JOHN BALDESSARI: A Print Retrospective – Now at the Legion of Honor

Over 100 prints from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

“We of course like people who have an interest in art,” says John Buchanan, Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, “and we love people who collect art. But those we really adore are those who like it, collect it, and are willing to share it with the public”. Jordan Schnitzer is one of those people. During Buchanan’s nearly twelve years as Director of the Portland Art Museum, he followed Jordan Schnitzer’s evolving collection of works of art on paper. “Jordan is in all likelihood the most prodigious collector of contemporary prints by primarily American artists in the world.”

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John Baldessari, “Stonehenge (with Two Persons) Blue,” 2005.
Mixographia print on handmade paper.
“I’m eliminating everything that probably is the most interesting. I’m eliminating Stonehenge.
I’m eliminating their faces. All you’re getting to see is their clothing.”
— John Baldessari

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JORDAN D. SCHNITZER. Photo, Seán Martinfield

Now through November 8th, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco presents a retrospective of John Baldessari’s prints at the Legion of Honor. Over 100 prints are included in the exhibition that spans the four decades of Baldessari’s post-painting period, 1970s to the present. The collection of prints is on loan from the Portland, Oregon-based collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, which has among its vast print holdings a nearly complete archive of Baldessari’s printed work.

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John Baldessari, “Noses & Ears, Etc.: The Gemini Series: Two Faces,
One with Nose and Military Ribbons; One with (Blue) Nose and Tie,” 2006.
Three layer, fourteen color screenprint mounted on Sintra with hand painting.
“What I like about noses and ears … they’re pretty much attached to the whole body.
When you isolate them they look a bit strange. Which I like.”
— John Baldessari

In 1970, Baldessari abandoned painting to work exclusively with photography and text to make his art more accessible. He was later identified with the Conceptual Art movement for his use of appropriated photographic images and text, to which he added colorful cutout shapes to create unique collage-based arrangements. He continued to employ photography in the 1980s, particularly movie stills, which he shaped, altered, framed, and rearranged without text in order to trigger new meanings.

Karin Breuer, Curator of Contemporary Graphic Arts, organized the exhibition from Schnitzer’s family holdings. Jordan Schnitzer believes the current exhibition represents the most impressive installation of the thirty shows he has had in forty-seven museums and with some eighty openings of his collection. “It’s just never been this good,” he says. Praising the exhibit as a testament to the quality of organization that Buchannan inherited and has since helped put together and mentor, Schnitzer believes that visitors to the exhibit will come to understand and appreciate John Baldesarri as a true modern master.

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John Baldessari, “Person with Guitar (Red),” 2004
Five color screenprint on Sintra board with hand painting.
“The guitar does figure into the history of art … usually with a bottle of wine, a newspaper,
and a loaf of bread.”
— John Baldessari

“What he’s doing for me,” says Jordan Schnitzer, “is forcing me to stop and ponder. What is he doing with these images where he’s put these orange and green circles over the faces and objects that don’t make any sense together? I know what it does for me. It excites me, it frustrates me, it drives me crazy. It makes me think and it makes me stop. It makes me pull back. And for that moment, the rest of the world is all my issue. It seemed to sort-of float away while I focused on – what is meaning? What is important? Each time I his work, it makes me a better person – in ways I don’t quite even realize.”

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John Baldessari, “Studio,” 1988, photo offset lithograph with color screenprint. 
“If you find the right printers – it can be a great kind of marriage.” — John Baldessari

John Baldessari, born 1931 in National City, California, has been teaching art and making art since the 1950s after receiving his BA and MA from San Diego State College (now San Diego State University). He taught at California Institute of the Arts from its founding in 1970 to 1988, and has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, since 1996. He lives in Los Angeles and is often credited with helping to make that city an internationally recognized center of contemporary art. In 1997 Baldessari received the California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, followed in 2005 by the Lifetime Achievement Award from Americans for the Arts. As part of the 53rd International Venice Biennale 2009 in June, Baldessari will be awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.

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Photo, Seán Martinfield

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Photo, Seán Martinfield

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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