September’13 — John Baldessari «1+1=1», Garage, Moscow

This is the first visit of John Baldessari in Russia and the first exhibition of his artworks here. The curatorial work was done by Kate Fowle, Garage’s Chief Curator, and well-known Hans Ulrich Obrist as an International Advisor. This exhibition was presented in a conjunction with the 5th Moscow Biennale and was opened with a public discussion between John and Ilya Kabakov.

John Baldessari is looking like Santa and is mainly known as a conceptual artist who hates the word «conceptual». His text masterpieces are of the main interest in the context of our classes. His forward-looking early works could be compared with great investigations of the narrative potential of images and the associative power of language within the boundaries of the work of art such as for instance the installation «One and three Chairs» of Joseph Kosuth, who actually had no special liking for Baldessari. Baldessari’s work «Pure Beauty» became iconic as well as his «I will not make any more boring art».





The exhibition «1+1=1» is produced of the most recent John Baldessari’s works which continue his longstanding investigation into the convergence of image and text. Four playful series Double Vision, Double Bill, Double Play and Double Feature show us the tension between the images borrowed from pages of some art history books and artist’s text. It’s the first time all four project are shown together as a one whole exhibition. Baldessari has selected masterpieces from two last centuries of the history of art (by Manet, Matisse, David, Duchamp, Gaugin, Magritte, Warhol etc.) and chose a fragment of it as a complete image. That’s kind of image appropriation he has done before with some mass-media images. Then he gives this new image a kind of a title that becomes a part of it and we could say that the meaning of this action of adding is in «doubling» the image.


Works in Double Vision section double one artist’s name with a fragment of an image from another artist. So we can see the title «Matisse» under the initially black and white Jackson Pollock’s painting which was coloured by Baldessari in a fauvism manner with a vivid palette. The lower body piece the audience see with the title «Polke» has some arguments for giving the painting to Balthus, definitely not to Sigmar Polke, but also you can’t ignore the obvious association with the dance. Dali’s piece with Duchamp signature is also meant to lead you to find some new meanings, associations or not anything similar at all.

The other three parts of Double series pair appropriated images with titles of film noir movies, song lyrics and the difference between two images with one of the artists named below and the other not. The last — Double Bill is more about the crucial meaning of authorship in our culture.


John Baldessari in several interviews mentioned the influence of Marcel Duchamp and so-called «the Duchamp’s part of Rene Magritte» artworks on his point of view. But in Double Bill he throws together so well-known Magritte’s smoking pipe («not a pipe» actually) and Balthus’ not instanty identified piece and names it «… and Balthus». He names only one of the two image sources, giving us the task of solving the puzzle of the unnamed artist.

Double Play section is challenging to comprehend, but also it shows the viewer that draws from art historical and popular culture resources could get new meaning through the reconfiguration of disparate parts.


At the bottom of each painting there is an equally diverse song title. The paintings allow the viewer the experience of navigating the connections between the unrelated parts, where not only visual and textual signifiers are out of context and at odds, but the suggestion of a song initiates a soundtrack for each piece. The piece of painting of a man lost in thoughts is completed with Tom Wait’s not very romantic line «Eggs and Sausage». The paintings and text in Double Play are more ambiguous, questioning the work itself.

The section of Double Feature is giving us a complex set of collages to view. All the pieces have an image that has been significally magnified and cut out of some ancestral image and a «pictorial puzzle» from which the viewer is supposed to tease out the piece’s meaning is made with the adding the title of film noir movie.


In this case Baldessari takes an image belong to Francis Picabia and removed the faces and background. The cat remains in the image so the image is now transformed into something else — a mystery street. 

Baldessari shows us a kind of an interesting game of creating new meanings on the counterpoint of a word and an image. You can get something like a monster of professor Frankenstein as a result in this game but also you can get a third new completely different and meaningful piece. So he offers us to take a part in the conversation about distinctions between his great ancestors, who already have become a part of the pop-culture, and about their impact in it. When you see Warhol masterpiece you recognize it immediately and just walk away with the happiness of recognition inside you. Baldessari tries to break this instant awareness with the usage of text.

Polina Brzhezinskaya



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