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  • Provenance

    Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
    Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York
    Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP Art Collection, Los Angeles
    Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Los Angeles, Margo Leavin Gallery, John Baldessari, 1986
    Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Washington DC, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, John Baldessari. Retrospective, 25 March 1990 - 13 February 1992, pp. 149, 150, 151, 252 (illustrated, p. 151)
    Carré d'Art, Musée d'Art Contemporain de Nîmes, John Baldessari. From Life, 19 October 2005 - 1 January 2006, pp. 14, 38, 129, 154 (illustrated)
    London, Tate Modern; Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Baldessari, Pure Beauty, 13 October 2009 - 9 January 2011, pp. 247, 320 (illustrated, p. 252)

  • Literature

    Edward J. Sozanski, ‘In Front Lines for Conceptual Art: John Baldessari at the Whitney’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 July 1991, p. 61
    Jerry Saltz, ‘John Baldessari: The Curious Discovery of A+I(Ov.)=∞or the Smile of Reason’, Forum International, no. 14, September – October 1992, p. 78
    This Not That, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 1995, p. 24
    Aaron Schuman, ‘Pure Beauty: An Interview with John Baldessari’, Hotshoe International, no. 162, October - November 2009, p. 33
    Sidra Stich, ‘Conceptual Alchemy: A Conversation with John Baldessari’, American Art, vol. 19, no. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 60, 70 (illustrated, p. 60)
    Wendy Weitman, 'Between the Ink and the Photograph', John Baldessari : a catalogue raisonné of prints and multiples, 1971-2007, New York, 2009, pp. 27-28 (illustrated, p. 28)
    Laura Mulvey, ‘John Baldessari’, A Magazine, no. 11, 2012, pp. 109, 112 (illustrated, p. 112)
    Patrick Pardo and Robert Dean, eds., John Baldessari. Catalogue Raisonné, 1975-1986, vol. II, New Haven, 2013, no. 1986.39, p. 374 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A towering figure in contemporary art, John Baldessari is widely considered one of the most influential artists to emerge since the mid-1960s. A founder and innovator of conceptual art, Baldessari’s disarming works have stretched the parameters of aesthetics, his investigative methods crucial in exposing artistic processes. Challenging prevailing assumptions about visual art, Baldessari’s impact on younger generations is profound, as a teacher at the California institute of the Arts and at UCLA. Famously cremating his works from 1953 to 1966, every surviving image within his subsequent prolific œuvre has been carefully selected. Each work is typified by his biting humour, with sometimes dark, always profound reflections. His sharp insights into the conventions of creating art, the nature of perception, and the relationship between language and images, question the very nature of communication. The present work’s importance is exemplified by its inclusion in pivotal solo exhibitions, namely his retrospective, travelling from MOCA (Los Angeles), SFMOMA (San Francisco), the Whitney Museum (New York), Hirschhorn (Washington) and Walker Art Centre among other museums between 1991 and 1992, and the seminal Pure Beauty exhibition, which originated at Tate Modern (London) and travelled to MACBA (Barcelona), LACMA (Los Angeles) and the Metropolitan (New York) in 2009.

    Drawing on cinematic elements which he explored in his 1970’s works, Baldessari structures a narrative and creates a storyboard through his cropped and enlarged stills, combining disparate images to invoke highly suggestive connections and ambiguous meanings. Developing his ‘60s text and image paintings, Baldessari’s ‘80s photocompositions are decisive in the development of appropriation art and the Pictures Generation movement. Influencing artists such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, Baldessari’s practice addresses the social and cultural impact of mass media, clipping and manipulating found imagery from a variety of sources. Understanding the complex impact of mass media and advertising, Baldessari’s savvy knowledge of the subjective workings of pop culture is crucial in his conjugation of mainstream iconography, repurposing visual signifiers alongside cutting edge philosophy and literature, such as Semiotics theory and Structuralism. Cutting and pasting visual prompts on top and next to each other, the artist re-contextualises the original imagery, providing a deep commentary on how we understand society and the complex world around us. Through his radically figurative compositions the artist offers us a profound existential debate. Such is the case in Upward Fall, where the very notion of fate is evoked. The title implies opposite directions: it questions the viewer with an aftertaste of “Quo Vadis” - where are you going?

    In an era where conceptual and pop art seemed divergent, Baldessari brought them together. Based in California and exposed to the Hollywood industry, it does not come as a surprise that cinema lies at the very core of the artist’s influences. In addition to “popular” references, such as cowboys, Baldessari’s interest in French structuralism filmmaking, particularly the work of Jean-Luc Godard, is evident in Upward Fall, where the eye is drawn to read his images as part of a sequence. The cultivated references are conjugated with the pop, aiming for simplicity, excluding elitism. As Baldessari says, ‘I am interested in what gets us to stop and look, as opposed to simply consuming images passively’ (John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2009).

    Through his experimentation with multiple parts and photograms, Baldessari presents Upward Fall like an altarpiece, a secular appropriation of medieval and renaissance traditional painting. In the manner of Flemish or the Sienese and Florentine painters of the Quattrocento, the present work is composed in sections; subsequently a dynamic, although dislocated narrative unfolds, as our eye moves from panel to panel. At the bottom of the work, simultaneously flanking and forming an earthly connection in two square formats, two cowboys stand guard on horseback, reflected symmetrically, following harmonious perspective and simple shapes (a circle circumscribed on a square, following the purest of Alberti precepts, in a classical treatment of the space). Facing inwards whilst their dogs stare out at the viewer, the bottom panels reference the patron portraits on Renaissance altarpieces, involving the viewer within the heavenly narrative, as a towering vertical ascends from the solid twin base. In contrast to the anchoring of the cowboy, horse and dogs, three figures free fall through air and space, reminiscent of both Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void, 1960, and the religious ascension of Christ. An ascetic sense of vertigo contrasts with a down-to-earth spaghetti western scene, an almost humorous collision. To the right of the composition is a cropped image of a wooden ladder, a further reference to the possibility of heavenly Ascension or perhaps a descent into Hell, as ‘fall’ implies. The lonely figure wandering through a barren landscape, diagonally angled, offers an element of reflection that further heightens the religious connotations in this work. Baldessari highlights this fantastic dualism of meaning, stating: ‘something I flirt with a lot, that is very difficult for me—emotionally difficult—is working with a single image in a single frame.’

    Upward Fall, a visual oxymoron, is an impossibility rendered possible in the present work. Baldessari, as a pioneer of Conceptual art and influenced by structuralism, visually conveys a figure of speech, creating new meaning through contrast, to challenge our ways of seeing. Again, is the man flying or falling? The solution is falling upwards. Although depicted with lightness and humour, the work is unpinned with weighty concepts. The dichotomy between life and death is a theme further explored in Baldessari’s Two Trucks/ Two Decisions in which two cars precariously face each other in a state of tension. Throughout other titles of his work, namely Choosing, Players and Throwing balls, Baldessari evokes the notion of fate. Upward Fall implies opposite directions; an existentialist debate lies at the core of its very concept. As the artist Meg Cranston says, Baldessari’s work is ‘full of suggestions, without claiming to know what is right’. His lifelong exploration of the gap between the verbal and the visual has probed the very nature of communication and perception.

    The impact of mass culture is brilliantly reflected in Baldessari’s works, often playfully and always containing a sly profundity. His works present myriad influences, from film and media, to academia and the art historical cannon, drawing in visual syntax and everyday vernacular, resulting in his informed commentary. The clash of images and combined opposites in Upward Fall’s title creates multiple readings and wonderfully exemplifies Baldessari’s conceptual humour.

Property from the Collection of an Important European Collector


Upward Fall

black and white prints with oil tints and metallic paper, in 5 parts, in artist's frames
smallest part 75.1 x 16.2 cm (29 5/8 x 6 3/8 in.)
lower left and right parts each 62.5 x 62.5 cm (24 5/8 x 24 5/8 in.)
right vertical part 77.6 x 32 cm (30 1/2 x 12 5/8 in.)
largest part 179.5 x 47.5 cm (70 5/8 x 18 3/4 in.)
overall 241 x 172 cm (94 7/8 x 67 3/4 in.)

Executed in 1986, this work is unique.

£200,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £441,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018