“Head to Head” takes John Baldessari’s “Double Bill (Part 2): …and Sander” as the centerpiece. Baldessari’s work starts with images of two pre-existing gelatin silver print photographs. The figure on the left is taken from a section of the early 20th Century German photographer August Sander’s “The lord of the manor (Der Herrenbauer)” and the figure on the right is taken from a section of Diane Arbus’ iconic “Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967”. Unlike the originals, Baldessari uses silkscreen to print the images, a reference to commercial printing, a process stating that these are reproductions and a way to bring the two images to the same point (in time, in surface, etc.). Baldessari’s actions, though, do not end there. He has cropped off the faces of both figures, added extra space at the bottom of the page and added the text “… AND SANDER”.
The united form of the two fragments looks almost as if it could be the Arbus image of twins, two females side-by-side. By cropping the imagery below the faces, the identifiable image of the woman in Sander’s photograph is not shown, thus leaving the viewer fewer details to notice the “substitution”. The text makes clear that Sander is ‘added’ by the word “AND” being directly in front of “SANDER”, yet to what Sander is added is left to be explored. Possible questions to be posed are: ‘Is Baldessari saying that Sander’s image should be as iconic as Arbus’?’, ‘Were Arbus and Sander similar in their ‘projects’?’, and ‘Is time something that confuses comparisons?’, among many others. The opportunities for critical thought through visual appreciation and exploration are many on account of the juxtapositions, cropping and additions. These techniques, while not unique to Baldessari or his work, display his deftness at using iconic, socially legible and other ‘weighted’ imagery, in conjunction with text and cropping to create powerful, socially-minded works.
Perhaps as an ode to this work and to Baldessari’s thinking, Barbara Krakow Gallery presents selections of both Arbus’ and Sanders’ photographs of pairs of people. Business, family, friendship, love and family are all relationships depicted within the photos and by presenting them all together, with Baldessari’s work, viewers have an opportunity to explore relationships through concept, historiography, purpose, structure, time and social ‘baggage’.