John Baldessari

[no title]


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
John Baldessari 1931 – 2020
Part of
Black Dice
Photograph, black and white, on paper
Image: 178 × 222 mm
Purchased 1983

Catalogue entry

P07853 [from] Black Dice 1982 [P07808-P07816; P07853; complete]

Nine etchings with squatint, each 6 3/8 × 8 (162 × 203) on Velin Arches paper 16 1/2 × 19 3/4 (420 × 502), printed by Peter Kneubühler, Zurich, and one black and white photograph 8 × 9 1/4 (203 × 235). The portfolio published by Peter Blum Editions, Zurich and New York
Each inscribed ‘BALDESSARI’ b.r. and ‘31/35’; P 07853 not inscribed
Purchased from Peter Blum Editions (Grant-in-Aid) 1983

‘Black Dice’ is a set of nine etchings intended to be framed separately but shown together arranged in three rows of three. These prints are accompanied by a black and white photograph, a reproduction of a National Screen Service Corporation publicity still from the film of the same title made in 1948. The film was made in Britain and originally called No Orchids for Miss Blandish, from the story of that name by James Hadley Chase. The photograph, a piece of artificial action artificially stilled for the camera, is typical of the kind of source material Baldessari uses. He frequently uses ‘found’ photographs, or shots taken at random or by others to his instructions and puts them together according to a system of his own unrelated to their meaning or to any narrative. The format of ‘Black Dice’ is related to the kind of storyboards made for the preliminary planning of a film but it is made up of nine equal divisions of the original photograph. Baldessari had the sections blown up to the size of etching plate he planned to use, then drew over the photo-etched images using a mixture of soft-ground etching, sugar-lift and aquatint, introducing colour in an arbitrary way. He left wide borders on the prints so that, though their arrangement implies ‘piecing together’, it also implies unseen areas linking them. The image can still be deciphered though the work on the plates has disguised the image of the source photograph, which now takes on the role of a key to the work itself. It shows, in banal visual terms, a moment of ominous significance. It is an awkward composition in which the figures are placed at the edges of the frame, a satin bed cover with a gown hung over it and a patterned cushion beyond dominating the centre of the image. A girl sits in bed evidently feigning ‘normality’ in a most unnatural way; a man stands at the left, motionless but evidently posing a threat of some kind, and another man holding a gun hides - though evidently is not hidden - at the right. Baldessari's isolation and transformation of the compositional elements, separated out by his division of the photograph, refer to the use of one visual language as a code for another, rather as the still refers to the film itself, in which all is obviously made clear in the usual language of mystery narratives.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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