Sprüth Magers inaugurates its Los Angeles space with new work by John Baldessari

Sprüth Magers inaugurates its Los Angeles space with new work by John Baldessari

‘A film should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order,’ Jean-Luc Godard once famously said. Godard – the aloof auteur of French 1960s Nouvelle Vague cinema – is a prime influence on John Baldessari’s work, with its cryptic narratives inket-printed and painted onto canvases. The sparse and seductive pull of his new pieces similarly deconstruct a viewer’s wish for linear narratives, with their confusing juxtapositions between text and image arranged just as Godard’s improvised and roughly edited sequences circle the viewer’s desire for a story and often create clashes between sound and image.

For an inaugural American exhibition at their new gallery on Los Angeles’ so-called ‘Miracle Mile’, Monika Sprüth’s and Philomene Magers’ choice seems, in some ways, a failsafe one. Baldessari – West Coast modernist, ambivalent concept artist and a teacher at various California schools from 1959 to 2008 – is a cherished figure of the LA scene, and an artist’s artist.

This isn’t a show about homage though, or reverence. It feels like the right time for a solo Baldessari presentation in Los Angeles, especially since his last was in 2012. The works recall campaigns from the halcyon days of advertising, their postures of leisure both dreamy and wistful; the gestures of the body as well as of words, as ever, are crucial components of Baldessari’s deconstruction of language – gazing off into the distance, reclining, sitting. The texts, positioned to be read with the image, do not quite fit, but they’re not disconnected either. Who is Ben, and where is his jacket? You can’t help but search beyond what you see.

Baldessari rather conducts a mellifluous orchestra of signs, creating directions and cues rather than the whole routed map. His interest in sequences, and in the arbitrary structures that underpin communication, is evident in his new work, even if his attitudes towards those structures are just as ambiguous as ever. The works hang like puzzles – games on the gallery wall for the viewer to figure out. But art making, unlike sign making, does not make things more obvious. Sometimes meaning is simply found in the search for it.

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