John Baldessari - Photographs Evening Sale New York Wednesday, April 1, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Dart Gallery Alternative Space, Chicago
    Private Collection, Chicago

  • Exhibited

    John Baldessari: Recent Work, Dart Gallery Alternative Space, Chicago, 8 May - 9 June 1987

  • Catalogue Essay

    “You look at art like a professional gambler looks at a card table, for all the tricks.”—John Baldessari

    California-native conceptual artist John Baldessari once remarked, “I could never figure out why photography and art had separate histories. So I decided to explore both.” Despite an early delving into painting in the 1960s, Baldessari has explored the space between the two mediums. Furthermore, in keeping with his modus operandi to subvert the dichotomous nature between two allegedly disparate entities, since the 1970s Baldessari has also been challenging the veracity of narratives belying imagery. By splicing together images culled from different sources, as seen in the current lot, Baldessari strips each one of an inherent meaning and immediately yields a hybrid narrative that may not have presented itself had each image been presented on its own. Baldessari’s art aims to manipulate the meaning behind seemingly straightforward imagery. In his works, such as Green Sunset (with Trouble), photography is removed from its traditional documentarian and objective history and subsequently adopts the qualities of painting (or art, in the artist’s words), endowed with a liberated subjectivity and multifarious interpretation.

    In discussing his approach to his art making, the artist has stated, “You just have to give [the viewer] something to hang on to and they can begin to unravel it themselves. It’s kind of like reading a detective story, you get a clue, you follow that.” By turning viewers into detectives, Baldessari compels his viewers to relinquish the passive processing of imagery in lieu of proactive construction of meaning. His works are accordingly imbued with riddles, puns, cryptic signs and loops in logic. Baldessari’s reappropriation style is in synchrony with that of his peers from the Pictures Generation, namely Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and Barbara Kruger. By repossessing (or reenacting) found imagery, notions of authorship and identity are called into question. The one thing viewers could consistently ascertain, their work seems to imply, is the absence of truth.

    The artist’s California origin appears to have informed his work, such as Green Sunset (with Trouble), especially in its Hollywood-inspired Hitchcockian essence. The silhouette of a cowboy hovers above a horizon. He is at once a symbol of All-Americanism, the same timeless and ubiquitous emblem of soil-of-the-earth masculinity that has been populating the American cultural subconscious since the early days of cinema. However, his benign heroism appears to be potentially undermined by its juxtaposing against the image below it. A group of individuals look up in consternation. Assumptions about the cowboy’s benevolence are subsequently subverted. Viewers are automatically led to extrapolate a potential dialogue and meaning behind the two corresponding images. Could the trusted American symbol of protection, in fact, be of a villainous nature? Are the people below in danger? Alternately, do they want to harm the cowboy? The coloring of each image in opposite colors highlights the conflicting tension between the two as well as the artificial and constructed nature of the scene. A prolonged studying of the work continues to encourage the viewers to construct an underlying unifying plotline—a likely turn of events and potential twists in narrative that could envelope the characters on hand. And yet, the longer viewers continue their engrossment in this imagined narrative, the more Baldessari appears to remove his presence from the artwork, allowing the viewers to exist in a space that sits between fiction and reality, between art and photography.


Green Sunset (with Trouble)

Two black and white photographs with oil tint, flush-mounted.
48 1/4 x 48 in. (122.6 x 121.9 cm)

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $365,000

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Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Shlomi Rabi
Head of Sale, New York

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Photographs Evening Sale

New York 1 April 2015 6pm