MOCP in Chicago: John Baldessari (Part Two)

MOCP in Chicago: John Baldessari (Part Two)

We all function in a society that demands order in one form or another. Even if one totally rejects what’s commonly accepted as the norm, that person is still defining themselves in contrast to a pervasive, cultural concept and needs it to define him/herself. Baldessari might not have been consciously doing that, but achieved that end. He’s defined himself as an artist working against art. And the vast many photo-collage (or however one might characterize those works from the eighties’ onward) images he’s used work to obscure the identity, or at least alter it, by obfuscating the whole.

Is he challenging the viewer through obscuring portions of the image? Or is he obscuring himself. Being removed from the practice of painting and now working with collage, Baldessari precludes criticism of a portion of his current art practice as well. Critics can’t say the images or well construed or shoddily contrived. Beyond even that, though the technical aspects of his work – transferring an image, altering its size, composing the work and settling on colors –seem less personal then grasping a brush and dashing a canvas with color by moving one’s arm (wrist or fingers). It all comes down to whether or not a viewer perceives the whole as a worthwhile endeavor to take in or for it to have been made in the first place.

In the series of photographs concerned with three balls being suspended in air, the focus, again, isn’t on how the image is rendered, but what the image might mean about space, time and chance. It’d be impossible to track down each word spilled on those images, but it’s easy to guess that there’s as much, if not more consideration, of what it all means as a thing as opposed to what it means as a photograph. Guessing at that, removing the work from a tradition of fine art practices, it functions to negate the necessity of skill. It’s just a depiction of balls in the air (but balls in the filthy air of California).

So, from now until he runs out of ideas, Baldessari’s set to always be characterized as a conceptual artist. He probably doesn’t have a problem with concocting new ways to weird out potential viewers. And most likely, since he’s been working in that mode for almost forty years, Baldessari has no problem with being one of the lumpen mass of conceptual artists. His last great gesture, though, would be to remove himself even from that and soldier on towards something detached from over-thinking a work.