Saturday, November 03, 2012

The first bit, from Oct. 7th, moved to the front

John Baldessari Man and Woman with Bridge, 1984
There's one early photograph by Gursky that I've always thought encapsulated his interests, concerns, questions, dilemmas. Everything since seems to ascend or descend from it: it describes both the works he's made and the road not taken. When I saw the piece above a few months ago, though it's not an early one, I thought it does something similar for Baldessari. [update: the Gursky now here, in a related discussion of Kubrick]

Baldessari at Goodman, October 19-Nov 21

There's a lot to say about this show, about what it is and what it describes about historical change. It returns us the the late 19th century and the confusion of formalism and philosophy (idealist, atemporal, concerned with "truth"), and description and narrative (fictions and poetry and "lies"), that marked the Parisian avant-garde. It encapsulates the contemporary return almost perfectly.  It makes no more than a nod towards conceptual irony, which was never more than a specifically arch form of negation, before going on (and back) to Mallarmé and Lautréamont .

From Paris to NY to LA, from 1890 to 1940 to 1970, from ambiguity and modernity to idealist pretension (and Modern-ism) to the insecurity of self-consciously serious people in the world of the dream factory. Baldessari was the teacher and mentor to the pictures generation, children less of Marx and Coca-Cola than of Clement Greenberg and Barbie, in lines that stretch back through Adorno and Hollywood to P.T. Barnum, Poe, Hawthorne and the Puritans.

American Modernism, as idea and ideology, like all American philosophy begins in moralism.  It would be hard to describe the sense, in the late 70's and 80's in the culture of American contemporary art, or at least the institutional avant-garde of the New York, of the common association of illusionistic pictorial space (finite as opposed to infinite), with laziness. It's hard to describe the sense of the moral imperative of the material, as truth. California conceptualism embraced the puerile as rebellion and the rebellion of the puerile.  It was always academic in its anti-academicism, the product of art schools in the land of billboards, sand, and sun. As Jonathan Borofsky noted, Baldessari would always tell his students to get out of the studio, but if wasn't in class he never left it.

The first piece above is an easy read. It's collage as figurative art, as montage, and it's not subtle: the central element telegraphs the relation between the characters. It's derivative of filmic narrative without trying to undermine or escape it, which is why it's almost one of a kind in Baldessari's art. He's called himself a "closet formalist", as someone from southern California of his generation would have to be. (The term is freighted, though no one asks why he would use it.)  This piece has none of that struggle.  The form is used practically if too simply to show an event. It's illustration: less worried over, less conflicted, less pretentious, but also less interesting than the work he's known for.

The new work is something else again. It's clear that Baldessari has found a way in some of the pieces less to come out of the closet (formalism itself is void) than to join design (disegno), imagery, and language with the sort of casual absurdism found here. Retiring from teaching may have helped; the new work is much less academic. Whether he'd want to admit it or not, he's matured.

If fact he won't admit it. From the press release: "As the artist says, 'Art comes out of art; if any artist doesn’t admit to that, it doesn’t ring true…'" In his mind, still Greenbergian conceptualism.
In the acknowledgements of her intellectual biography of Clement Greenberg, aptly titled Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses, Caroline A. Jones thanks Benjamin Buchloh, historian, critic, and theoretician of left-wing high seriousness in contemporary art, for his “stimulating aperçu regarding the ‘administrative sensibility’ of post-Greenbergian conceptual art.” It’s left at that. [p.151 PDF]
rather than just link to related posts, I'll repeat them.

"It starts out as just another one of those delightful bits of perverse fake lip-reading… but then, a little past the 2 minute mark, it turns into something much, much greater."

"Eye of the Sparrow" For some reason embedding is now blocked for the video. The link slips over to debate highlights. [that seems to have been fixed] The one posted is still available here

Baldessari was born in 1931. Richard Serra was born in 1939.

Richard Serra, Untitled, 1972, Charcoal on paper, 29 3/4 x 41 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum, New York
There's something very interesting about this drawing. When it was made, and why.

"Philosophy opposes fiction, and theories of modern art opposed the "fiction" of pictorialism. The implications of that preference are unexamined."
Look at the shape. How it appears flat and then seems to recede. The beginnings of a return to pictorial art: affirmed/denied/affirmed

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective

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