John Baldessari’s eyeballs are on 57th Street. So to look at Dwarf and Rhinoceros (With Large Black Shape) (1989/2013)—the first of the three late-1980s installations that make up this show—the middle of the room is both the best and the worst place to stand. An enormous gray-tone rhinoceros, its tusk almost touching the ceiling, bursts out of a grove of tall, inkjet-print grass growing on Marian Goodman’s eastern wall. A few long blades extend their sandy yellow color into the animal’s lunar skin. Admonishing it from below is a stout midget bound inside the limits of photography and a thin black picture frame as painfully tightly as a chained-up Houdini. He’s dressed like a mobster in a dark pinstripe suit, black shirt, overlarge fedora and white tie, and he, like you, or like the photo itself, stands on a gray floor against a white wall. Across from him, on the western wall, painted like a shadow cast right through you, is a great black Rorschach blot shaped like a rhinoceros. On the north wall, another set of short legs stands on four phone books stacked on a folding chair. The chair is cherry red—in cheery contrast, you assume, to a man about to hang himself. But then, at the top of the south wall, overlooking the room like Mussolini on the balcony, is the same man’s upper body, his face covered by one of Mr. Baldessari’s signature powder-blue circles, with his right hand gesturing and in his left not a noose but a telephone. These price-sticker faces work like isometric exercise: the erasure itself is an emphasis, two nothings adding up to a something—a dwarf placing a phone call to himself. And you can verify that this is not a sterile Platonic cave but a functioning lens from the fact that the two unnamable rhinoceroses, as they plunge about their business, indifferent to their viewers’ miniature dreams, are facing in opposite directions.
The West Coast
I watched a lot of this Hammer Museum talk, between John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha about Richard Artschwager, looking for a quote to pull from it but couldn’t really find anything pithy. Ah well. Sometimes there exist ideas that cannot be expressed in pithy quotes. You should watch it though.
When my plane broke through the Los Angeles smog on an afternoon in early spring, I imagined I had willed the town into existence by nothing more than my arrival. It’s the city’s foundational myth—perpetually born yesterday. I was there to cover an art fair called Paris Photo, which was being held at that most mythic of L.A. landmarks—Paramount Studios—and to report on the city’s art world. If New York had a say in the matter, it was something of an accident of history that there were ever artists in Los Angeles at all. The dealers and collectors were always in New York. And who could force the entertainment industry to care? For decades, the most noteworthy thing about successful Los Angeles artists—aside from a core group—was that they left for the East Coast.
The reality is more complicated. New York changed. Downtown ceased being a squatter’s free-for-all and became an outdoor shopping center. The S&M clubs and taxi garages of Chelsea gave way to galleries stacked on top of one another. Increasingly, the creatively minded transplants who migrated each day to New York from all over the country came with expiration dates. Ten years would go by, if you were lucky, before the inevitable fatigue set in. So many migrants have gone to California as a solution to some problem that it’s become an American trope. But in a town where the front page of the largest daily newspaper reports the unsubstantiated rumor that industry blogger Nikki Finke would be fired from Deadline Hollywood, the arts have quietly carved out a home. New York just got more and more expensive.
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles-based artist John Baldessari quietly arrived in New York to get his license renewed. Assuming the reviews are decent for his latest exhibition here, which opened Oct. 19 at the spacious 57th Street gallery of his longtime dealer, Marian Goodman, Mr. Baldessari will, he said, get his “license as an artist” extended. Now 81, he has been going through the process annually (or pretty close to annually, with shows somewhere or another in the world) for many years, and by all appearances, he wears the effort lightly. Sitting in the gallery last week, decked out in the standard art world uniform of all black below his signature white chin-strap beard, surrounded by several of the 13 pieces in his new series “Double Play,” he described to The Observer what’s involved in the license renewal. “The whole test,” he said breezily in his SoCal drawl, “is: can I get away with this?”
art and tech
Artist John Baldessari has told the Los Angeles Times that he is stepping down from the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In an interview with the paper he said that “to live with my conscience I just had to do it.”
Armory Show 2012
John Baldessari is the subject of a new short film by Todd Coles, one in a series of shorts presented by Nowness in which an artist is asked a question about technology. Standing outdoors as “all the private jets” carrying “captains of industry” land at the nearby Santa Monica Airport, Mr. Baldessari, in dark Read More
One of the booths that caught our eye immediately at the ADAA Art Show was L&M’s–most notably because its walls are painted bright red.
Of course that wasn’t the only thing that drew us there. The gallery is showing works from the ’70s by John Baldessari including Portrait, Various Identities with Name/Date Cards and Untitled (Directional Piece).
Here’s a tidbit we missed from the latest Gagosian press release: Ann Temkin, the Museum of Modern Art’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, will pen a catalogue essay for Gagosian’s 11-gallery Damien Hirst spot painting show.