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Art review: John Baldessari at Gemini GEL

July 9, 2010 | 10:30 am
Baldessari foot "John Baldessari season" continues apace in Los Angeles, with a show of fragmented recent paintings at Margo Leavin (closing Saturday) and a full 50-year retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art now joined by six recent mixed-media prints at Gemini GEL. (A print retrospective comes to the Palm Springs Art Museum in February.) Like the paintings, the large prints employ silhouettes that simultaneously conceal and reveal.

They're funny too. Each pictures a black, stocking-clad right foot set against a flat background in one of three color combinations. A hole in the sock lets the big toe stick out. It's like a hulking portrait emerging from an inky shroud -- Manet looking at Berthe Morisot, perhaps, or Degas charting the Bellelli family.

For reasons I can't quite explain, the configuration also reminds me of Marty Feldman's role as Igor in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," or the old joke that Richard Nixon's face looked like a foot. Maybe that's because Baldessari scrambles portraiture's ancient conventions, which are bound up in idealized aggrandizement.

Here, by contrast, the least attractive body part -- and the one physically furthest from a face -- is deployed in its most mundane and embarrassing pose. Baldessari nonetheless lavishes rigorous formal attention on each "Foot and Stocking (With Big Toe Exposed)": The sock is applied fabric, the toenail a collage element adorned with clear varnish, the colors systematically applied. The result is a loving and intimate portrait that is hard to look at, and all the better for the effort.

-- Christopher Knight

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Gemini GEL, 8365 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 651-0513, through July. Closed Sat. and Sun.

Photo: John Baldessari, "Foot and Stocking (With Big Toe Exposed)," 2010, 8 color screen-print with paper and fabric collage. Credit: Gemini GEL