Critics’ Picks

View of “Pierrot,” 2011.

View of “Pierrot,” 2011.

Chicago

Jonathan Baldock

Peregrine Program
3311 West Carroll Avenue, #119
October 9–November 6, 2011

The clown—a source of laughter for some and of unease or even terror for others—is the central motif in Jonathan Baldock’s sculptural installation Pierrot, 2011, which takes its title and inspiration from Jean-Antoine Watteau’s 1718–19 painting of a commedia dell’arte fool. Standing alone above his fellow actors, Watteau’s Pierrot appears lost in thought, the expression on his unpainted face remote. In this moment, he seems unable to fully inhabit his persona—perhaps he is a man forced to play a part that stopped making sense long ago. Baldock’s version of the Pierrot figure evokes a similar sense of displacement, albeit in a comically literal fashion: The clown’s costumed body has been abstracted into a series of modular geometric forms that the artist can (and does) reconfigure at will. Baldock sculpts the individual components out of polysterene foam, then blanket-stitches sections of cream-colored felt directly onto the forms, forming a taut sheath over the entirety of each. On top of this are sewn additional fabric cutouts in the shape of tears, body parts, polka dots, and stripes.

When viewed as an installation, the sculptures yield a single, exquisitely balanced visual tableau. Seen as individual works, however, their affects career wildly from humorous to bawdy to downright creepy. A head placed atop a stack of cylindrical and rectangular forms evokes a clown in jauntily striped pantaloons, yet the bullet-size hole where one of his eyes should be, and the scarlike strip of black fabric running down the jawline, conjure far less comforting imagery. Comparisons to Frankenstein’s monster and his slasher-film offspring are inevitable, but equally resonant is David Wojnarowicz’s 1990 Silence = Death and its iconic image of a man with his mouth sewn shut, blood running from the sutures like tears. For the most part, Baldock avoids pinning any one cultural or art-historical reference to his sculptures, preferring instead to allow for a potentially infinite number of them. A torso with outstretched arms, for example, suggests the graceful leaps of a dancer en pointe, while the crudely suggestive smiley face appliquéd to its chest reminds us that “low” forms of culture offer modes of levity that are just as powerful as “high” culture. What is a clown, after all, if not a man who can show us the potential for transcendence that lies in both?