John Baldessari - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Zurich, Mai 36 Galerie, John Baldessari: The Prima Facie Series, 11 June - 30 July 2005

  • Literature

    John Baldessari: The Prima Facie Series, exh. cat., Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, 2006, n.p. (illustrated)
    Patrick Pardo and Robert Dean, John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné Volume 5: 2005-2010, New Haven and London, 2018, pp. 57, 410 and 530 (illustrated, p. 57)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in 2005, Prima Facie (Second State): Hopeless is a visually arresting result of John Baldessari’s exploration into the status of words in painting. Combining language and photographic imagery, Prima Facie (Second State): Hopeless depicts a portrait of a woman donning an expression of absolute loss and despair as she looks vacantly beyond the canvas edge. Paired to its right with bold typeface the word 'HOPELESS' is emblazed in capitals amidst an empty expanse of white. Baldessari’s Prima Facie series highlights the artist’s infatuation with his investigation into language and expression that the artist conducted between 2005 and 2007. Baldessari asks ‘Can one match accurately a facial expression to a word?’… ‘Our judgement is “prima facie”, or at first sight’, continued the artist (John Baldessari, quoted in Patrick Pardo and Robert Dean, John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné Volume 5: 2005-2010, New Haven and London, 2018, p. 410).

    If the text of the artwork can seemingly explain the image, the dissonance between the two proves unsurmountable. Provoking a stark contrast with the apparent neutrality of the word painted in black enamel on a white canvas, the image conjures up personal emotions and interpretations from the viewer. Wittily, Baldessari questions how much language attempts to describe reality but also how emotional expressions attempt to convey a message within a certain social context. Even facial expressions, claiming universal intelligibility, are subject to cultural conventions and open the possibility of dissimulation or disguise, underlined by the cinematic feel of the artwork.

    In this compelling dual composition, Baldessari draws parallels between the construct of language and facial expression and the resulting emergence of meaning. This exploration belongs to the ongoing preoccupation of the artist with the relationship between saying and showing, a topic that he analyses with sharp irony. Known for his key role in conceptual art and notably within the Pictures Generation movement, Baldessari delivers a particularly efficient example of his artistry. In line with the appropriation tradition, a defining feature of the Pictures Generation, the woman depicted is reminiscent of 1950's Hollywood cinema. Paralleling Cindy Sherman’s film stills, Baldessari recontextualises cinematic angles and acting within an artwork, thus questioning the relationship between photography and fine arts and what is real or staged.

    For Baldessari, integrating photography in the broader context of art is a constant battle. He explains: 'I was always interested in language. I thought, why not? If a painting, by the normal definition of the term, is paint on canvas, why can’t it be painted words on canvas? And then I also had a parallel interest in photography. I would go to the library and read books on photography. I could never figure out why photography and art had separate histories. So I decided to explore both' (John Baldessari, quoted in David Salle, Interview Magazine, 9 October 2013, online). Prima Facie (Second State): Hopeless skilfully marries the subtle irony of Baldessari’s work and his characteristic use of film still-like pictures. It is a perfect balance between Baldessari’s will to be ‘abundantly simple and maddeningly complex’ (ibid), achieved through a dual composition of two elements echoing each other in a falsely obvious symmetry, exploring their own meaning in a semantic artful investigation. Prima Facie (Second State): Hopeless is a prime example of Baldessari’s bright manipulation of images and text, exuding a spirited humour while sublimating Hollywood’s golden age cinematic aesthetic.


Prima Facie (Second State): Hopeless

inkjet print on canvas and enamel paint on canvas, in artist's frames, in 2 parts
each 120.7 x 97.8 cm (47 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.)
overall 120.7 x 195.6 cm (47 1/2 x 77 in.)

Executed in 2005.

£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £150,000

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Tamila Kerimova
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 3 October 2019