John Baldessari - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "I could never figure out why photography and art had separate histories. So I decided to explore both."
    —John Baldessari
    Executed in 1990, Woman Looking at Plant (With Two Carrots), is a prime example of John Baldessari’s exploration of the relationship between painting and photography. His spontaneous interventions in the medium—cropping an image, juxtaposing objects, and adding paint—transform the reality of his photographs into a new narrative to be interpreted by the viewer. The present work was made in a key year in Baldessari’s career, during which he had an acclaimed solo exhibition that traveled through prominent American institutions like The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


    John Baldessari, 1986. Image: © Chris Felver / Bridgeman Images

    "I get labelled as a conceptual artist and I think that’s a misnomer. But everyone gets a label in life. I get labelled a California artist and I think that’s a misnomer also…I just would rather be called an artist."
    —John Baldessari
    Baldessari has been consistently recognized as one of the most important artists in the Conceptual art movement, though the artist himself rejects this categorization. He is also considered a leading artist of the Pictures Generation alongside Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman, a loose association of American artists that came about in the early 1970s who explored the reconstruction and assemblage of images. In the 1980s, Baldessari distinguished himself from these classifications by adding paint to his photographs—a technique that would define the rest of his career. He would add acrylic and oil tints directly onto photographs and film stills, oftentimes painting circles over the subjects’ faces as a way to distract the viewers and focus their attention on the figures’ positions or body language, rather than their identities. By the late 1980s he was not only painting dots over the photographs, but larger color blocks that would obscure or highlight whole objects or subjects. The resulting compositions were highly acclaimed, and his achievements were recognized with his 1990 retrospective, which featured works like Woman Looking at Plant (With Two Carrots) --widely considered some of the best works of the artist’s career. 



    The present work is composed of two panels of different sizes which hang next to each other, creating a relationship between two disassociated images. On the left side, we see a photograph that has been intervened with oil tint and vinyl paint, drawing the viewer’s attention to the woman looking at a lush, green plant. On the right side, the silhouette of a rabbit along the left border of the monochromatic image makes the orange and blue carrots jump out, almost as if collaged onto the composition. Together, the scene is composed in a way in which the aesthetics prevail over the narrative. In this way, the present work brings to life Baldessari’s ability to challenge and manipulate reality, giving the viewer clues to an open-ended story that denies any pre-associated meanings to specific objects or settings. 

    "For most of us photography stands for the truth... But a good artist can make a harder truth by manipulating forms or pushing paint around. It fascinates me how I can manipulate the truth so easily by the way I juxtapose opposites or crop the image or take it out of context. When two forces contend in a photograph, I may favor one side or the other -the rider or the horse, for example, the upright mummy in its coffin or the woman standing in awe next to it."
    —John Baldessari 

    • Provenance

      Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
      Marc Selwyn Fine Art, Beverley Hills
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, John Baldessari: New Works, April 21–May 26, 1990
      Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, Seeing or Believing, June 9–July 28, 2001

    • Literature

      Patrick Pardo and Robert Dean, John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Three: 1975-1986, New Haven, 2014, no. 1990.30, pp. 215 (illustrated)

Property from an Exceptional West Coast Collection


Woman Looking at Plant (With Two Carrots)

two black-and-white photographs with oil tint and vinyl paint
overall 60 x 108 in. (152.4 x 274.3 cm)
Executed in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

$350,000 - 450,000 

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022