The title of an artwork can seem like an afterthought. When viewing paintings or photographs in an exhibition, the average gallery-goer is perhaps more likely to seek out the corresponding label to read the artist’s name, or the medium, or the price. Not so in the case of “The News,” John Baldessari’s latest series of screenprints at Los Angeles artists’ workshop Gemini G.E.L. These titles prompt a double-take, not only because the words are positioned directly on the works, printed in bold San Serif typeface, but because of the meaning of the text itself. An image of a man seated at a dinner table, for instance, is titled A Young Boy Being Fitted For a Gas Mask (Close Up/ Side View) (2014). Nearby, a screenprint of a military airplane being repaired is named Person Holding Umbrella (Horizontally) in Snowstorm (2014); a shot of the catwalk at a fashion show is called Elderly Woman Slicing Apple With Middle-Aged Man Looking Over Her Shoulder (2014).
The apparent mismatch between subject and title is intriguing, and the series’ name, “The News,” hints at Baldessari’s process. The American artist, who works in media as varied as painting and photomontage to film and performance, conceived these six works by scouring newspapers each morning for captivating images. He paired each of these with a phrase—his own descriptions of other photographs in the same publication—and manipulated each image, juxtaposing it with the text to create multi-colored screenprints.
The social commentary expressed in “The News” is subtly provocative, as is the technique and the pioneering spirit behind the works. Baldessari, who names Duchamp as a source of inspiration—and who has himself been cited as an inspiration for artists as famous as Cindy Sherman—considers himself an artist engaged in what he calls ‘brinkmanship,’ or a constant testing of the limits of printmaking. Next week, on the heels of exhibitions at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, and Joni Moisant Weyl gallery in New York, “The News” will travel to Miami for Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Visit Gemini G.E.L. at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2014, Booth A08, Dec. 4–7.