The real work, in a sense, has been exhibited recently in New York (remedying Barbara Kruger and also Cindy Sherman), still more in Vienna. But we were not left darkling, though the packed house stood surlily talking amongst itself, as it will when displeased.
The work here at Margo Leavin is simple and self-sufficient, vast in number, filling all rooms and off-limits passageways. On the left, a photograph in black-and-white, often taken from a film. On the right, the word expressing the emotion conveyed.
Norm Alden, Donald Moffatt and James Olson are among the actors in the photographs. All of this has the air of continuation of Rimmer and countless studies, artistic and psychological, but neither interested nor interesting on that sort of plane, prima facie. It did not seem to the horde of spectators to have much point or depth, used as they are to expressionless acting on television (which Baldessari doesn’t watch much), or acting in a gross mimesis, though as I say the crowd was large and stayed put all afternoon, spilling out onto the landing and down the steps to the parking spaces, where a young girl was explaining to two tall chaps what she calls people who attract attention to themselves.
I am not convinced at all the public impression is correct, no, to me the work is instantly valuable (as purposely slight as it is) for being one of those times in an artist’s life when a simple equation will suffice where nothing else will do, and you have to say this (face) is that (word) without any possibility of real prevarication, a clearing of the decks against the kamikazes of Deconstruction and those generally who put a construction upon things not in keeping with their actual substance.
And then the associations come into play, aliquots of Orwell and the cinema, various things such as two and two not making five for once, the readable impression of faces, nothing too much by comparison with the more complex works in Vienna and New York, but ample and soothing for the nerves in face of an assertion by the critic of the Times that Dali and Modigliani both are bad, as though he didn’t know you get to choose one, not both, as a critic. And, again, the local billionaire Eli Broad has it in mind to drop his cuckoo’s eggs at LACMA, seeking to build a facility for his tastefully-applied collection on the grounds somewhere. And Mat Gleason is lecturing on Bad Art, Downtown. He ought to know, and so should the film critics who are spawned here in the L.A. Weekly, ripen in the Times, and flounder in New York. So here is John Baldessari, as far as it goes—and I should plainly say these speculations are an afterthought, that freedom from them is rather the point than anything else.