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American artist John Baldessari rose to prominence in the late 1960s combining Pop art's use of imagery from the mass media with Conceptual art's use of language to create a unique body of work that has become a hallmark of postmodern art. Early in his career, Baldessari began incorporating images and texts in his photo-based art. He appropriated pictures from advertising and movie stills, juxtaposing, editing, and cropping them in conjunction with written texts. His resulting montages of photography and language often counter the narrative associations suggested by the isolated scenes and offer a greater plurality of meanings. The layered, often humorous compositions carry disparate connotations, underscoring how relative meaning can be.
By the 1980s Baldessari favored using appropriated images without text. By relying on arrangements of photographs and entirely removing written text, Baldessari demonstrated that pictures alone could deliver the same narrative message that his previous text-and-image composites had so effectively conveyed. By the mid-1980s he adopted the technique of concealing a face by placing a colored adhesive dot over it. This technique simultaneously flattened the image and emphasized the illusion of the scene. By obscuring a face (or later, a body part) Baldessari was able to erase individuality and transform a specific person into an obscure object. The white dots used in the first of these works were eventually replaced by colored dots, coded so that Baldessari could get multiple layers of meaning—red signaling danger, green for safety, and so on.
Throughout his long and celebrated career, Baldessari has continued to play with and critique popular culture, and over time he has increased the scale and visual impact of his work. In Somewhere Between Almost Right and Not Quite (With Orange) (2004), the group of 13 works commissioned for the Deutsche Guggenheim, the artist is concerned with betweenness, Zwischenraum in German. Orange—a color between yellow and red—is dominant in this project. Choosing nostalgic-looking B-movie film stills, Baldessari then paints over crucial visual data in the images, essentially withholding information.
Baldessari revels in juxtapositions: his imagery conveys harmony and discord, security and disruption—and he focuses on the voids left between these extremes, the uncomfortable existence of betweenness. The film stills, removed from time and space and freed from their original filmic narratives are here newly combined and reconnected in the works and in the exhibition space. By using the process of montage to combine and reorganize imagery, Baldessari illustrates again that meaning is constructed relationally rather than emanating from within.