John Baldessari: Pure Beauty at the Met

John Baldessari photography self-portrait of the artist in a 4 by 3 grid form with slightly different hair colors in a tan button up top

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, running now through January at the Met, is packed with the kind of visually clever, relentlessly entertaining works that have earned him recognition as one of the great pioneers of the Conceptual Art movement. In and of itself, this is an extremely engaging exhibition, filled with energy and spectacle and humor. But what really struck us is how so much of John Baldessari's artwork, some of it more than 40 years old now, would fit right in on the most forward-thinking art and design blogs. Goodbye to Boats (Sailing In), a series of self-portraits of the artist waving at boats? I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, written hundreds of times, over and over? Photographs of the Backs of Trucks, a series of shots taken from artist John Baldessari's car on a California freeway? All of these (and a lot more) have been directly copied, in conscious homage or not, by today's digital artists. 

John Baldessari art left panel pelicans on a dock in front of the ocean, right panel a young woman in yellow dress with pearls and a nose bleed

We really enjoyed most everything at John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, but a few favorites would have to include the oddly disconcerting Pelicans Staring At Woman With Nose Bleeding (are these seabirds always so menacing looking?); the giggle-inducing video piece Baldessari Sings Lewitt, in which the artist turns his contemporary's written essays into (extremely off-key) musical numbers; and the very cool Throwing Three Balls Into the Air to Get a Straight Line, a photographic series of brightly colored balls tossed upward into the even brighter sky that makes us want to go to out to the park this weekend to see if we can recreate John Baldessari's art results. Helpfully, the Met's gift shop actually sells packs of red balls, should you also be so inspired. 

Image of 3 balls in the air set in front of a blue sky and trees art by John Baldessari

There's just a ton of great pieces here, spread out through a half dozen or so spacious galleries, all designed to provoke and amuse and (sometimes) groan at the corny jokes. John Baldessari's more recent artwork–actual 21st-century art at the Met!–is maybe less conceptual that his early stuff, in that an explanation of the creative process and/or the thinking behind the piece isn't necessary to fully appreciate what's going on, but we liked it just as much. And again, the dabate over whether John Baldessari was the first to blot the faces in old photographs with boldly colored dots–and, even later, to silhouette out his figures entirely–or whether he's simply one of the many (many!) to use such a strategy these days, was less interesting to us than his results, which are terrific. If you're a fan of contemporary art, this fall the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition is the place to be. 

John Baldessari artist piece of red, blue and red silhouetted figures against black and white building NYC


John Baldessari: Pure Beauty at the Met details 

John Baldessari artwork will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from now through January 9, 2011. The Met is located on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, and is open Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday until 9:00 p.m. Admission is always suggested at the Met, which makes it eminently affordable to pop in and see a a single show, and then be on your way. For more information about the John Baldessari exhibition, and about the museum as a whole, please see the Metropolitan Museum of Art website. 

John Baldessari photograph of a man in a white t-shirt with dark pants in fron of a house set behind a palm tree so the pants fade into the tree

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