If Ed Ruscha is the first pick LA artist, John Baldessari now runs him close. They have worked similar angles of course, smartly matching text to image often. And, as a new show at the London branch of Marian Goodman gallery proves, Baldessari can equal Ruscha for hardboiled absurdism. Ruscha is pop art’s laconic cowboy; Baldessari conceptual art’s professor of deadpan. Both are expert in playing with Hollywood grammar for profoundly comic effect.
‘Pictures and Scripts’, Baldessari’s first solo London exhibition for nearly six years, is a series of 20 new works that pair black and white - with one exception - film stills with blown up snatches of text; here imagined film scripts, often absurd and funny and mostly somehow about movies or art and the market for art.
Baldessari is an obsessive collector and cataloguer of film stills and has used them in his art for decades. He deliberately keeps sources unstated though one still here is definitely of Herbert Lom in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. The stills used in the ‘Pictures and Scripts’ series, often cropped, come with Baldessari’s occasional painted overlays, also in black or white, covering hair and hats and occasionally entire people (no trademark dots though).
Baldessari has been producing these image-text diptychs since the mid-1960s. And ‘Early Work’, showing simultaneously at Marian Goodman’s Paris outpost, takes us back to that part of the artist’s career and even includes a rare 1962 piece that survived Baldessari’s famous ceremonial cremation of 125 of his works produced between 1953 and 1966.