John Baldessari - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Sonnabend Gallery, New York
    Galleria Primo Piano, Rome
    Sprüth Magers, Berlin
    Allesandro Grassi Collection, Italy
    Sotheby's, London, February 11, 2016, lot 172
    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Rome, Galleria Primo Piano, John Baldessari: Opere Recenti, May 18 - July 1988

  • Literature

    Patrick Pardo and Robert Dean, John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Three: 1987-1993, New Haven, 2017, no. 1988.37, p. 110 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In John Baldessari’s Tree/Hand/Chair from 1988, the artist utilizes his quintessential devices of unexpected cropping, mirrored imagery and peripheral framing to create a unique, singular composition. Featuring three black and white photographs, two of the same height and one half the size, the present lot is a stellar example of Baldessari’s renowned photo collages of the 1980s. Three seemingly diverse subjects—a tree trunk, an extended hand, and a plush chair—converge into a single, asymmetrical image which flows from left to right, linked by their monochrome nature. The verticality of the two leftmost images is emphasized by the central axis of the tree trunk and of a closet door, in each respective photograph, while the cushion in the third image almost entirely fills its frame. During his studies at San Diego State College in the 1950s, Baldessari recalls what a professor once told him: the success of a composition originates from the relationship between its elements, which should either overlap or be entirely separate from each other, not existing tangentially. This notion inspired the composite photo collages of the artist’s practice, decades later.

    Inspired by his Hollywood surroundings, Baldessari often visited bookshops around Los Angeles in search of black and white film stills. By sourcing his imagery from a variety of places for these works, he was able to combine seemingly mundane images into unexpected juxtapositions. As Briony Fer summarized of the effect of such compositions, “…Baldessari’s work creates a very powerful sense of collision, with images doubling and accumulating to a point that is often extremely unsettling” (Briony Fer, “Unforeseen Stoppages” in John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Three: 1987-1993, New Haven, 2017, p. 2). This unsettling collision is further emphasized by the apparent simplicity of the present lot, named bluntly after the elements in the images. While the featured imagery is entirely familiar, in conversation with one another, the three images create an enigmatic illusion. The natural landscape of the tree in the leftmost image flows into domestic interior scenes to the right, both of which suggest the presence of human life, without any indication of origin—an outstretched arm is cropped right at the elbow, while a cushioned chair is cut in half, perhaps suggesting that someone is on the other side of it. As Baldessari declared of these deeper meanings, “The ideal art for me would be complex for myself and simple enough for the public; it would have to satisfy both those needs. I try to make my things look deceptively simple.” (The Artist, quoted in “John Baldessari: An Interview” in John Baldessari, exh. cat., The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1981, p. 65)



three black and white photographs, in 2 parts
larger element 48 1/8 x 28 7/8 in. (122.2 x 73.3 cm.)
smaller element 25 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. (64.8 x 39.4 cm.)
overall 48 1/8 x 44 3/8 in. (122.2 x 112.7 cm.)

Executed in 1988.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $112,500

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York Auction 15 November 2017