Since the 1960s, Conceptualist John Baldessari has been combining photographs, painting and text to disjunctive and often humorous effect. His works of the past few decades have largely employed found photographic images, and the recent paintings in this exhibition are no exception. Here, however, instead of film stills, news photographs and snapshots, Baldessari has used as his source material printed reproductions of paintings by such artists as Francis Bacon, Gustave Courbet, Giorgio de Chirico, Otto Dix, Louis Michel Eilshemius, Paul Gauguin and
Each piece in the show is a detail of a canonical work from the past 300 years of Western art history—sometimes recognizable, often not—enlarged, printed onto canvas, then overpainted by the artist, who has filled in selected areas of the composition with solid color or added the occasional geometric shape. (Visible half-tone patterns in the canvases’ unpainted sections emphasize the images’ origins as photographic reproductions.) In the process, Baldessari erases existing narratives, even as he isolates and dramatizes once-peripheral objects and actions.
Complicating these strangely evocative pictures are texts, taken from the titles of popular songs, emblazoned across the bottom of each painting. A detail of Paul Gauguin’s Self-Portrait with Halo, for example, is paired with the phrase my coloring book, while a section of De Chirico’s The Song of Love is accompanied by the words eyeball kid. The resulting posterish, absurdist works—which also include a painting of an adult hand dropping a coin into a child’s palm (moon river) and a horned monster (take it with me)—seem to allude to looking and finding, constructing and conveying, working and dreaming. They show Baldessari continuing to find new ways to do what he’s done so effectively for 50 years: make pictures about making pictures.—Anne Doran