Born 1931 in National City, California; lives in Santa Monica, California
For the last five decades, John Baldessari has constantly reinvented himself, working in a variety of media and forms including painting, photography, books, sculpture, and exhibition design. Although typically associated with Conceptual art, the only consistent aspect of the artist’s work—aside from his commitment to mining the archives of art history and the mass media—is his defiance of expectations.
So it was again in 2006 when Baldessari aimed his disruptive sensibility toward museum interventions. Notable was his installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art of Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images (2006–07), a gathering of works by René Magritte and contemporary artists. Through a dramatic installation gambit, the artist transformed the neutrality of the white cube into a surprising exhibition environment, essentially structuring the show’s dialogue between past and present. Viewers walked on carpeting printed with images of Magritte’s white clouds against a blue sky while the ceiling was papered with images of Los Angeles freeways. In a characteristically playful turn of the screw, the artist even arranged for museum guards to wear bowler hats similar to those famously populating Magritte’s paintings. Baldessari’s juxtapositions, displacements, and spatial interventions resonated with Magritte’s uncanny aesthetics but also with the disjunctive poetics very much at the dyslexic heart of his own work. This was further achieved through the deployment of elective amenities, primarily by displacing the familiar—and familiar narratives—with the unexpected or with other elements of disruption, including surprising spacing or gaps.
Baldessari’s recent wall-bound works—including Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc.: Arm and Plaid Jacket (Green) (2007) and Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc.: Elbow (Blue) with Desk (2007)— continue in this manner, furthering a dialogue with Surrealist invention by juxtaposing fragmented body parts and creating more unexpected pairings. Expanding on his Noses & Ears, Etc. series (2006–07) also recombining fragments of body parts, the multimedia works from Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc. (2007– ) bring together photographic, painted, and three-dimensional elements. Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc.: Blue Torso and Pink Arm (2007), for example, joins a flat yellow ground painted directly on the wall, a collaged pink-painted photographic arm, and a sculptural torso painted blue. Eliding body fragments into colorful, gap-filled, elliptical tableaux, “these works,” the artist notes, “can be seen not as painting, photography, or sculpture, but as a melding of all three.” TODD ALDEN
John Baldessari, Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc.: Elbow (Blue) with Desk, 2007. Three-dimensional digital archival print laminated with polycarbonate resin and mounted, with synthetic polymer, 59O x 98O in. (151.8 x 250.8 cm). Private collection