Sometimes an artist you really want to hang on the museum’s walls is only represented in the collection by minor works (in both visual impact and size). Don’t get me wrong, I love a small work—I had a running list of tiny prints that I thought would make a great show—but when it comes to contemporary works on paper, they need to be able to “hold the wall” because of the size of the galleries and the scale of the non-paper works they may hang near. My wish list included several artists in this category, most notably John Baldessari, Kara Walker, William Kentridge, and Kerry James Marshall. The museum’s collection has works on paper by these artists, but few with substantial wall power.
I chased Baldessari’s print, Roller Coaster, 1989, three times. The first time I saw it on the wall at the IFPDA Print Fair in the booth of the work’s publisher, Brooke Alexander. On opening night, the work was already on hold for a collector. The second time, it came up at auction. I got permission to bid on it and lost out to another bidder. The third time was at the print fair again, and again, I was too late.
Baldessari is a tough nut to crack. Irreverent is the best word I can think of to describe his work. But there is just something about Roller Coaster: the shaped print, the way the arc of the roller coaster moves from one end of the sheet to the other, the wall power, its size. It is so easy to like.
I also chased William Kentridge’s powerful Casspirs Full of Love, ironically also from 1989, multiple times. Two different dealers offered it to us multiple times over the years, but the price was just high enough to be out of reach. If only I could have said yes.
Whereas the Baldessari is clever and fun, the Kentridge is shocking. Severed heads appear to be stacked in a cabinet of some sort. MoMA’s web site helps us parse it out: “The title of this work refers to a message sent from mothers to sons on a popular radio program for South African troops: ‘this message comes from your mother, with Casspirs full of love.’ Casspirs are armored military vehicles; their name is an anagram for CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and SAP (South African Police), the organization that developed them. These vehicles, designed for international military operations, were deployed against black township communities in South Africa during states of emergency imposed by the apartheid government.”
I think you can agree that both have wall power for different reasons. I could think of an exhibition with each as its centerpiece. Obviously not the same show. Well, unless one was looking at the year 1989.
John Baldessari (American, 1931–2020)
Aquatint, photogravure printed in black, green, and red
Sheet: 39 × 67 1/2 in. (99 × 171.5 cm.)
Published by Brooke Alexander
William Kentridge (South African, born 1955)
Casspirs Full of Love, 1989
Drypoint and engraving with roulette
Sheet: 65 3/8 x 38.7/16 in. (166 x 97.6 cm.)
Plate: 58 9/16 x 32 in. (148.8 x 318 cm.)
Published by the artist and David Krut
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.