Friday, 5 August 2011


copyright John Baldessari

The Shape of Things to Come: New Sculpture
Saatchi Gallery until October 16th
This large scale work grabs your attention on the far wall as you enter Gallery 5. Its impact is both comforting and terrifying. Impossible to ignore.

This is how it came about: Baldessari was asked to do a retrospective show in Bonn in 2007 with all the art works he’d done about music. He visited Beethoven’s house where he found a cabinet of his ear trumpets.  ‘I was really fascinated by them as sculptural forms, especially one that he had designed himself that I thought was quite beautiful’. Some years later he describes having one of those ‘three o’clock in the morning moments when you are awake and all of a sudden I thought ’wait a minute – ear/ear trumpet’.

 Baldessari is fascinated by the blocks and knots and paradoxes which exist when we try to communicate. Here we have the ear of a composer who cannot hear; ‘Beethoven’s trumpet’ which is designed not to play music but to humbly receive it; a silent sculpture about communicating through sound; an intimidating  large-scale anthropomorphic work which dwarfs (almost swallows up) the viewer. Finally the accompanying text indicates that the work is silent until the viewer speaks into the trumpet, at which point a section from Beethoven’s six last quartets will be heard. When I tried all I heard was silence...

copyright John Baldessari
In 1970 Baldessari burnt all of the paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966 as part of a new piece, titled "The Cremation Project". A year later  he was commissioned to produce an onsite art work for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design but the college didn't have the funds to bring the artist from California to Canada. He suggested the students wrote the message ‘I will not make any more boring art’ as if it were a punishment.  ‘To my surprise’, he commented, ‘they covered the walls’. In the meantime, Baldessari made a recording as he wrote the same phrase over and over again in a notebook in his studio. An ironic disjunction of form and content. 

In vowing not to make boring art they had just made yet another piece...You may have seen it on display at Tate Modern in 2009/2010.

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