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Dining Scene (Two Greys) with Disruption at Source (Red, Yellow, Blue)

Dining Scene (Two Greys) with Disruption at Source (Red, Yellow, Blue)
vinyl paint on colour photographs in artist's frame, in two parts
overall: 67 1/8 x 100 1/8in. (170.5 x 257cm.)
Executed in 1990
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2008.
P. Pardo and R. Dean (eds.), John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné Volume Three: 1987-1993, New Haven and London, 2015, no. 1990.99 (illustrated in colour, p. 284).
Chicago, Donald Young Gallery, John Baldessari, 1991.
Seoul, PYO Gallery, John Baldessari, 1996, (illustrated, unpaged).
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Lot Essay

John Baldessari’s Dining Scene (Two Greys) with Disruption at Source (Red, Yellow, Blue) presents a dynamic interplay of images and ideas invigorated by potent, vibrant brushwork. Characteristic of the artist, the work is composed of two large overlapping panels: in the front, a couple sits in intimate conversation, while behind, the quiet of the unassuming kitchen is disrupted by an explosion of red, blue, and a shock of yellow painted confetti. By masking the larger context of his images, Baldessari further obscures the relationship between these two scenes and their relationship instead becomes one entirely contingent upon aesthetics. Dining Scene (Two Greys) with Disruption at Source (Red, Yellow, Blue) was created in 1990, a significant year in the artist’s practice during which his acclaimed solo exhibition travelled from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, to, among others, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., and the Whitney Museum of Art, New York.

Baldessari was a leading member of the Pictures Generation, a loose association of artists including Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, and Richard Prince who scrutinised the construction of images. Using strategies of appropriation and reproduction, their practices examined the effects of mass media and challenged notions of authorship. As a teacher at the influential and experimental California Institute of the Arts, Baldessari taught many who would come to be affiliated with the Pictures Generation artists and like his students, he too was invested in the critical production of images. His visual syntheses are equal parts deadpan and profound and he is often discussed in relation to the Surrealists, particularly René Magritte and Marcel Duchamp. Indeed, Baldessari has spoken of the influence of the latter – first encountered in a 1963 retrospective held at the Pasadena Art Museum – whose art language and image combined to offer ‘evidence of ideas rather than craft’ (D. Solomon, ‘An Artist in a Class by Himself’, New York Times, 8 January 2020, p. C1). Soon thereafter Baldessari turned away entirely from the painterly abstractions that had thus far absorbed his practice, adopting instead a radical visual vocabulary that probed the relationship between found images and language. His early use of billboard posters prompted a consideration of media imagery and meaning making, questions which endured throughout his long and prolific career.

In the late 1980s Baldessari hit upon what would come to define his visual strategy: he began to affix brightly coloured stickers to the faces in his photocollages. In shrouding the identity of his subjects, Baldessari made clear that their stories and imagined lives were not to be the primary entry point into his art. By breaking with presumed narratives, Baldessari compels his viewer to reflect upon what his images intend to communicate. Such experiments in effacement quickly grew in scale across his blended, multi-panel juxtapositions; using paint, photographic imagery and vinyl, he let wit and dissonance infiltrate his art. No longer relying solely upon stickers as his sole form of obfuscation, in Dining Scene (Two Greys) with Disruption at Source (Red, Yellow, Blue) Baldessari entirely conceals his two figures using thick grey-blue paint. Whether they are quarrelling, or conversing remains a mystery, but as conceptual artist Nam June Paik said, ‘What I like most about your work is what you leave out’ (N. Paik quoted in S. Grayson, ‘John Baldessari: An Appreciation,’ Eye Level, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 28 January 2020).

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