John Baldessari, the Los Angeles Conceptual artist, has always had an aesthetic cynical proclivity. It therefore came as no surprise for those versed in Baldessari lore when the artist turned to Francisco de Goya's Disasters of War print series as source inspiration. Begun in 1810 and decrying the horrors of violence, the suite of 80 prints addressed post-war society and the pursuit of truth. The present work sources its literal inspiration from Plate 66, eponymously titled Strange devotion!. In this print, Goya renders a public spectacle of folly which can be interpreted to suggest that in the same way humans debase the religious and make it ordinary, they elevate the ordinary to the realm of the religious. Through these allegories, Goya shows how, in the carnivalesque world that is his, reason is useless. Therefore the suite of prints extended beyond a critique of society to a general humanistic one, and one can surmise that this interpretation inspired Baldessari for its associative Conceptual relevance.
In the present work, a seemingly trivial image of a single dumbbell captioned with the reverent and stoic text STRANGE DEVOTION directly and ironically parallel the word and object. Whereas Goya used language to expose the inadequacy of language, Baldessari appears less interested in logical relationships between image and text than with the ubiquitous possibilities within their conceptual interpretation. The banality of both object and text coupled by the very distance they have both in form and function make this series a potent and compelling treatise in Baldessarian semiotics.
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