John Baldessari

Bonner Kunstverein

In his 1969 text The world has too much art—I have made too many objects—what to do?, John Baldessari addressed the relationship between color and form, and sound and image, saying, “Collect old 45 rpm records of pop tunes with a color in the title. i.e., Blue velvet, Mellow-Yellow, Deep Purple, etc. Arrange chromatically on a juke box. One can choose his own colors, composition etc.” The following year, and almost simultaneous with his Cremation Project, in which he burned his pre-1966 paintings in an act of staged iconoclasm, the artist noted instructions and deliberations for Fifteen Musical Projects, 1970, on a sheet of paper. Speech and text thus form the basis of Baldessari’s artistic examination of music. If one reads his Musical Projects—for example, his question, “What are all the possible sounds . . . from all the objects in a room?”—it becomes clear that Baldessari’s understanding of music aims to expand the idea of that medium in the same way that he expands the idea of the image.

“Music,” the dual-location exhibition held at the Kunstmuseum Bonn (curated by Stefan Gronert) and the Bonner Kunstverein (curated by Christina Végh), sought to isolate a theme that runs throughout Baldessari’s extremely diverse oeuvre. The Kunstverein presented only one work, Beethoven’s Trumpet; In One Ear and Out the Same Ear, 2007. The installation consisted of oversize ear trumpets that, when activated by visitors, play fragments of Ludwig van Beethoven’s late works, forming a location-specific link to Bonn, the composer’s birthplace. The exhibition at the Kunstmuseum tracked Baldessari’s work from 1970 to the present, focusing on iconographic motifs such as guitars, accordions, violins, saxophones, and drums—predominant in works from the late ’80s to the present—alongside an examination of the role played by sound and rhythm in speech. The video Baldessari Sings LeWitt, 1972—title self-explanatory—is a wonderfully off-key homage to the author of “Sentences on Conceptual Art” (1969); it can be viewed as an ironic critique of Conceptual art’s focus on the idea and its linguistic articulation.

Baldessari stages serious as well as humorous relationships between the visual and the (sometimes merely imagined) aural, between word, sound, and image. The 120-part installation Songs: 1. Sky/Sea/Sand, 2. Sky/Ice plant/Grass, 1973, demonstrates the notation of “a secret melody” being composed by an individual, using photographs that document a ball being thrown on a beach. In Pack My Box with Five Dozen Liquor Jugs, a piece from the 1976 “Pangram Series,” the title sentence is literally put “in the picture” by means of photographs of single objects, each beginning with a letter in the title. In the exhibition catalogue, Végh quotes the artist: “As soon as I see a word, I spell it backwards in my mind. I break it up and put the parts back together to make a new word.” The Bonn exhibition sheds light on the process of translating diverse systems of interpretation into—to borrow the title of one of Baldessari’s works—“a different kind of order.”

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.