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John Baldessari and Alejandro Cesarco, “Retrospective,” at Murray Guy

John Baldessari and Alejandro Cesarco, “Retrospective,” at Murray Guy

Nicholas Knight

November 15, 2007

John Baldessari and Alejandro Cesarco have collaborated on a suite of 12 silkscreens on aluminum presently on view at Murray Guy on 17th Street. The simple visual presence of the panels disguises the rich conceptual alchemy charging the gallery. The setup is the same for each: floating inside the borders of the panel is a xeroxed image of an open book, framed so that one page of the spread is centered; the contents of that page have been removed, and in their place is a large rectangle of flat color; inside the rectangle, a white circle or two, each with a black number inside; below the rectangle, “on the page” of the xeroxed book as it were, similarly numbered lines of text; and below this set of nested elements, either one or two further lines of text, set in a complementary color to the rectangular block. (There is an exception: a single panel is all black and white, with the ground black, too.)

Seen in the gallery, the works function individually and as a group, even though the nature of their constituent elements makes the idea of an “individual work” very slippery: a series of representational shells creates several “insides” and “outsides”. Each single panel is already a conglomeration of content and commentary. Added to the formal setup is the fact of two artists’ voices, which, though always remaining in concert, glide unannounced from harmony to polyphony, from octave to microtone.

How does one calculate the volume of a container without depth? The book is not a book, but a degraded image of one, flattened brusquely by the xerox machine; whatever had been on the page is gone, and a “picture” occupies the place of the text; a line or two of text, in black, sits beneath the color like a caption or citation, preceded by the same numerals which float in the rectangle. Cesarco provided these lines, and they are layed-out as if they were originally on the xeroxed page. Cesarco’s keen sense of textual abstraction is in full effect here: he makes giddy use of the conventionalized compressions text can withstand within the confines of a perfectly schematized method of reading.

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