John Baldessari Explores Correlations Between Modern Art History and Hollywood film

John Baldessari Contemporary art

A new series of works by John Baldessari titled, Miró and Life, in General, will be the artist’s second major exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery, London. 

Throughout his career, John Baldessari has explored the correlations and contrasts between painting and photography, and between image and language. Beginning with his early text and photo-text paintings from the 1960s, he has explored these dichotomies through hybrid compositions of photography, text and painted images. His 2010 Tate Modern retrospective, Pure Beauty, highlighted these early text and image paintings as well as his influential 1980s photo-based works, which explore the cultural and artistic impact of mass media; a topic that reverberates to this day. However, in the last five years, in series such as The Doubles, 2011 and 2012 and Pictures & Scripts, 2015 (his last body of work shown at Marian Goodman Gallery, London,) Baldessari’s focus has turned to the art historical canon and he has made the medium of painting the central subject of his work. These earlier series juxtapose images from 15th – 20th-century paintings with texts from art history, popular music, and film noir, in order to deduce new meaning from art history and to create new ways of seeing.

Baldessari’s new works ultimately questions the very nature of the artist’s place within the canon of art history itself

The current series, Miro, and Life, in General, continues this investigation into the history of painting. Each work features a detail from one particular Miro painting and pairs it with a seemingly incongruous, classic, Hollywood film still, which Baldessari refers to as ‘Life in General’. Each pairing is further partnered with a word – ‘Reliable’, ‘Necessary’, ‘True’, ‘Unfailing’ etc. – each a synonym of the other. Neither the original root word nor the specific Miró painting is revealed, asking viewers to respond in their own way and to create their own new composite meaning. This pairing of disparate elements from art history, popular culture, and language, both dissembles the canon and reassembles it in a new form. As a towering figure of 20th-century American conceptual art and as one of the most influential teachers of a generation of artists, Baldessari’s new works ultimately questions the very nature of the artist’s place within the canon of art history itself.

John Baldessari was born in 1931 in National City, California. He currently lives in Santa Monica, California. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt Germany (2015), the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow Russia (2013) and at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands (2012). Baldessari’s work was the subject of the major retrospective, Pure Beauty, which retraced his career from 1962 to 2010. Organized by Tate Modern, London, the exhibition travelled to MACBA, Barcelona; LACMA, Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from 2010- 2011. His work was included in the 47th Venice Biennale (1997) and 53rd Venice Biennale (2009) where he won the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Carnegie International (1985-86), the Whitney Biennial (1983), as well as the Documenta V (1972) and VII (1982).

John Baldessari has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the 2015 School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Medal Award and the 2012 Kaiserring Award by the city of Goslar, Germany. In April 2017, John Baldessari: Catalogue Raisonne: Volume 4, spanning the years 1994-2004, will be published by Yale University Press.




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