“When you’re looking at two things, don’t look at them, look between them . . . The space between two things, that’s very important.” –John Baldessari
John Baldessari’s The Space Between (all works 2019) is the final series that the artist completed before his death in January 2020 at the age of 88. It comprises inkjet prints on canvas that reproduce found imagery overlaid with fields of white and black acrylic paint. These brushy passages blot out elements of each original scene, and in doing so leave particular people, objects and areas exposed. Below, lines of text bring the eye to elements within this visual network.
The series’ thirty canvases exhibit Baldessari’s characteristic combination of text and image and testify to the artist’s unending urge to question the manner in which we find meaning amid the multitude of signs, symbols and gestures that structure our lives.
In several examples from the series, the artist drew unexpected objects into his balance of image and text, such as in The Space Between Two Legs. and The Space Between Head and Edge. Though their titles and captions reference mundane objects, their imagery clearly displays, respectively, a gun being brandished and a knife plunged into a character’s back. Handheld implements such as weapons, tools and cameras often take center stage, giving the series a sense of movement, tension and dynamism.
“Through a delicate and pronounced process of incising or inverting an image to reveal its negative, these works hover between images of cinema and those of art—simultaneously static and mobile, present and absent.” –Hans Ulrich Obrist
Despite the subtle structural shifts throughout The Space Between, uniting the series is Baldessari’s singular approach to his photographic source materials, which he culled from his vast archive of film stills, press images and local ephemera. Certain themes, quintessentially Baldessarian subjects seen throughout his oeuvre, reveal themselves across the paintings, including the preponderance of body parts in the form of hands, ears, mouths and arms. Expressive by nature, they perform an array of gestures across the paintings—pointing, grasping, punching, gripping—carefully orchestrated by the artist to conjure surreal and evocative, but always open-ended, messages.
“One of the best compliments I ever got was: ‘John, what I like about your work is what you leave out.’” –John Baldessari
One of the greatest artistic minds of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Baldessari made an indelible mark on contemporary art worldwide through his innovative approach to various art mediums, his boundary-pushing, transcendent wit and his mentorship to countless artists and friends over the course of his storied career. His final body of work makes visible the charged zones between word and image, foreground and background, presence and absence, and symbol and meaning, giving each canvas a poetic ambiguity.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, co-published by Sprüth Magers and Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König, with contributions from Barbara Bloom, Russell Ferguson, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Catherine Opie and David Salle. Sprüth Magers also recently announced the gallery’s global representation of the Estate of John Baldessari. Click here for more information.
Recordings of conversations around The Space Between by artists and writers close to John Baldessari, including Stephen Prina and Mungo Thomson, are available here.