Friday, November 19, 2010

John Baldessari Pure Beauty The Metropolitan Museum of Art October 20 2010- January 9, 2011. by craniv boyd

John Baldessari Pure Beauty The Metropolitan Museum of Art October 20 2010- January 9, 2011.


Recent observers of current art ask themselves, is the art of today, that of the 21st century Beautiful? Beauty in a world of post studio art creation, shock art, monumental multi-channeled video installation and John Baldessari is a charged word. We find ourselves in a time when Picasso's D'amouselles  de Avignon is a masterpiece over 100 years of age, the cubist rebel who challenged conceptions of aesthetics, is  accepted by in large as a forceful agent of change a genius in modern art, beauty then in 1906 must have been an altogether different beast. The past decades have brought us busts made of frozen blood, sculptures made from recycled American cars, an earth filled apartment in Soho Manhattan, and a slew of blank and monochrome canvass with serious knife wounds in the middle of them. What is beauty today and what is pure beauty? An implied question posed by the Title of this retrospective of an artist born at a time when Picasso himself was still a single young adult. John Baldessari, a Californian, whose artistic output begins at a time when the recycled car guy was getting started and continues in varied forms until today.


The Metropolitan's survey is that of 50 years of artistic activity by a single artist, the first major New York presentation of Baldessari's development in over 20 years.  It is a multi-chambered display of one hundred and twenty art works created since 1962. The Show begins before museum spectators even know it has with two super big commissions for the museum's domed entrance hall, The 27 foot wide printed on canvass "Brain/Cloud" and "Palm Tree/ Seascape". It is large profile work with a very high "hit-rate" every museum visitor to the Metropolitan Museum on 5Th avenue in New York City between October 20Th of this year and approximately mid January of 2011 shall see two "paintings" by artist John Baldessari whether they want to or not, regardless if they venture up to the modern wing to view his retrospective or not.


 John Baldessari's artworks straddle various media and genres from painting, to photography to video and film to appropriation. Baldessari's influence as a professor is undeniable and this exhibition can read as a how to guide on the production of late capitalistic art works. Exerting his pedagogical influence on students who became known and hyped in the bull market 1980's American art market, i.e. David Salle, and beyond however, less concretely on as the press release describes them  "succeeding generations" of: Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Baldessari's facet wealthy oeuvre almost pleads to the young artist/art student in a sunny California voice 'pick one of these studies I have done and stick with it your whole career, you to can become a current artist of note!'


What I mean by this is, simply put there are connections between for example, Baldessari's black and white text paintings of Clement Greenberg quotes, and artist Christopher Wool's paintings  "Helter Skelter" or "Riot" images where black bold face text is arranged on a white ground. The argument goes, take one of many subjects casually introduced by the residing west coast modern master, simplify it, enlarge the scale toughen it up a little bit, and work with only that for years and show it on the east perhaps more cynical and jaded coast. But that is only speculation, and there are considerably more issues at play in the work of an artist like Wool. 


It is as if Baldessari wrote the lexicon of what pure beauty is and can be in current art. He is the author of seminal vintage video works from 1971 where he is doing things and chanting " I am making art" and in a later piece he is reciting the promise "I will not make anymore boring art" Now with the odd mix of: 1.the proliferation of digital video recording devices, 2. the existence of Internet video dissemination sites like vimeo or YouTube, 3. Social-networking sites that verge on becoming alternate reality, and 4. The rapidly approaching Baldessari centennial in 2031. Somebody could and should organize a 100 years birthday video card for John Baldessari involving a recreation or reenactment of these two 1971 classics created uploaded shared and sent by artist and art enthusiasts the world over!


When I was in New York I could only regretfully visit this exhibition once, excuses and more excuses, what I saw as I progressed through the halls was the narrative arch of the making of a truly influential artist and art educator.


His humble beginnings in a series of paintings, presentable, quizzical yet slightly derivative versions of pop art in medium format, towards an artistic crisis of; is painting relevant anymore? In art and art history referential Text paintings from quoted material, onward to a bevy of small scale photo installations made in the late 60's early 70's occasionally featuring documentation of the artist himself performing an obscure hermetic purposeless act like waving at boats in the bay area (zeitgeist? German artist Anselm Kiefer made similar photographically based work at the same time albeit of himself, giving the Hitler salute in various historically charged locations in Europe) Video works that define and document the panic, confusion and desperation associated with the endeavor of creating original art work in our increasingly stratified society, then if that was not enough diagrams and charts of how to make a great Hollywood Movie that function as portraiture of the formulaic American entertainment industry, moving on to enlarged appropriated images of fallen men from older black and white Hollywood films and stock photographs of dead soldiers,  possible inspiration for an artist like Robert Longo's "Men in cities" Series, then subsequent varied paneled framed photo appropriations of increasingly larger size that are playful in the 80's the return to pop with the combination of similar photo appropriations and discreet shapes of bright solid color , a brief rekindling with the romance of the text-based art piece in a new form now in bright contrasting op-art colors with the same black frames as the photo appropriations, explorations of similar appropriated images with unconventional format shapes i.e. the trapezoid or triangle and, finally the Hero's return to his humble beginnings in art in bombastic scale with the earlier mentioned 27 foot wide special commission that looks surprisingly similar to the artists stark pop like paintings in the first hall of the retrospective.


Some one very close to me recently hinted that Baldessari's influence on the art being made today is global. They said that in the 1990's many works in the Swedish art academies had a palpable Baldessarian twist to them. That seeing Baldessari Pure Beauty at the metropolitan museum of art was crucial to the understanding of many works made in Scandinavia at the turn of the millennium. A 2004 Video Work of Icelandic artist Erling Klingenberg titled Create, Create could be observed through the lens of a more aggressive perverted desperate or delusional version of Baldessari's 1971 classic "I am Making art" but that might be too simple to build a bridge between two different artists of different nations, generations whatever. Yet to ignore it one would almost have to believe that an artist and their ideas must live in isolation on a desert island to express something with an original voice.


Baldessari it appears has developed a strong grammar of current trends and thematics for much art being produced today, his vision is visible in the works of many today. Is the beauty therein pure?  Or is the schizophrenic, multiple personality – esque, quality of his creations to date, the attribute that makes him as an artist and art educator a wellspring of inspiration, the real object of beauty in this survey? A brand of laid back investigation of broad topics hallmarks of a true horizontal thinker. by craniv boyd ©

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