Sunday is the last day to catch John Baldessari: Pure Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first major U.S. survey of the 79-year-old, Conceptual artist's work in twenty years. The approximately 120 works on view created by the native Californian artist between 1962-2010 include some early paintings (that survived his Cremation Project), photo-and-text works, combined photographs using found imagery, videos, artists books and installations.
In the above-mentioned Cremation Project (1970), Baldessari incinerated most of his paintings created between 1953-1966 (from Art Info). Some of the ashes are stored in a book-like urn that is on display along with a certificate documenting the act. A couple of works that escaped the fire-pit include Tips For Artists Who Want To Sell and Clement Greenberg (both 1966-68) both featuring painted text on canvas depicting commercial tips on what to paint and the writing of Greenberg, an art critic.
In the 1970s, Baldessari moved on to photo-based works where he explored "chance, accident, and game-playing" (Art Info) as seen in Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get A Straight Line (1973), a series of color photos that do exactly as their title states, and Choosing (A Game for Two Players): Carrots (1972), another series of color pictures showing participants' fingers selecting a single carrot out of a lineup of three. Also in the 70s, Baldessari worked in video. Pure Beauty has seven videos on display including I Am Making Art (1971) in which the artist repeats the title statement over and over and over; I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971) in which the camera zooms in on the artist's hand writing the title phrase over and over and over like a punishment for 13 minutes; and Baldessari Sings Lewitt (1972) which features the the artist singing Sol LeWitt's 1969 manifesto "Sentences on Conceptual Art" to the melodies of popular songs like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Auld Lang Sine, and The Star-Spangled Banner. In other hands, these videos might have been cloying, hammy, and annoying, but done in Baldessari's soft-spoken, deadpan manner they exude a good-natured humor.
The 1980s found Baldessari working with film stills—enlarging, cropping, and collaging images together to create a narrative as seen in Kiss/Panic (1984), ten images of guns framing an extreme closeup of a couple kissing. He sometimes painted large, colorful dots over faces in some stills as in Bloody Sundae (1987) and Heel (1986) creating a different mood and energy in the images and shifting their focus and meaning.
The artist's more recent works focus on fragmented human body parts as seen in his series Noses and Ears and Arms and Legs. In these works, floating body parts are "simplified, enlarged and isolated from the surrounding environment," (Art Info). The artist's own imposing 6'7" stature may have inspired these works as the artist states, "I never thought of the parts of my body as going together. I saw them as separate. Maybe it's because I'm so tall. I have to use willpower to glue them together," (from the Met's website). The most recent works in the exhibit can be found in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum. Baldessari created two gigantic, surreal photo-compositions for the exhibition—one featuring a palm tree and the other featuring a brain floating like a cloud.
Baldessari's body of work is varied and diverse since he uses many mediums, however his wit, charm, and intelligence are always constant. Learn more at metmuseum.org and artinfo.com. Through January 9th.