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John Baldessari teams up with ForYourArt (and a 17th century Dutch painter) on new iPhone app

June 22, 2010 | 10:48 am
In_Still_Life_Full A number of artists have used the iPhone as a sketchpad for drawing or finger-painting — David Hockney among them. Now conceptual artist John Baldessari is releasing an application that lets users play at being a 17th century Dutch still-life painter — no drawing or painting skills needed.

Times readers can get an early look at the project at www.in-still-life.com. The arts producer behind the application, ForYour Art, submitted it for inclusion in the iTunes store earlier this month and expects it to be there, as a free application, by the start of next week.

“We’re releasing it this month to celebrate the opening of John’s retrospective, ‘Pure Beauty’ at LACMA,” says ForYourArt founder Bettina Korek. “We were originally planning to feature John in our publication, but this project evolved out of that.”

The application, which cost about $35,000 to produce (the arts channel Ovation is credited as the sponsor) is connected to LACMA in another way. It makes use of a painting in the museum’s collection by Abraham van Beyeren: the 1667 oil “Banquet Still Life,” featuring a mouth-watering feast of lobster, oysters and assorted fruit arranged on glistening silver platters with a mouse in the middle eyeing the goods.

For the application, Baldessari has carved out 38 elements of the painting that a user can rearrange at will. “I just wanted a generic Dutch still life with many parts to rearrange," says the artist, who is known in his work for highlighting the acts of choosing and arranging as basic art-making strategies. 

The artist did an earlier version of the project in 2001, based on the same painting, in which LACMA visitors could use an iMac to project their own compositions into an empty frame hanging on a museum wall. Shortly before that, he made a Web-based piece for the Museum of Contemporary Art letting users rearrange on a shelf modern-day objects, such as a can of chicken broth and a tube of toothpaste.

Baldessari says that despite the technology, the new application reminds him of the classic still-life drawing and painting exercises he did as a beginning art student. “The instructor would have this whole prop room and create some elaborate composition," he says, remembering one instructor obsessed with Georgia O'Keeffe and cow skulls. "But they never let the students arrange them, so maybe that’s the reason I did this.”

-- Jori Finkel

www.twitter.com/jorifinkel

Image:  "Banquet Still Life," 1667, Abraham van Beyeren, as it appears in "In Still Life," 2001-10, John Baldessari. Courtesy: ForYourArt.

RELATED: Baldessari talks about his history teaching, and past students flash back too

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