Just In: John Baldessari
John Baldessari’s A Suite of Five Lithographs from Tristram Shandy
Ekphrasis — the interplay between text and image — has long preoccupied multimedia artist John Baldessari. The California-based artist’s iconic “phototext” works blur distinctions underlying photography and painting, while questioning the relationship between visual and verbal language. Often associated with Minimalism and Conceptualism — and with elements of Surrealism, Pop Art, and Dadaism thrown in — Baldessari himself has often aligned his work with an entirely different medium, namely, writing. “I’ve often thought of myself as a frustrated writer,” he once admitted. “I consider a word and an image of equal weight, and a lot of my work comes out of that kind of thinking.” Sometimes this kind of thinking translates into works directly combining text and image, as is the case with the artist’s self-referencing, tongue-in-cheek photomontages, which often incorporate sardonic tidbits of punny text with found and reappropriated images in unorthodox and unexpected ways. On other occasions Baldessari engages text more literally, producing works that directly respond to written descriptions found in newspapers, poems, or novels. One such instance of the latter is his 1988 portfolio, A Suite of Five Lithographs from Tristram Shandy.
In our upcoming June 10, 2018 auction, we are delighted to have the opportunity to include the complete set of five lithographs, which John Baldessari created in response to Laurence Sterne’s classical, eighteenth-century masterwork, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Over the course of his long career, Baldessari has expressed a deep infatuation with the relationship between the semantics of the written word and those inherent to visual language. His work often addresses the ways in which various visual and verbal codes both enable and destabilize modes of communication and meaning-making. “Words and imagery are both magical conveyors of meaning,” he once explained. “Sometimes I think a word can deal with an emotion better, and sometimes I believe an image can say it better. I’m ambivalent about prioritizing an image over a word. I build meaning in my art like a writer builds meaning from putting the right two words together. When you get it just right, it ignites meaning.”
Baldessari’s work as a whole frequently engages an ongoing conversation with the so-called “Laocoön debate,” which pits images and words against one another. The latter, so the ancient argument goes, are a static and spatial art, while the former purportedly belong to the realm of the dynamic and temporal—a tidy distinction that many theorists and artists have not always found particularly convenient or legitimate. Baldessari clearly belongs to the camp that doesn’t quite see these distinction as clear-cut. And, as is the case with A Suite of Five Lithographs from Tristram Shandy, a propitious marriage of word and image sets Sterne’s famously digressive story on fire. Fittingly, Baldassari’s images act in some respects as additional digressions from Sterne’s own, but they are by no means mere supplements to the written text. They are active components of meaning-making in the telling of Tristram’s story. Or, as Sterne might have it, “Non enim excursushic ejus, sed opus ipsum est.” (“For this is not a digression, but it is itself the work.”)
A Suite of Five Lithographs from Tristram Shandy
The complete portfolio of five color lithographs on T.H. Saunders paper
Published by Arion Press, San Francisco; printed by Magnolia Editions, Oakland
#38 of 50
Each signed in graphite lower right; edition lower left
Comprised of Man Collapsed on Sofa; Man Tied to Chair (A fix’d inflexible sorrow); Two Nude Women Perched on a Rock (The promontory of Noses); Man and Woman in Bed, Obliterated; Hand Holding Fountain Pen (The thing to be concealed); Man Running; Men Carrying Coffin (Fly for my life); and Man and Woman, Uncoupled Embracers and Kissers (No more sin)
Together with the deluxe book set and portfolio case
Sheets each: Various dimensions; Portfolio case: 31″ x 23.5″
Estimate: $10,000 – 15,000
June 10, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction