These People and Animals Compete For Our Attention

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John Baldessari. Numbered Legs, 2015. Screenprint. Laguna Art Museum. Photo credit: Edward Goldman

It’s been almost 50 years since John Baldessari (b. 1931), one of the most famous American artists, printed a lithograph with a written statement, “I will not make any more boring art”. And, boy, has he kept that promise all these years… the current exhibition of his prints at Laguna Art Museum is perfect proof that Baldessari has always been able to grab our attention.

Installation shot: I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art: Prints by John Baldessari. Laguna Art Museum. Photo by Edward Goldman.

His best-known works are based on photographs – some of them appropriated, some made by the artist himself. The faces of people in his prints are hidden by color blocks. We see these people engaged in activities and social interactions, but their personal identities and emotions are masked. Many of his compositions have a sense of humor, and a touch of criticism. This exhibition presents over 70 prints from the private collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, which holds an impression of almost every print Baldessari has made to date.

Installation shots: Sculptures by Gwynn Murrill. Laguna Art Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

Another solo exhibition at Laguna Art Museum presents work by Los Angeles artist Gwynn Murrill (b. 1942), who is well-known for her sculptures of animals in bronze, wood, and marble. And while Baldessari hides the personality of his characters, Murrill gives each animal their own unique personality.

Installation shots: Sculptures by Gwynn Murrill. Laguna Art Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

Every time I look at Gwynn Murrill’s animals, I am tempted to touch them, not only with my eyes, but my hands as well, to experience the sensuality of their smooth, polished surfaces.

Eric Fischl. The Exchange, 2018. Oil on linen. Image courtesy Sprüth Magers.

The exhibition by Eric Fischl (b. 1948) at Sprüth Magers gallery is his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in 25 years. In the 1970s, Fischl studied at CalArts. And, one of his professors was John Baldessari. It was a time when focus within the school was on conceptual art. In spite of that, Fischl, without any formal training as a painter, started to experiment with abstract painting.

At the opening of the exhibition, Eric Fischl talked about how much he disliked his early abstract paintings, which he eventually stopped making. After I heard his talk, I checked out his website for these images, and I immediately realized why he stopped making these abstract paintings. While Baldessari, his teacher, promised not to make more boring art, Fischl, his student, decided to stop making bad paintings. It was a good decision.

Eric Fischl. On the Beach, 2019. Oil on linen. Image courtesy Sprüth Magers.

As a result, Fischl started to make figurative paintings, often using his own photographs to inspire their compositions. Fischl shows his characters engaged with each other, but not necessarily with us. Clearly, these people, some of them nude, are not aware they are being watched. Their personalities are not his focus. Instead, we observe them moving past blue oceans, pools, and skies in somewhat awkward, often unflattering positions. But, what makes these new paintings particularly appealing to me is his dramatic, open, and wild brushwork. And, even though Fischl abandoned abstract painting decades ago, it has reappeared in a much more sophisticated and subtle way in his new work. There aren’t too many artists who, in the 8th decade of their life, produce the best works of their career.



Kathleen Yore