"If I know who it is, it's ruined for me," he says.
Besides movie stills, Baldessari turns his attention to drab landscapes, mundane table lamps resulting in a jaunty 1994 series of full-size reproductions with bold patches of color painted over the shades and shadows and body parts, notably noses and ears (don't miss the vacuum-formed piece mounted on the ceiling at the entrance of the Legion exhibition).
One room at the Legion is devoted to a 2004 series of prints of men playing guitars. The images are broken into layers, goosing the perspective by having some areas on thicker paper and turning the instruments into solid blocks of color. The story of their making offers a window into Baldessari's process: "I've had these 8 by 10's of rock and roll musicians for years," he begins. "I collect a lot of stuff because I'm repulsed by it, and that whole rock and roll musician thing does not interest me in the least. I just wonder, why are they popular? I had the photos for years and didn't know what to do with them, and all of a sudden something clicked the guitar is an element in art from Cubism, it's always there with the bottle of wine and newspaper and a loaf of bread. So I thought, how does that work in a more contemporary context?"
He goes on to describe his interest in shapes in photographs, making perspective into a flat plane. "What if I just erase all the gradation and make shapes of color? When the guitars are tilted, they're pretty interesting shapes, especially in context with gaudy costumes, glitter and bling. It's an interesting collision."
Perhaps not a lightning bolt from above, but like most of Baldessari's work, the clash creates subtle sparks. The kind you can believe in.
JOHN BALDESSARI: A PRINT RETROSPECTIVE FROM THE COLLECTIONS OF JORDAN D. SCHNITZER AND HIS FAMILY FOUNDATION
Through Nov. 8 (Tues. Sun., 9:30 a.m.5:15 p.m.)
Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. and Clement, SF