In the "Goya Series" pictures, Baldessari re-introduces his examination of the dialogue between imagery and text, first explored in his groundbreaking works on canvas made in National City, California in the early 1960s. Titles from "Los Desastres de la Guerra," the cycle of etchings produced two centuries ago, are linked with photographs of modern everyday objects so that the viewer receives information in two different ways. As we fumble to understand the image and the text and the meanings in between, we are forced to search our own associations, thus abandoning our role of the passive observer.
Reductive in palette and consisting of a single photographic image, There Isn't Time, executed in 1997, reflects the artists return to working on canvas. In an interview with Meg Cranston, the artist reflects on this work:
"I think this piece came out of the Vanitas Series I did way back, which was about life being fleeting and flowers in a vase somehow representing that. It can also be read as when someone sends flowers it is usually about trying to repair something and often being too late" (J. Baldessari as quoted in M. Cranson, "John Baldessari: Many Worthwhile Aspects," Baldessari, exh. cat., Hannover, 1999, p. 23).
Critic Peter Schjeldahl writes:
The semiotic game of [the Goya Series] is so simple that you get it at a glance: words and pictures brought to laconic, ever so slightly heightened, elegant equipoise. The change rung on Goya (himself a neo-Cynic, by the way, if ever there was one) mildly startles. Words that, in the Spaniard's etchings, coldly understate the content of horrific visions become the hotter elements in Baldessari's equations. Baldessari counters the natural priority that images have over text in our experience. Instead of looking first and reading second, we do both pretty much at once. A buzzing standoff may occur between the visual and the verbal centers of one's brain.
The effect is strong and clear, bracing the eye and mind. It feels moral, somehow, like a recall to first principles. The dominant tone is Goya's, hauntingly. Long ago and far away, there existed a valiant spirit that knew the thing it looked at and knew, as well, that words could not begin to express the thing. Goya used language to expose the inadequacy of language. Baldessari borrows Goya's language--each item of it as obdurate as a rock thrown through a closed window--to do the same for imagery. The result is artful anti-art (P. Schjeldahl, "Wonderful Cynicism: John Baldessari," Village Voice, February 10, 1998, p. 121).