Art Seen: International

JOHN BALDESSARI // MARIAN GOODMAN GALLERY, LONDON

by Kostas Prapoglou

EDNA: You look lugubrious – what’s wrong?
LOIS: It’s the gatekeepers.
EDNA: And?
LOIS: I’m jealous. They reject me.
EDNA: And…?
LOIS: Art is about who’s in power.
EDNA: (AUDIBLE SIGH) Dystopia I guess.

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Cowboys, 2015 | Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery | Copyright John Baldessari

This is one of the scripts accompanying John Baldessari’s latest works for his show at Marian Goodman Gallery in London, his first solo exhibition since Pure Beauty held at Tate Modern back in 2009. Pictures & Scripts, the title of the current London show, comprises twenty new paintings spanning the gallery’s two floor areas. A concurrent exhibition at Goodman’s sister venue in Paris presents the Early Works series, a collection of the artist’s influential early career works dating as far as the 1960s.

For his London show, Baldessari follows the formula of merging two elements together—film stills from black and white movies, and text lines from imaginary film scripts. The appropriated film images are isolated from their original environment and emerge as a new invented situation, where all depicted characters become protagonists of the chosen moment. The utilisation of text referring to the art world and art industry, pronounces notions of displacement for the pictorial half, although simultaneously interweaving a new story-line, and characters are suddenly involved into a brand new diegesis.

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Installation view | Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery | Copyright John Baldessari

Baldessari’s playful attitude does not leave the selected images untouched. He sagaciously introduces his own monochromatic objects or even figures into each scene and allows the viewer to discover and incorporate them with the rest of the setting. This muted intervention empowers the paintings’ narratives with a new dynamism, prompting viewers to construct a version of their own story for each individual work. The affair of interaction between artwork and observer evokes a concealed participatory game. Having no beginning, middle or end, the diptychs on display are made to activate our imagination, decide on what we see and how we want each tale to conclude. Reminiscent of the multiple endings practice in literature and theatre, Baldessari’s audience may engage in a similar process as the audiences of the 1985 Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood (written by Rupert Holmes and based on the incomplete Charles Dickens novel of the same title), where numerous conceivable endings could be chosen.

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Installation view | Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery | Copyright John Baldessari

Baldessari developed a devoted interest in exploring the relationship of image and words since the 1960s. An ongoing investigation of the inter-relation and inter-change between language and visual stimulus features in his artistic vocabulary from these early stages. His declaration “a word could be an image or an image could be a word, they could be interchangeable’’ is a cogent expression of his passion to survey the dynamism and effectiveness of both. The cross-examination of the impact of written language in conjunction with the employment of visual techniques and mediums, ranging from photography to video stills and performative methods such as pointing (a concept he embraced in the late 1960s and early 1970s), demonstrate a lucid flirtatious attitude towards conceptual art and its parameters.

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Fedora, 2015 and Face, 2015 | Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery | Copyright John Baldessari

Reflecting this historical trajectory of conceptualism, Baldessari’s practice echoes a distinctive humorous hallmark of denuding the insights of the art world and providing a commentary, interesting to follow although sometimes admittedly difficult to digest. The confrontational spirit of the dialogues is on a par with the dubious hypostasis of his characters’ identity. Although keeping their original identity as adapted from a film (a gangster remains a gangster for instance), they are nevertheless involved in a new context, a surreal scenario orchestrated by the artist’s ingenuity and handed on to the viewer’s own creative mind.

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Canon, 2015 | Courtesy the Artist and Marian Goodman Gallery | Copyright John Baldessari

Baldessari’s career, spanning almost six decades, encompasses innumerable seminal works that still stimulate his audience worldwide. In 1971 he created his first print I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art—a determining and momentous statement that heavily influenced the entire art world at the time, and still does. The fresh outlook permeating his oeuvre fascinates art enthusiasts and art professionals, signalling the significance of his visual language and the ever-lasting originality of his stance and his infectious thirst for life.



Pictures & Scripts at Marian Goodman Gallery runs through April 25, 2015.

Kostas Prapoglou is an archaeologist-architect, art writer, critic and curator based in London, UK.

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