In an impressively deep and influential oeuvre spanning almost six decades, John Baldessari consistently exposed the complex and ambiguous narrative potential of images. Drawing from a carefully collected pool of visual signs, he explored how meaning is not necessarily an inherent quality of an image, but is created, deconstructed or obscured when taken out of context, altered or combined with other images or words. This expansive practice is the subject of a show at Sprüth Magers‘ New York exhibition space, showcasing a series of maquettes by the artist that outline his practice and modes of work.
Curated by Nana Bahlmann and selected from a large body of rarely seen work, The Story Underneath assembles over seventy-five collages, photographs, film stills and drawings dating from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. The maquettes reflect how the artist anticipated the manifold ways in which we deal with and manipulate images today, long before Instagram or Pinterest came to dominate our visual environment. Reflecting the artist’s physical manipulations of his source material and the process of his pictorial reinventions, these works capture the heightened moment of transformation when commonplace images turn into artworks by Baldessari. Created as preparatory works and sketches for his large-scale pieces, the artist’s maquettes grant extraordinary insight into his particular way of seeing and composing. Many of these works on paper reveal the original sources—film stills, lobby cards, found photographs—of the vast collection from which he drew inspiration, selected, extracted, removed, cut, reassembled and combined elements to create his works. Baldessari considered his maquettes to be artworks themselves, and they bear the traces of his hand as it marked, scribbled, crosshatched, cut out, copied, taped or stuck dots on these found images.
The result of the show are a series of works that feel fresh and refreshing for those familiar with the artist’s work, and perhaps even for those less familiar, presented here with a range of materials that mix together carefully analytical studies of pop imagery, film stills, photographs, paintings and more, all turned towards the same end goal, and twisted in context and content by the same hand. Underscoring Baldessari as a proess-oriented artist, the show makes for a fascinating new look at his body of work.
The show closes October 29th.
– D. Creahan
John Baldessari at Sprüth Magers [Exhibition Site]