Friday, December 03, 2010

David Salle, John Baldessari & Pure Beauty @ the Met

David Salle and John Baldessari prior to their talk.
(Note: I say PRIOR to the talk.since we were informed that pictures were not allowed during the event.)

A packed house in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Met (I didn't know there was an auditorium in the museum) was on hand for a talk between David Salle and his former professor John Baldessari on Nov 21.  The presentation was less a conversation than a straight question and answer session, which made for a more focused and informative exchange.
A video of the talk should be available on the Met's website at some point. Once it is posted, I'm sure you'll find it worth a viewing.  Until then here are a few notes I jotted down.
Baldessari considers himself a closet formalist. 
The work "Baldessari Sings Lewitt, 1972 - "Product of being bored on a Sunday afternoon."
Advantage of video: "movie poloroid"
Informality provides an opening for a sense of play.
"Teaching is not Lecturing.  Tell students something, it goes in one ear and out the same ear."
"Civilization is a thin veneer"
Generally despises labels
Conceptualism is "a meaningless term."
'Idea preceding art' speaks to all art..
There's a thin line between good and bad.
Stupid ideas can really work.
Aesthetics play  "in no overt way."
Most tenacious misconception about JB: Dismissed in NY as a psuedo-conceptualist artist.
Agrees with Duchamp:  "When a work is out in the world, you can't control its meaning."
No artist does anything new.  Art comes out of art. Any artist mush continue the argument."
JB's goal is to continue the tradition of Matisse, "making things look simple enough that a child could do it, yet make it so profound."
Advice from Kienholz on Big Intl. shows: 1. Get there first to claim the best space. 2. make the work big and heavy so the curator will think twice before moving the work.
Make students articulate and aware of what they're doing; knowing why they do what they did.  Doesn't care about intention.
"Even flies need art." - something he remembers Smithson telling him once @ Max's Kansas City.
Music, film big influences.  Cage, Newman and Goya influences. 
Describes the role of money in the art world as a "huge sea change."
Fear of copying self.
"Nobody wants to produce product. Then you're just making trinkets."
Laughs at the use of the word "practice" to describe the artist's endeavors.
Thinks of himself as a failed writer.
Claims to not know what art is. "Once that certainty is reached, that's the end."
Question: "Is it a crime to sacrifice meaning for rhyme?"
Answer: "No."
Feels current culture is in a fallow period.  Yearns for regionalism.  Thinks we're on a treadmill.
Consistency is important.  Avoid being bored.
Duchamp considered the viewer's intelligence.
Quoted DeKooning: "Masterpiece is anything that speaks to the present."
One can't be definitive:  "ambiguity feeds the work and bedevils it."
Sanford Schwartz's personification of Guston's work: "I'm a genius, Am I a fraud? I'm dying."
On truth in art: "A lie for me might be the truth for someone else."
Conceptual art is a truthful lie.
Believes it's important to be sure about the work before you let it out into the world.
Shown & Known.  An artist has got to show his work.
Asked by an audience member about the conception of realism in relation to Brackage.  His answer, "that's too long an answer" drew some groans and a few hisses from the audience.  They wanted an answer.
Influence of Goya.
Re: the ABEX exhibit @ MoMA: work still looks terrific - still with us, including influences in different forms."
Doesn't know if work has value, but has feel it does.
Cloud Brain in the Met's atrium

Pure Beauty, the retrospective of JB's work will remain on view through January 9.  There's a lot to take in throughout the exhibit.  Aside from a few of his videos like Baldessari Sings LeWitt (Brilliant) and Teaching a Plant the Alphabet (Numbing), I haven't gone out of my way to see much of Baldessari's work, but there's a lot to take in in this exhibit and a lot of it is potent. Although there are many works that still feel to me that they could be better experienced in print even after the two visits I've made.  The massive exhibition catalogue: John Baldessari: Pure Beauty  looks like an essential buy.  

A handful of JB's films are viewable at

Palm Tree in the Met's atrium

Finally, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention that I can never look at John Baldessari without thinking about Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes.  The resemblance; uncanny.

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