Based in Toronto, Ontario, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

The Armory Show 2010: the alphabet made new by John Baldessari


When my friends Lea and Luis Remba come to town, it’s often to exhibit their exquisite fine art prints at the annual IFPDA (International Fine Print Dealer’s Association) show at the New York Armory. Last week, it was for their first appearance at the Armory Show at Piers 92 and 94. This fair is actually two shows, one devoted to classic modern and contemporary art, and the other to 20th and 21st century art. This means that in Pier 92, the upper level, carpeted and sunlight-filled show, you strolled past works by name-brand artists from Georges Bracque to Tom Wesselman. Below, in the more raucous, cutting edge and frenetic Pier 94, you confronted works by talented emerging artists such as Jacob Hashimoto.

Luis, an engineer and second-generation printer, developed a trademarked fine art printing technique that allows artists to create three-dimensional prints that are wonderfully textural and exceedingly fine in detail. Their printing process offers creative possibilities like no other, and so has attracted a roster of marquee-name artists to the Remba’s Los Angeles print workshop, Mixografia. Including among the dozens of artists they’ve published are Louise Bourgeois, Ed Ruscha, Helen Frankenthaler and Terry Winters.

Last week, I was able to see for the first time the Rembas’ latest big work, a series of prints by Los Angeles artist John Baldessari.  Titled ABC Art, each print of the series represents a letter of the alphabet, and each letter is accompanied by a lovingly detailed image of an object that begins with that letter. The letter “R,” for example is represented by a round-eyed robot, the letter “J,” with a jello mold, and the letter “U,” by a flying saucer for “UFO.” In the first, 20-edition part of the series, the 26 letters of the alphabet are arranged like a typewriter or computer keyboard, or in “QWERTY” order. Part II of the series, which was the one hung at the Armory Show, is a pangram, or a phrase that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once. Baldessari used the pangram, “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs,” and created a series of seven of these works.

Baldessari is the dean of L.A. artists, an influential mentor and teacher to generations of artists at CalArts and now UCLA. He gained fame later in his career with his Dada-influenced works that often incorporate both photos and words. In her fascinating book Seven Days in the Art World, author Sarah Thornton describes the 6’-7” wild-haired artists as “a hippie version” of Michelangelo’s representation of God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. On his first trip to the Venice Biennale in 1972, he slept on the roof of a Volkwagen bus. He doesn’t need to do that anymore, thanks to his success in the marketplace as well as the academy. In the ABC series, his enduring fascination with the relationship between language and image is evident, perhaps more charmingly than ever before. 

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