John Baldessari Takes on Emojis at Sprüth Magers

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Fascinated by the intersection of written and visual language, famous art world multi-hyphenate John Baldessari is currently exhibiting his latest collection of twenty-seven mural-sized, emoji-based paintings at Sprüth Magers Los Angeles.

Born in 1931, in National City, California, Baldessari became a staple on the West Coast art scene in the 1960s and ’70s with his sardonic and conceptual photomontage works. He was included in the 47th and 53rd Venice Biennials, the 1983 Whitney Biennial, as well as documenta V and VII. More recently, Baldessari has been the subject of much-anticipated solo exhibitions at the prestigious Fondazione Prada, Milan, in 2010, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in 2011.

John Baldessari

John Baldessari, NUMAN’S MORTUARY MEYER You big ideas bug me., 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Sprüth Magers. Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint

Language and semantics are pervasive themes in Baldessari’s work. He often includes found text and puns to highlight the absurdity of the art world. Baldessari’s seminal “Tips For Artist Who Want To Sell” (1966-1968) perfectly exemplifies the artist’s language-centric style. Featuring only text, the piece expounds on the essential elements of financially viable painting.

We see this same razor-sharp wit in Baldessari’s latest Sprüth Magers showing. Bursting forth from the artist’s creative consciousness earlier this year, this emoji series delves into this latest form of daily communication. Interestingly, humanity is once again adopting the earliest form of writing. Pictographs date back to ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations circa 3,000 BCE.

John Baldessari

John Baldessari, OFFICE BUILDING – DAY MAYO Is there a Courbet for sale here?, 2017. Courtesy of John Baldessari and Sprüth Magers.

Here, Baldessari realistically depicts tigers, pigs, camels, gorillas, horses, and more in the style of a Victorian naturalist. His presentation seems traditional, except for in the usage of inkjet printing and acrylic. Additionally, looking below each animal illustration, one finds seemingly unrelated typed fragments of movie dialogue acting as captions. One of the most jarring examples of this style features a gecko alongside the theatrical or film scene description ‘OFFICE BUILDING – DAY.’ An unknown character by the name of ‘MAYO’ inquires, “ Is there a Courbet for sale here?”

This juxtaposition between the visual and the written aspects of this work encourages the viewer to create their own possible links and narratives, opening up an entire world of interpretations and contexts. Baldessari revels in this connotational plurality, just he has done for decades.

John Baldessari
Through December 9, 2017
Sprüth Magers
5900 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Emily Nimptsch

Emily Nimptsch

Emily Nimptsch is a freelance arts and culture writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Flaunt, ArtSlant, Artillery, and produced blog content for Venice Beach’s L.A. Louver Gallery.

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