In John Baldessari’s Crowds with Shape of Reason Missing (2012), individuals gather together in formation or haphazardly while captivated by the unknown – a somewhat silly white blob. The artist removes the predominant subject of the photographic image and replaces it with the nondescript form. Baldessari chose vintage movie stills that seem at once recognizable and yet unfamiliar. With the main subject gone, the focal point is unclear, which leads us to scan the faces and actions of the crowds: soldiers, onlookers, community members, and harem girls. The viewer then focuses on the reactionary rather than the primary. The artist elucidates: “Erasure is a kind of gap. The imagery that our culture produces tends to have its own coherence and legibility, and the set of expectations that comes with that legibility can be disrupted through visual interventions.” Baldessari effectively transfixes us by barring us from the action; he forces us to reconsider the now voided narrative.
Rey calls them “ibjects” – hybrids, that is, between images and objects. Their oil-painted surfaces give the sense that they are “of” extant things in the world, the way images are, but their semi-industrial shapes suggest that they themselves have been pulled out of our normal object-world. You could call them “imaginary ready-mades” – The idea that they are imaginary and contingent is reinforced by their extreme fragility: their oil paint is applied on top of a soft and fleshy layer of plasticine.