A promised and provocative distraction from those cold and wet January blues is presented in the form of the generously reflective Miró and Life in General – a solo show of new works by the institutional conceptual artist, John Baldessari. Within the vast yet equally warming space of Marian Goodman Gallery in Soho, this exhibition is a self conscious investigation into the history of painting and new ways of seeing. Baldessari’s works combine and demonstrate his profound and creative response to art history, language and reproduction.
Baldessari was born in 1931 in California where he still lives and works. He has enjoyed internationally acclaimed success and solo exhibitions at institutions that include the Städel Museum, Frankfurt in 2015 and the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands in 2012. In 2010, Baldessari was awarded a retrospective at the Tate Modern, London, in which his early combination of text and images in paintings were explored with the artist’s air of wit, ironically mocking the conceptual art and yet delivering it.
Baldessari began to combine text – often theoretical art terms – and photography in his works on canvas in the 1960’s, exploring the juxtaposition of language and image; text and painting. His earlier works, socially symptomatic before their time, have highlighted Baldessari’s interest in the cultural and artistic impact of the mass media. In recent years, Baldessari’s focus has shifted to the canon of art history, and the medium of painting has become a central aspect of his work. The juxtaposition of painting and text and photography is combined in Miró and Life in General as Baldessari continues his investigation.
The works in the show are thematic, linked by their shared composition and set format of mixed media. These towering pieces, stretching almost two and a half metres in height and over a metre in width, are titled with the singular word printed at the bottom of each canvas; they are synonyms, and therefore, as one work is titled, ‘Connected.' In the centre of the composition is a detail – almost a screenshot – of a work by the 20th century Spanish artist, Joan Miró .
These ‘details’ are matched with a black and white Hollywood film still that Baldessari has illuminated and illustrated with pops of primary coloured shapes and figures, mirroring and creating a strong visual link with the almost abstract and strongly coloured compositions of the Miró works below. This part of the composition illustrates that which Baldessari refers to as ‘Life in General’.
The combination of the elements of language, abstract creation and artistic documentation invite the viewer to create a personal response to the meaning of the works in the reassembly text, art history and popular culture. The pieces are perhaps a representation of art history in the twenty-first century, a digitalised and reproduced acknowledgement of feeling, association and yet a simultaneous discovery and rediscovery of a new, contemporary view of art history.
A thoroughly relevant exhibition, these works will resonate with the academic, the art historian, the linguist, the film buff and the Snapchat and Instagram users amongst us, referencing mass-media, artistic appropriation and montage on a high level. A must see.
By Holland Drury
John Baldessari: Miró and Life in General is on view from 10th January until 25th February at Marian Goodman Gallery, London.