John Baldessari (b. 1931)
John Baldessari (b. 1931)

Bowl (with Two Voices)

Details
John Baldessari (b. 1931)
Bowl (with Two Voices)
five elements--photographs with oil tint and vinyl paint in artist's frames
overall: 57 1/4 x 108 3/4 in. (145.4 x 276.2 cm.)
Executed in 1987.
Provenance
Sonnabend Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
R. Dean and P. Pardo, eds., John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonne´. Volume 3 : 1987-1993, New Haven, 2015, p. 40, no. 1987.24 (illustrated).




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Lot Essay

“I’m interested in what gets us to stop and look as opposed to simply consuming images passively. If there is anything political in my work then it is to be found in the ability of my images to question the nature of imagery itself.” -John Baldessari


Part of John Baldessari’s extraordinary artistic practice which mines the rich specular milieu of contemporary times, Bowl (With Two Voices) consists of four photographs cropped in mirror image formats framing a larger central image of a person (a man, presumably) in the act of letting a bowling ball loose down a lane. Characteristically for Baldessari, the man’s head is effaced by a sphere. Below the rectangular image, whose lower edge is cut at a bias, Baldessari has inserted stenciled capital letters of the alphabet followed by Arabic numerals from one to nine, followed by zero. The surrounding photographs of a water tower, a dimly-lit, tightly framed banal interior, a wolf, and a lion, both seeming to move abjectly away from the scene, relate to the central image purely as a formal framing device: Even the yellow tints balance each other, as do the directional progress of each animal. Like Robert Rauschenberg’s combines and collages, Baldessari’s multiplicities stunningly compose a united from disparate appropriated images arrayed and balanced in a collision of juxtapositions—human, animal, technological and earthen.

When in 1985 Baldessari thumbed through a folder of clippings he had labeled “civic portraits,” his thought was to efface them into anonymity. “I kept thinking I ought to explore why I am so repelled by them… So when I was doing Buildings=Guns=People, I think I was a little bit worried about using someone’s face, as I didn’t want to get sued, and I didn’t’ know exactly where these photographs were coming from, so I used stickers I had lying around to obliterate the faces, and that felt so good, I just kept doing it” (J. Baldessari, “Chronology, 1985,” P. Pardo and R. Dean, John Baldessari: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Three: 1987-1993, New York, 2015, p. 433). The origin of the white circles, then, dates to this earlier mural whose politically charged content evolves from the relationships that arise amongst the originating appropriated photographs. In Bowls, this imposing multi-paneled work continues the theme of social commentary using an eclectic image bank from mass cultural sources. The erratic cropping reminds one of the pictorial language of a painter such as René Magritte, who deconstructed and reassembled everyday images to foreground their ambiguity, if not their strangeness.

Baldessari takes Magritte’s formal juxtapositions and creates composite framed works, distributing and balancing tension, as if, paradoxically, fracture creates unified rather than divided meaning. The obscuring circle formally causes the eye to take in the entire multiplicity, moving from generic “man bowling” to other surrounding images. Baldessari uses color in ways that also have meaning. Reaching back to the color blocks created by the fourteenth-century Giotto in his frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel, Baldessari turns to Giotto for inspiration in terms of chromatic and spatial layout, where “the relationship seen words and images, the analogy between a part and the whole, the tension between manipulation ad revelation—all create a vision in motion” (M. de Brugerolle, “Holy Hologras from Hollywood: John Baldessari’s Dialectic Imagery,” J. Morgan and L. Jones, John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, London, 2009, p. 312).
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