“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 – The Space Between – Los Angeles

 

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.

 

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Cowboys., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

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In The Space Between Two Cowboys., a pair of smiling men dressed in cowboy hats and riding gear rest against two large wagon wheels. A white expanse surrounds them, engulfing the background that presumably once gave them a specific context and, by extension, narrative significance. As the eye shifts between fore- and background, one is left to ponder who these people are and for whom they smile, as well as attend to the visual, textual and cultural markers that lead us to read them as “cowboys” to begin with.

Details
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Cowboys., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Cowboys., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Cowboys., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Cowboys., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Cowboys., 2019

Details
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In The Space Between Two Cowboys., a pair of smiling men dressed in cowboy hats and riding gear rest against two large wagon wheels. A white expanse surrounds them, engulfing the background that presumably once gave them a specific context and, by extension, narrative significance. As the eye shifts between fore- and background, one is left to ponder who these people are and for whom they smile, as well as attend to the visual, textual and cultural markers that lead us to read them as “cowboys” to begin with.

In other works, rather than obscuring the in-between spaces with paint, Baldessari flips the script and leaves those spaces visible, occluding individual objects or figures instead. His spatial overlays and excisions at once deflect and direct our attention, while also betraying the processes by which we encode and decode the world around us.

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gun and Cigarette., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Rifles., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gifts and Scroll., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
Details
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gun and Cigarette., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gun and Cigarette., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gun and Cigarette., 2019 (detail)

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gun and Cigarette., 2019 (detail)

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Rifles., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Rifles., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Rifles., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Rifles., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Rifles., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gifts and Scroll., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gifts and Scroll., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gifts and Scroll., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gifts and Scroll., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Gifts and Scroll., 2019

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In other works, rather than obscuring the in-between spaces with paint, Baldessari flips the script and leaves those spaces visible, occluding individual objects or figures instead. His spatial overlays and excisions at once deflect and direct our attention, while also betraying the processes by which we encode and decode the world around us.

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

 

 

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.

 

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Legs., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
Details
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Legs., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Legs., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Legs., 2019 (detail)

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Legs., 2019 (scale image)

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John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Head and Edge., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
Details
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Head and Edge., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Head and Edge., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Head and Edge., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Head and Edge., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Head and Edge., 2019

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“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.

 

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Hands., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Pictures, Calf With Arm and Bowl With Arm., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Women., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

More Views
Details
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Hands., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Hands., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Hands., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Hands., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Hands., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Pictures, Calf With Arm and Bowl With Arm., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Pictures, Calf With Arm and Bowl With Arm., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Pictures, Calf With Arm and Bowl With Arm., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Pictures, Calf With Arm and Bowl With Arm., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Pictures, Calf With Arm and Bowl With Arm., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Women., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Women., 2019
Varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint
137.5 × 146.4 × 3.8 cm
54 1/8 × 57 5/8 × 1 1/2 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Women., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Women., 2019

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
The Space Between Two Women., 2019

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John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

 

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
Study for The Spaces Between Four Paintings (Rented), 1971
Black-and-white photocopy, pencil, ink marker, and tape on paper
27.3 × 35.6 cm
10 3/4 × 14 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
Space Between (Close to Remote), 1986
Seven black-and-white photographs on board
87 × 117.5 cm
34 1/4 × 46 1/4 inches

 

 

The concept of the “space between” appears early on in Baldessari’s work, in a study for a painting destined for a faculty show at the California Institute of the Arts in 1971. The artist returned to this phrase in the mid-1980s with works including Space Between (Close to Remote) (1986), in which cropped film stills display two actors’ faces and the textured scenery that appears between them. These “interstitial gaps and glitches where it seemed nothing was happening,” in the words of curator Russell Ferguson, remained a mainstay of Baldessari’s practice.

Details
John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
Study for The Spaces Between Four Paintings (Rented), 1971
Black-and-white photocopy, pencil, ink marker, and tape on paper
27.3 × 35.6 cm
10 3/4 × 14 inches

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

John Baldessari
Space Between (Close to Remote), 1986
Seven black-and-white photographs on board
87 × 117.5 cm
34 1/4 × 46 1/4 inches

Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 2

 

 

The concept of the “space between” appears early on in Baldessari’s work, in a study for a painting destined for a faculty show at the California Institute of the Arts in 1971. The artist returned to this phrase in the mid-1980s with works including Space Between (Close to Remote) (1986), in which cropped film stills display two actors’ faces and the textured scenery that appears between them. These “interstitial gaps and glitches where it seemed nothing was happening,” in the words of curator Russell Ferguson, remained a mainstay of Baldessari’s practice.

 

“One of the best compliments I ever got was: ‘John, what I like about your work is what you leave out.’” –John Baldessari

 

Courtesy the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 

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.

 

John Baldessari – The Space Between – Los Angeles

All installation views by Robert Wedemeyer

All artworks © John Baldessari. Courtesy Estate of John Baldessari © 2021