October 19, 2010 / 4:00 PM / 9 years ago

NY museum honors artist Baldessari in retrospective

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - More than 120 works, including two huge canvases commissioned for the exhibition, are included in a retrospective of legendary American artist John Baldessari at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

John Baldessari's "Palm Tree/Seascape" in the lobby of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. REUTERS/The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Handout

The show, “John “Baldessari: Pure Beauty” which opens on Tuesday, is the first for the Los Angeles-based artist in New York for 20 years and includes works dating back to 1962.

The two new 25-foot (8.2 meter) works “Brain/Cloud,” which features a giant cloud-like brain floating in a blue background, and “Palm Tree/Seascape,” a canvas showing a palm tree jutting up in front of an expanse of ocean, hang in the lobby of the museum, created specifically for the New York show.

“I don’t think they (visitors) need any preshow counseling,” the 79-year-old artist, who was dressed in all-black with a scraggly white beard, told reporters at a preview of the show.

Baldessari is often described as a conceptual artist. Critics regularly refer to Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp when describing his humorous, usually colorful creations packed with pop culture references.

But Baldessari said his art is accessible to anyone who visits the museum.

“I don’t think you really have to spoon feed the viewer,” he explained. “You just have to give them something to hang on to and they can begin to unravel it themselves. It’s kind of like reading a detective story, you get a clue, you follow that.”

In “Planets (Chairs, Observer, White Paper),” a 1987 montage, Baldessari combines colored and black and white movie stills with a photo of planets in orbit, letting viewers form their own associations.

Some works feature only text on canvas, others combine text and images, with many peppered with his signature colored dots.

But Baldessari cautioned viewers not to buy into everything they see in his works.

“Maybe the writer is leading you purposefully in the wrong direction, which I admit I do that a lot,” he said. “So it’s a game, at least for me, that I play with the spectator.”

As for the huge brain canvas, Baldessari simply said, “Clouds, I should get back into that again.”

He added, “I like the idea of a giant brain hovering in the sky, it’s you know, very science-fiction, like there’s this giant intelligence hovering over our city and what are we supposed to do about that?”

Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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