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Giving new lines to Old Masters

John Baldessari’s mash-up of painting and film in Frankfurt

Olivia Weinberg | November/December 2015

The Städel Museum in Frankfurt is celebrating its 200th birthday. To mark the occasion, John Baldessari has made a new series of collages based on works from the permanent collection. “We wanted to give the museum something special,” says the curator Dr Martin Engler, “so we decided to dedicate an exhibition.” 

Baldessari’s work is tricksy, partly because it is made up of so many different components – painting and photography, image and text, sarcasm and wit – and partly because that’s precisely its point. Baldessari doesn’t give away any answers. Best known for photo collages in which he reconstructs film stills, adding obscure words and colourful shapes, he uses reference and pastiche to play with notions of authenticity. “Baldessari is a living part of art history,” says Dr Engler. “He felt like the perfect choice.”

His latest series borrows details from 16 Old Master paintings, including Cranach the Elder, Bronzino and Juncker. Each fragment – most are unrecognisable – has been matched up with snatches of screenplay. In typical fashion, he has meddled with the scripts to create a narrative that reflects his curiosity about what goes on in the lives of others. “Movie Scripts/Art: One must act quickly” (2014) is about a suitcase that falls from a window. As it hits the ground a large wad of cash spills out of it: “Let’s take the money and go back to the gallery,” says Bill. The script is paired with a strange still life: an oddly shaped table, a wonky fruit bowl and some flowers that loom in the background. The pairing is difficult to pick apart; the relationship between the painting and script unclear, almost absurd. 

“I just pose that there might be a connection,” Baldessari has said, “and then people can make of it what they want.” You can almost hear the mischief in his voice. The collages don’t explain. Instead, they show how language can influence an image so that each fragment takes on a new lease of life. And, with a hint of Baldessari irony, they quickly become more interesting than the originals. ~ OLIVIA WEINBERG

The Städel Paintings Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Nov 5th to Jan 24th

 

EXHIBITIONS AT A GLANCE

Grayson Perry: My Pretty Little Art Career (Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, Dec 10th to May 1st). It’s taken a long time for Perry to reach the Southern hemisphere but, in his biggest show there to date, it should be worth the wait. Tapestries and ceramics, drawings, prints and sculptures: the MCA has cut no corners. With so much new work, good luck picking a favourite.

Impressions. Five Centuries of Woodcuts (National Gallery, Oslo, Nov 6th to Jan 24th). An ancient art form, woodcut printing is still widely used today, and here are plenty of surprising examples – plus the chance to create your own.

Cycle Revolution (Design Museum, London, Nov 18th to June 30th). Cycling has hit new heights in the last decade, from everyday Boris biking to Olympic-level competition. To add to the frenzy, here are all the latest models, thermo-regulated clothing, accessories and pioneering equipment.

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World (Kröller-Müller Museum, The Netherlands, Nov 28th to April 17th). A sweeping retrospective that maps out the career of Hepworth (pictured) from its very beginning in the early 1920s. With an emphasis on her stylised drawings, plus a huge range of sculptures in wood, marble and bronze.

Byzantium in Switzerland (Musée Rath, Geneva, Dec 4th to March 13th). Part art, part archaeology, this show unlocks the rich Byzantine heritage preserved in Switzerland.

Big Bang Data (Somerset House, London, Dec 3rd to Feb 28th). It’s a word that’s thrown around all the time, but what does “data” actually mean? Finally, an exhibition that tries to explain, with installations that use data as their raw material.

Louise Bourgeois: No Exit (National Gallery of Art, Washington, Nov 15th to May 15th). Both symbolic and psychological, Bourgeois’s work is underpinned by loneliness and vulnerability. A small show packed with big ideas.~ OW

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