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.
My favorites of her Orthodox Eros series: erotic and homosexual undertones but photographed in an Old Masters’ light that is romantic and yet uncomfortably real. They are nostalgic, dramatic and very baroque. The last, with it’s clown collar, mocks the institution of religion as fanaticism. It also goes a step further as a reference to the Shakespearean collars of a by-gone era. We are at once reminded of how antiquated some of these systems are and how silly they may appear to outsiders.