John Baldessari - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 13, 2009 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sonnabend Gallery, New York; Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers, Munich; Goff + Rosenthal, New York

  • Literature

    J. Baldessari, ed., John Baldessari, Milan, 2000, p. 91 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    "Great art is essentially work that has proven inexhaustible in terms of the value it gives to those who chose to pay attention to it," (R. Storr, as quoted by S.Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World, New York, 2008, p. 228).
    The voids of John Baldessari’s painted photographs are simultaneously positive and negative spaces, equally charged addition and subtraction. The absence of significant pictorial elements—most iconically, and in the case of the present lot, the subjects’ facial features—refocuses our attention, and these painted-out expanses become active and intriguing. Humanity’s general fascination with partial obscurity is expressed again and again, fromthe use ofmasks in theatrical tradition the world over to sheer clothing for our persons, curtains for our homes, and packaging for our possessions, leaving ‘something to the imagination’ in every case. The blanks become expanses for each viewer to move imaginatively within and populate idiosyncratically, and this room—and the engagement it makes possible—keeps us coming back.
    With its provocative title and all-too familiar positioning of the female subject, it is tempting to read the two upper elements of Person with Pillow: Desire/Lust/Fate as thought bubbles, à la comic illustration, but a metaphorical manifestation of her emotional state is also plausible, and her empty flesh-toned visage leaves it to us to decide the tenor implied, in either case. The volcano has two primary classical attributions—passion and anger, both encompassed by Baldessari’s title here, and the duo of bandleaders, conducting, while the flat ovals of red and green obscuring their faces make it unclear whether in concert or competition. One man stop, and one man go, or perhaps marine navigational beacons— keep the red on your right, right? The stolid body of calming blue in the central panel is at odds with the violence of the scene behind it, echoing a pillow-shape even more closely than the white void below... one could go on. Far from being overwhelmed by vigorous thematic speculation, however, this masterful composition bears up beautifully, with its grace and deft proportion tireless.


Person with Pillow: Desire/Lust/Fate

Acrylic paint on black and white and color photographs in three parts.
104 ½ x 69 ¼ in. (264 x 176 cm) overall.

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $290,500

Contemporary Art Part I

14 May 2009, 7pm
New York