John Baldessari: Hot & Cold
on view at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, until June 15, 2019
“Photography does not simply reproduce the real, it recycles it - a key procedure of modern society. In the form of photographic images, things and events are put to new uses, assigned new meanings, which go beyond the distinctions between the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false, the useful and the useless, good taste and bad." - Susan Sontag *
In this body of work, "Hot & Cold", by John Baldessari, there is a presentation of dualities of naturally occurring phenomenon installed as a conceptual installation of photo-collages. The canvases are of photographs (volcanoes erupting and icebergs presumably melting) with acrylic paint applied to the image and adjunct text below in traditional Baldessari-esque style. The text is an important conceptual element used to alter the viewer's perspective. The dissonance between the two elements (the image and text) leaves the viewer to decipher this as a visual narrative.
This is key, the parallelism between the naturally occurring phenomenon (the image) and the human psyche (the text). The text is seemingly abstract and nonsensical which forces us to think beyond the obvious and to make more complex connections... The serial repetitiveness in the images creates a meditative continuance that shifts our focus this could be a strategy to put our thoughts into a space for potential expansion. This strategy is an important aspect to Baldessari's oeuvre and why "Hot & Cold “must be viewed as an installation, a whole, not as individual images.
Intriguingly, the texts in these images are taken from Ernest Shackleton’s narrative of his voyage to Antarctica (1914 - 1917) and the 1950s film, Sunset Boulevard. Gillis and Betty are recurring quoted characters, however, the main character of the film, Norma Desmond, who refuses to accept her reality as a washed-up silent film star, and who seduces and manipulates the young unsuccessful screenwriter, Gillis, and ends up shooting him in the back during one of her delusional episodes seems more like the protagonist in this exhibition. Reaching for a metaphor, Gillis is like ice, Betty like fire and Norma is the Earth… This film intertwines the past and the present very artfully and the characters are “torn between a life of dead decadence and living desire.” **
Human experience is a perpetual tension of the past, present, and future, experienced consciously and subconsciously. Thematically, destruction versus the rebirth of the planet itself and of our experience all fits in nicely within the works presented as they are representative of the earth and the dualities of life. Fire, explosion, catalysts of rebirth. Melting ice, decay, global warming, the products of man's effect on the planet and its ultimate destruction.
-Laura Horne, May 29, 2019
*Susan Sontag on Photography", Susan Sontag, 1977, Page 132
** "Sunset Boulevard Review", Colin Kennedy, 30 Mar 2007 https://www.empireonline.com/movies/sunset-boulevard-sunset-blvd/review/
images courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery