In this work, Baldessari’s hands mimic the view from a camera, creating a neat rectangle that isolates a small boat docked on the Hudson River from the tall buildings of Manhattan behind it and emphasizing the framing choices inherent to any composition. This image is one of four works by Baldessari that the photographer duo Shunk-Kender shot for Pier 18, a group of artworks executed at a derelict pier in February and March 1971. It highlights Baldessari’s collaborative process, which upended the notion that artists must physically make work with their own hands. In this photograph, he used his own body as the central framing apparatus, and Shunk-Kender captured his conceptual gambit on film.
Organized by independent curator Willoughby Sharp, Pier 18 consisted of actions, instructions, and performances by twenty-seven artists. There were no spectators, just the artists, various collaborators, and Shunk-Kender. From the start, it was understood that the duo’s photographs would be the form through which an audience would experience the works. In fact, the photographs were presented that summer in Projects: Pier 18, the second exhibition in MoMA’s experimental Projects series.
Harry Shunk and János Kender worked together under the name Shunk-Kender from the late 1950s to the early ’70s, photographing avant-garde artworks, events, and exhibitions. In some cases, they served as documentarians; in other instances, such as this one, they collaborated with artists to realize works of art through photography.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)