Artwork Detail

Two Compositions (Formal/Informal; Interior/Exterior)
American, 1931–2020
Color photographs and vinyl paint
96 1/4 x 68 1/8 x 1 3/8 "
University purchase, Charles H. Yalem Art Fund, 1992
WU 1992.11 a-b
John Baldessari
The conceptual artist John Baldessari is renowned for his work featuring images appropriated from such sources as movies, advertisements, and stock photography. In this vertically stacked diptych the artist juxtaposed two thematically congruous yet unrelated movie stills, one an elegant dinner party, the other a more casual group at a poolside table. Employing methods of appropriation and deletion, Baldessari challenges common pictorial codes that denote class, social hierarchies, and rank. In the top image, the faces of the diners are obliterated by circles of monochromatic paint; in the lower image, entire bodies are covered over with gray pigment. These cancellations render each figure anonymous, shifting the focus to the objects around them. At the same time attention is drawn to how details such as gazes, body language, and dress function as indicators of identity, meaning, and social class. Neither the photographs nor the title of the work reveals the source of the imagery. This uncertainty further affects our interpretation of the work, reminding us that we are dealing with a mediated and fragmented reality. [Permanent collection label, 2019]