John Baldessari, Person With Guitar (Red)

Where are They Now? John Baldessari's Person with Guitar (Red)

On loan to San Diego Museum of Art for The Art of Music, September 26, 2015 – January 5, 2016

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” –Plato

We here at the Hammer Museum are quite fond of music. In fact our music programming is both varied and extensive, from a 2012 residency with an experimental orchestra, wild Up, to our upcoming two day concert as exhibition, ALL THE INSTRUMENTS AGREE, featuring visual artists whose practices extend into sound such as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Odwalla88, Hassan Khan, and Lonnie Holley, among many others. We have even incorporated sound work into our collections, from the ping pong tables on Lindbrook Terrace that are actually a part of our Hammer Contemporary Collection, officially titled A Sound Work for the Hammer Museum by Mark Allen and Chris Kallymyer as Machine Project, to a series of prints by John Baldessari that feature musicians and guitars rendered in vibrant color devoid of detail.  

John Baldessari, Person With Guitar (Red)
John Baldessari, 
Person With Guitar (Red), 

The Hammer Contemporary Collection has been particularly devoted to California-based artists since it was launched in 2005 and Baldessari’s Person with Guitar (Red), 2005, purchased with funds provided by Brenda Potter and Michael Sandler, was a key acquisition in pursuing this goal. This is why we were thrilled when our neighbors to the south at the San Diego Museum of Art asked us to lend the work to them for their extensive and exhaustive exhibition, The Art of Music, on view September 26, 2015 through January 5, 2016. The exhibition explores intersections between music and art through over 200 paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, installations, and musical instruments from around the world. There will be many opportunities for visitors to experience the exhibition in the galleries as well as through numerous live performance events and even an academic symposium—you can bet that many of us from here at the Hammer will be making the drive!

If you make the trek, be sure to notice the way in which Baldessari’s five-color screenprint directs your vision toward aspects of the background photographic image that would typically be lost as you focused on the primary symbol, the guitar, and human element of the hands. Baldessari said during a press event for a retrospective in San Francisco, “It later struck me that we have ways of prioritizing our vision that impacts what we see. If you’re running into a train station and you’re late, you’re going to prioritize the clock but if you’re just wondering about you’re going to look at other things first.” The image is also one of a series of six, each using one of the primary or secondary colors in place of the guitar, red, yellow, blue, orange, violet, green, an organizational system that Baldessari claims was inspired by Sol LeWitt’s interest and use of systems.

In music, we listeners find much to enjoy, but music can also be deeply challenging. The history of art and music is not all beauty but includes also deep, raw and often uncomfortable emotion. This is something visitors to the Hammer will experience when they attend our ALL THE INSTRUMENTS AGREE exhibition. These artists are expressing themselves differently here than they do in their visual work, and that can often manifest as unruly but in being uninhibited and unhinged, the work provides listeners a glimpse into the raw creative impulse. Likewise, Baldessari himself says of the guitar series, “A lot happens from disliking it so much that I force myself to deal with it. The guitar has a long history…it made such a beautiful shape when you take away all the distinguishing details, so that it’s in perspective and it’s just a shape. I isolated that and the hands and I decided to paint on the surface to create a different reflectivity. I got tired of paint and so I decided to have more than one level and had a level above and then another by sinking into it…hands, guitar, clothing.”

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Tags: where are they now, john baldessari, hammer contemporary collection