Art Comes from Art

Philip Guston

Philip Guston, American, b. Montreal, Canada, 1913 – 1980, Daydreams, 1970, oil on linen, 72 1/8 x 80 1/8 in., Bequest of Musa Guston, 1992 (92.18 ), Part of the Hirshhorn's current exhibition "Ways of Seeing," Image courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

November 3, 2006

In 1970 John Baldessari was using an abandoned theater for a studio, and he'd filled it completely with paintings from the early 1950s through the late 1960s. At some point he surveyed the studio as some people might look at a crowded closet and decided the paintings were "a problem to solve." An artist with a propensity for combining artworks to make new ones, he considered his options: he'd nearly settled on creating microdot photographs of each work, but instead decided to cremate the whole lot of them. The entire mass of art-ash filled nine boxes (each one the size used to contain the remains of one adult person).

The Hirshhorn's "Ways of Seeing" exhibit pairs the museum's permanent collection with more of John Baldessari's contemporary strategies. It was fitting that the museum introduced the artist's recent lecture by playing Jill Miller's I Am Making Art, Too—a film in which Miller digitally inserts herself into Baldessari's video work, I Am Making Art, making a kind of art mashup. (Miller's version even features a soundtrack, with music by Missy Elliott.)

Baldessari does nearly the same with several pieces in the show he's curated for the Hirshhorn. He hangs some works provocatively close to one another so that their juxtaposition arguably becomes his own creation. One example in particular stands out: Baldessari hangs Bruce Nauman's From Hand to Mouth (1967) so that the cast arm seems to be dipping down into the crevasse of Joseph Beuys's Memory of My Youth in the Mountains (1977).

But it's not merely unorthodox hanging that makes the show. Baldessari thinks of art in terms of other art—"art comes from art" was his refrain during the discussion. He even explains his reasons for including William Wiley's Acceptablelevels (1985). Putting it simply, he said, "It's the horror of the vacuum. It's certainly not Barnett Newman."

(Global Warming Your Cold Heart has more on several pieces in the show.)


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