Ed Henderson Suggests Sound Tracks for Photographs

John Baldessari American

Not on view

In 1970 the California artist John Baldessari erased his own training as a painter in a single spectacular gesture: by burning all his canvases from 1953 to 1966 at a San Diego crematorium, baking the ashes into cookies, and displaying them at the Museum of Modern Art, New York as part of its landmark exhibition Information. Freed from the formal preoccupations and traditions of painting, Baldessari instead turned to a range of new media and creative approaches, from video to hybrid text and photo-based works.

His wry videos of the early 1970s use deadpan humor and simple gestures to underscore the modernist notion that any action can be considered an artwork. Such a belief was central to the Conceptual art movement of the late-1960s and 1970s, which privileged ideas, language, and actions over the production of physical objects. Baldessari’s work, deployed with characteristic wit, became synonymous with Conceptualism, even after the movement became more associated with "dematerialization," that is, with documents, ideas, language, and processes rather than material things.

Ed Henderson Suggests Sound Tracks for Photographs explores the way that interpretation makes meaning. As its title describes, the video features the artist’s friend proposing pieces of music or sound effects to accompany photographs from National Geographic magazine. He cannot see the images, however; rather, they are described to him by Baldessari who remains off camera. The resulting disconnect between sound and image, between what is heard and what is seen, creates the video’s central tension.

Baldessari said that he was "less interested in the form art takes than in the meaning an image evokes."[1] This tenet marks the work of the Pictures Generation—named after the landmark 1977 Pictures show at the New York gallery Artists Space—which assembled a loose-knit group of artists working in photography, film, video, and performance who used strategies of appropriation and reinterpretation to question how images function and structure perception. Though Baldessari was not included in that exhibition, his inquiries paved the way for the aesthetic and ideological concerns of the Pictures group.

[1] John Baldessari, "What Me Thinks Now," Documenta 7, I (Kassel: Documenta, 1982), p. 80.

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