Artist’s Choice: John Baldessari

March 17–May 10, 1994

MoMA

John Baldessari. e.g., Grass, Water Heater, Mouths, & etc. (for John Graham). 1994. Gelatin silver prints, color prints, and oil stain. Overall 15ʹ 10ʺ × 8ʹ 2ʺ (482.6 × 249 cm). Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, The Cowles Charitable Trust Fund, and Jeanne C. Thayer Fund. © 2016 John Baldessari. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

An exhibition conceived and installed by American artist John Baldessari is the fourth in The Museum of Modern Art’s series of Artist’s Choice exhibitions. Artist’s Choice: John Baldessari features an original work that the artist has created from objects in the Museum’s collection, and explores the ways in which we look at both familiar and less familiar art.

For this exhibition, Baldessari has chosen approximately thirty paintings, prints, drawings, film stills, and photographs to use in the creation of his new work. Using enlarged photographic reproductions of the pieces, he has selected often unexpected details from them—for example, the bananas from De Chirico’s Melancholy of Departure (1914), the mouth of de Kooning’s Woman, I (1950–52), and a square of grass from Wyeth’s Christina’s World (1948)—and assembled them into a collage measuring over 15ʹ long × 8ʹ high. By combining what seem to be arbitrary details and odd shapes, frequently altering their relative scale and placing them in startling juxtapositions, Baldessari both shows us what we may have overlooked in the works, and demonstrates how such fragments can spur surprising new meanings.

Baldessari’s piece, titled e.g. Grass, Mater Heater, Mouths, & etc. (for John Graham), consists of black-and-white and color photographs and oil stain. It is installed with six of the original works on which it is based; the details the artist selected from these six works are demarcated by a framing projector. Installed on a low ledge are 16 × 20ʺ photographs of the remaining works, from which the relevant details have been excised, leaving a white shape in their place.

As have other Artist’s Choice exhibitions, this show emphasizes the ways that the Museum’s collection can inspire contemporary creativity. In the brochure accompanying the exhibition, Kirk Varnedoe says that Baldessari’s work “is a particularly vivid demonstration of a crucial way in which modern art has evolved and continues to evolve—not as a linear baton-race of movements and isms, but through hybrids, mutations, and unpredictable recombinations that are first produced by individual sensibilities and then attract—as Baldessari’s work clearly has—new ‘schools’ around them.” In an interview with Mr. Varnedoe, the artist has said that he wanted the exhibition “to provide the ambiance for people to…wonder about why I chose this detail or this shape out of this painting rather than that one. And if that happens, if it gets people to start to develop a visual vocabulary, then I think it’s been a successful project.”

John Baldessari is best known for his Conceptual works that focus on the processes of choice and selection, and that employ a wide range of nontraditional mediums. Born in 1931 in National City, California, he received his BA (1953) and his MA (1957) from San Diego State College, and lives in Santa Monica, California, and in New York City.

The series is organized in collaboration with Kirk Varnedoe, chief curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture.

Made possible by a generous grant from The Charles A. Dana Foundation, Artist’s Choice highlights the role of the Museum’s collection as a source for contemporary artists.

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