Disappointed by the reaction to his work and in an act that questions the mechanisms of access to contemporary art, in 1970 John Baldessari (National City, USA, 1931) burns his pictorial work, produced between 1953 and 1966, giving rise to the Cremation Project. From then on the American artist uses words and photography as his mediums of expression, considering them ideal for an easy and direct public reception.
Despite some of Baldessari's works being exhibited at Pamplona Encounters, in 1972, and at the exhibition Colección Sonnabend. 25 años de selección y de actividad (Sonnabend Collection. 25 Years of Selection and Activity) in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 1987, there has never been an exhaustive exhibition in Spain. This, the first exhibit devoted to the artist on Spanish soil, looks over certain constants throughout his career as well as his more recent work.
The exhibition is divided into three parts, which are preceded by an historical introduction made up of works from between 1966 and 1976. Pure Beauty (1966-68) and An Artist (1966-68) have been chosen as welcome pieces to open the exhibit and are then followed by others such as Choosing: Carrots (1972); A Movie: Directional Piece where People are Walking (1972-73); Throwing three Balls in the Air to get an Equilateral Triangle (1972-73); Alignment Series: Palm Tree with Girl (1975) and Structure by Color Series: Simone with Fruit (1975). These are given the task of representing ten years of Baldessari's work in which certain concepts come to fruition and form part of his subsequent output; for instance dimensions of light, the different ways of constructing meaning, the subliminal, the unpredictable and two of his recurring themes: catastrophe and sex.
The exhibition continues with a selection of works from 1975-1976, The Violent Space Series, where Baldessari reflects on space through diverse violent content, openly manifested in a preference for cinematographic materials as the basis for his work.
The last exhibition space features an extensive display of his output from the Eighties, more specifically from 1982 to 1988. The continuity of his previous work is not only formal, but can also be appreciated in the repetition of his overlying themes: violence, sex and death, softened by an aesthetic that shares certain formal precepts with Pop Art and a recurrence to the world of celluloid, all of which contributes to the universe of Baldessari being ordered according to a cinematographic logic.
These recent works are also joined by Dwarf and Rhinoceros (With Large Black Shape) (1989) realised and produced in Spain especially for this exhibition. The installation, inspired by Goya's work, alludes to the Spanish painter with the figure of the dwarf and a huge black mark on the wall of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
The references to Goya are so prominent that they can also be seen in Baldessari's previous work, implicitly or explicitly, as is the case in This is Not to be Looked at (1966-68), which uses the name of one of the etchings from The Disasters of War as Baldessari displays his particular inclination towards the Spanish master's work. In a similar vein, he has decided to give the exhibition the title Not Even So, the name of another of the Disasters of War etchings, and for the exhibition's curators a detailed synopsis of the atmosphere of impossibility that introduces one of the most significant figures from American art in recent decades.
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