Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Here, as in some of Baldessari’s most powerful pieces, he uses multiple frames to invoke sets of relationships amongst disjointed imagery. The viewer’s mind is thus powerless to excavate meaning and narrative in this elaborate composition; even though they appear coherent these images are unrelated juxtapositions. For example, when viewing Voided Person with Guns at Head (Flanked by Confrontations) from right to left it reads as a story of increasingly violent confrontation. We first encounter an old film still of two male figures locked in a seemingly stern confrontation, in the central panel an anonymous, faceless figure blankly holds a gun to his temple and to the right, the violence has once more been heighted as we observe two men ferociously grabbing each other by their collars. As though dislocated poetry, the present work also operates on a linguistic level and the title further prompts our ‘reading’ of a narrative of escalating confrontation. As Baldessari has said, "for most of us photography stands for the truth, but a good artist can make a harder truth by manipulating forms or pushing paint around. It fascinates me how I can manipulate the truth so easily by the way I juxtapose opposites or crop the image or take it out of context. When two forces contend in a photograph, I may favour one side or the other – the rider or the horse, for example, the upright mummy in its coffin or the woman standing in awe next to it" (John Baldessari quoted in: Coosje van Bruggen, John Baldessari, New York 1990, p. 56).
Baldessari first began to block out the faces of people featured in his images in the early 1980s and doing so he completely divested them of their individuality and invested them with a new kind of symbolic meaning. This compositional device highlights the way in which we prioritise different parts of our vision. For example, when the ability to read facial expression is removed, as in the central panel of Voided Person with Guns at Head (Flanked by Confrontations), the viewer is forced to look at the person’s stance and dress in order to gain understanding. Further embedding richly coded clues into its pictorial surface, the coloured elements in his works are also chosen specifically so as to colour code people’s personalities – green/safe, red/dangerous, yellow/crazy and blue, as in the present work, platonic. Using wry humour to challenge the apparent ‘truth’ of photography, Voided Person with Guns at Head (Flanked by Confrontations) absolutely typifies Baldessari’s iconic composite photoworks.
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