Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Walker acquires a famed Baldessari

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John Baldessari had his first Los Angeles solo show at Molly Barnes Gallery in 1968. At the same time, just down La Cienega Boulevard at Gallery 669 was a show of Joseph Kosuth’s recent work.

Kosuth was not amused. In “Art after Philosophy, his 1969 essay on conceptual art, Kosuth wrote that “[a]lthough the amusing pop paintings of John Baldessari allude to this sort of work by being ‘conceptual’ cartoons of actual conceptual art, they are not really relevant to this discussion.”

As LACMA curator Leslie Jones writes in “Pure Beauty,” the catalogue to the Baldesssari retrospective that she recently co-curated, Baldessari responded to Kosuth with Baldessari Sings LeWitt (1972), a 12 minute, 58-second video in which Baldessari sings each of Sol LeWitt’s 35 conceptual statements to a different pop tune. The Walker Art Center has recently acquired the work. Baldessari Sings LeWitt is also in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which acquired it in 2010.

The video features Baldessari sitting in front of a cinder-block wall with a fistful of papers and a microphone off to his right. “I’d like to sing for you some of the sentences that Sol LeWitt has written on conceptual art,” Baldessari begins. “I feel this is a tribute to him in that I think that these sentences have been hidden too long in the pages of exhibition catalogues and that perhaps by my singing them for you, it will bring these sentences to a much larger public.”

Of course, in 1972 Baldessari was little-known — and much less known thatn Sol LeWitt. Baldessari adjusts his glasses and begins. “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” Baldessari sings. He pauses. “Number two. Rational judgements… repeat rational judgements.”

I’m sure someone has teased out what songs Baldessari is singing in Baldessari Sings LeWitt, but I haven’t been able to find it. (Readers?)

“It is probably the poetry of freedom translate into art that has made this video… a hit with the YouTube generation,” writes Parkett editor and Kunsthaus Zurich curator Bice Curiger later in the same catalogue.

I think that means it’s OK for me to link to this four-minute YouTube excerpt from the video. It’s still funny.

Related: The Walker has much Baldessari in its collection. The video is available through Electronic Arts Intermix. Curious about what it costs to show or archive? It’s right here. ArtSlant plugged the work here, complete with a list of LeWitt’s 35 sentences.

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  1. […] just read that the Walker Art Center (one of my favorite places on the planet) has acquired John Baldessari’s 1972 video Baldessari Sings LeWitt. As the Walker tells the story, this video […]

  2. alison says:

    Baldessari sings LeWitt to the tunes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Heaven” to name a couple.

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