Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, John Baldessari: Recent Work, November 1975 - January 1976
London, Robert Self Ltd., John Baldessari: Photographic Works, February - March 1977
John Baldessari, Four Events and Reactions, Florence, 1975, pp. 2-13
One of the original conceptual American artists, John Baldessari rose to prominence in the early 1960's. Born and raised in southern California where he worked and taught for most of his life, Baldessari's life-long love affair with images sought to strip art down to its contents and challenge our conditioned sense of the world. Rooted in the Duchampian notion that anything can be called art, Baldessari plays with contemporary art theory, ironicizing it, and treating it with a deadpan absurdist humor.
Completed in the wake of the artist's 1970 cremation project, an exercise in which Baldessari renounced life as a painter and burned all his work, Action/Reaction (Synchronized): Putting a Finger in Milk, 1975, was realized during a transformative moment in the artist's career. Seeking a less subjective form of representation, Baldessari left behind the world of paintings and turned to the more conceptual media of video and photography.
Shortly following this ideological epiphany, Baldessari decided to leave his native city of angels to exhibit with famed Ileana Sonnabend in New York. Finding inspiration in his new east coast contemporaries, Baldessari spent a large part of the 1970's examining the relationship between images. In an almost clinical form of analysis, he would compose photographs in linear or grid compositions and examine their syntax, sequencing and juxtapositions. For his Action/Reaction series, Baldessari utilized two movie cameras simultaneously to film a series of simple actions and the different expressions on a woman's face as she watched these occurrences.
Action/Reaction (Synchronized): Putting a Finger in Milk pairs two rows of photographs, the top depicting a finger slowly being dipped in milk, and the bottom, a woman's subtle response to this act. From an early stage in his career, Baldessari professed that the spectator is equally important to the phenomenon they are observing. In the present work the concept is mirrored for we look at someone as they look at something else. Indeed, behind Baldessari's reductivist veneer there is a glimmer of humanity. No matter how minimal his composition, he always has a knack for documenting the human condition.
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