173 – John Baldessari’s “Painting for Kubler”
John Baldessari’s “Painting for Kubler” in the exhibition John Baldessari: Paintings 1966-1968 at Craig F. Starr Gallery
(The large scale text below is part of the painting “Painting for Kubler”, 1966-1968. The painting is black text on a neutral canvas. I have linked to an online resource with an image of the painting but I am not reproducing it here.)
PAINTING FOR KUBLER
THIS PAINTING OWES ITS EXISTENCE TO PRIOR PAINTINGS.
Baldessari stands squarely at the crossroads of conceptual and pop and has vacillated between the two but with “Painting for Kubler”, conceptual wins out. The small show, 11 works in all, lays out a black and white treatise in which Baldessari makes several works that only contain text. Ed Ruscha’s presence is everywhere in this show.
BY LIKING THIS SOLUTION YOU SHOULD NOT BE BLOCKED IN YOUR CONTINUED ACCEPTANCE OF PRIOR INVENTIONS.
“Painting for Kubler” is a prescribed course for absorbing and conferring power on to the work. George Kubler, author and historian who wrote The Shape of Time, is the author of the statements that Baldessari has cribbed. While some of these words are paraphrased (John C. Welchman’s essay on Baldessari in the catalog points out that all sentences except the last are paraphrased ideas from chapters 2 and 3 of The Shape of Time), Kubler’s ideas about the object divorced from the autobiographical are paramount to the understanding of this work. The painting neither lampoons nor deifies Kubler’s text. It presents an argument about the value of a thing as a thing. It’s objecthood is also its reasoning for objecthood.
TO ATTAIN THIS POSITION, IDEAS OF FORMER PAINTING HAD TO BE RETHOUGHT IN ORDER TO TRANSCEND FORMER WORK.
Baldessari lets us know that we are complicit. In an interview with Marcia Tucker in 1981, Baldessari says “I stopped trying to be an artist as I understood it and just attempted to talk to people in a language they understood…I thought I would do all that on canvas and then the canvas would be an art signal.” John C. Welchman’s essay on Baldessari for the catalog draws out the reasons for, and impact of, the text works. Welshman spends several pages on the work “Space Available”, but when he lands on “Kubler” he is clear that the “art signal” that Baldessari provides toys with “Kubler’s” treatise. The artist makes personal reference, both to George Kubler and to the viewer/ reader “YOU”. This reference ultimately does refer back to biography, which Kubler argued against.
TO LIKE THIS PAINTING YOU WILL HAVE TO UNDERSTAND PRIOR WORK.
“Painting for Kubler” is a construct All the work you have ever seen is now involved. Simultaneously it is interesting to note that the artist burned all of the art he made between 1953 and 1966 in 1970.
ULTIMATELY THIS WORK WILL AMALGAMATE WITH THE EXISTING BODY OF KNOWLEDGE.
Across the room hangs “Pure Beauty”. The work, black text on gray, is playing on the spiritual and holy aura of supposedly great art. These paintings are landmarks. Or rather, they are the signposts that point the way to landmarks.
– Jeff Bergman
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