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 *

 

This body of work, "Hot & Cold", is a presentation of dualities of naturally occurring phenomenon and is 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 to stimulate new visual statements by using dissonance between the two elements (the image and text) the viewer is left attempting to decipher this narrative. 

This is key, the parallelism between the naturally occurring phenomenon (the image) and the human psyche (the text). Because the text is seemingly abstract and nonsensical it 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 and is a tool to put our thoughts into space for potential expansion. This is an important aspect to Baldessari's oeuvre and this body of work must be viewed as an installation, a whole, not individually.

Intriguingly, the texts 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 is Norma Desmond who refuses to accept her reality as a washed-up silent film star, who seduces and manipulates the young unsuccessful screenwriter, Gillis, into her lair and ends up shooting him in the back during one of her delusional episodes. The film intertwines the past and the present very artfully and Gillis “is torn between a life of dead decadence and living desire.” **  

Like Gillis in the movie, human experience is a perpetual tension of past and future, experienced both consciously and subconsciously. Thematically, the destruction versus the rebirth of life, of the planet itself and of our lives as humans which fits in nicely with the works presented as they are representative of the earth and the dualities of life. Fire, explosion, creation, all catalysts of rebirth. Melting ice, decay, global warming, the products of man's effect on the planet as well as its 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