodman, Andrew Richards (Senior Director), and Lissa McClure (Director).
Lissa McClure, Director of Marian Goodman Gallery, looks on as John Baldessari signs a book in Andrew's office.
Linda Pellegrini, Director of Communications at Marian Goodman Gallery. Luis and Lea Remba. The Rembas run Mixografia, a workshop in Los Angeles that does multiples of artists' works including those of Mr. Baldessari.
Calvin Tomkins with his wife Dodie Kazanjian. Mr. Tomkins' illuminating and brilliant profile of John Baldessari is in the October 18, 2010 issue of The New Yorker. Ms. Kazanjian curates GalleryMet.
Agnes Gund. "I love this show. It puts black and white back on the map." Mia Kazanjian with her aunt, Dodie Kazanjian. Ms. Kazanjian was celebrating her 26th birthday and will be starting her residency at New York-Cornell in Radiology.
Artist Lawrence Weiner talking with Elaine Budin. Mr. Weiner will be having a show at Marian's Gallery on December 10th, called "Gyroscopically Speaking." Ms. Budin is Managing Director of the Marian Goodman Gallery. Artist Gabriel Orozco. Last October I covered his well-deserved mid-career retrospective at MoMA.
John Baldessari and Lawrence Weiner, stablemates at Marian Goodman.
Yasmin Bilbeisi and Samantha Levin of Anagnorisis Fine Arts. Ms. Levin is currently involved in the phenomenon of pop-up galleries all over the city. Marla Prather, Senior Consultant at the Metropolitan Museum. Ms. Prather organized the John Baldessari Exhibition at the Met.
Calvin Tomkins and John Baldessari. Cora C. Thomas and Erik Madigan Heck. Ms. Thomas is an accessories designer; Mr. Heck is a photographer and the editor in chief of Nomenus Quarterly.
Jill Brienza. "The bag I am carrying is a collaboration between John Baldessari, Independent Curators International (ICI), and Monica Botkier, the handbag designer. I just helped bring them together and am very happy with the result. The proceeds from sales of the bag will help fund ICI exhibitions." A closer look at the bag and a peek inside.
Artist Claes Oldenburg.
Perry Lin, a musician and film-maker.
Joni Weyl and Sidney Felsen of Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. G.E.L. stands for Graphic Editions Limited and this is precisely what they do for John Baldessari and many other great artists.
There is a third Baldessari exhibition: Foot and Stocking (with Big Toe Exposed), at the New York Gemini Gallery (980 Madison Avenue on the 5th floor) through November 6th.

The six screenprints on exhibit, with fabric and paper collage, have just been printed and published by Gemini G.E.L. To begin his work on this series, Baldessari had photographs taken of the bare right foot of several members of his studio staff and then digitally reworked each image by covering the entire foot, except the right big toe, with a black form in the appearance of a sock.

These dramatic large-scale prints are a continuation of Baldessari's isolated body parts.
Marian Goodman leaves her gallery followed by art critic Linda Yablonsky and the artist for whom she was going to be hosting a small dinner at Zengo, a Richard Sandoval restaurant on 40th and 3rd.
I've always done what I want. Luckily I'm blessed with a well-developed sense of abusurdity--it's what saved me.
John Baldessari to Calvin Tomkins
The New Yorker, October 18, 2010
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz; all rights reserved.