Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art is pleased to present a solo exhibition by
Born in National City, California in1931, John Baldessari was influenced by Dada and Surrealist literary and visual ideas. He rose to prominence in the late1960s when he began combining mass media imagery with language, Pop vigour with Conceptual density. Baldessari, early in his long and much celebrated career, began incorporating layers of found materials (billboard posters, photographs, film stills, bits of conversations) on his plain white canvases. These montages, which result from the juxtaposition, edition and cropping of image and text, served to thwart narrative coherence and play off chance relationships between otherwise discreet elements. His photo-based work was also a means of introducing photography into galleries, in an ongoing attempt to undermine certain taboos.
In 1970, Baldessari cremated most of his pre-1966 paintings. This marked his turn from painting to embrace contemporary strategies of cross-over and collisions between mediums. His subsequent work, nonetheless, remained steeped in the issues of painting. During the 1970s, Baldessari, who had been using snapshots of his hometown, discovered a wealth of images in photo shops. He began “dumpster diving”, gathering B-movie film stills, publicity shots and press material. “At a certain point I had these huge folders, each one classified according to a subject matter or genre: people with guns, people kissing, Indians and cowboys falling off horses, getting shot, getting shot with arrows –almost every plot device. Then I cropped the cheap, recycled imagery to give exhausted images new meaning, or at least something other than the original meaning” [John Baldessari in conversation with Jeremy Blake, Artforum, March 2004, p. 163]. This was achieved by gathering these readily available images in grids or freely arranged, multi-panel combinations that could elicit a range of meanings, rather than a single, fixed definition.
By the 1980s, he had abandoned text, turning to found pictures alone as a sufficient means of expounding his composites. Later, he adopted coloured sticker-like dots, painted in acrylic, as a means of erasing the identity of people and flattening the image. Like these previous works, NOSES & EARS, ETC. is a continuation of the artist’s interest in the idea of editing and censoring, questioning and foregrounding “what we leave in and what we leave out” [expression taken from a conversation with Christian Boltanski, entitled “What is Erased”, see: http://www.blindspot.com/issue3/baldessari_boltanski.html].
Like the title itself denotes, this new series focuses ears and noses by excising the rest of the face. These over-paintings are a continuation of the artist’s wry game of omission, which has marked his work in an overall sense. Baldessari blocks out the lips, eyes, wrinkles and spots, any telltale features of a person, by over-painting. In doing so, he obscures the face, shattering instant identification or interpretation of these images.
“What I leave out is more important. I want that absence, which creates a kind of anxiety” [Artforum, March 2004]
As Baldessari himself points out, the eye or lips in isolation have
extensively been focused in art history, for instance, Man Ray’s
much reproduced ‘Lips’ from 1966 or the infamous eye-slicing
in ‘Un Chien Andalou’. The nose and ears, inversely, do
not readily catch the observer and look strange and uncanny in isolation,
somewhat phallic when enlarged.
His remarkable tenure as a teacher at the California Institute of the Arts has influenced generations of artists, such as Matt Mullican, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. John Baldessari’s work has been featured in more than 120 solo exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe and in over 300 group exhibitions. In 2007 he will collaborate with the Kunst Museum Bonn and Bonner Kunstverein, Germany, for an exhibition celebrating musical connections with his work. In 2005, a two-part retrospective of his work was held at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stifting Ludwig Wien and the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria and the Museé d’Art Contemporain, Nimes. ‘Somewhere Between Almost Right and Not Quite (with Orange)’ took place at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in 2004/5. Other recent major solo exhibitions were held at the Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik (2001), the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (1999); the Museo d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Trento, Italy (2000/1); and the Museum für Gegenwartkunst, Zurich and Witte de With, Rotterdam (1998).