I’ve loved Blaisdell’s clever, trippy writing for some time now, but this piece, on the work of Lewis Baltz, is spectacular. Two years in the writing, Blaisdell begins by rubbishing the sort of curatorial discourse that attempted to set out Baltz’s work as a sort of sandbox containing all of the concerns of contemporary mainstream art. And he does this in a sentence so long and so elegant that it left me breathless twice over:
‘In Baltz’s case this usually results in his being all things to all camps – simultaneously a minimalist, a conceptualist, and a “definitive formalist,” because a minimalist holds that less is more and a conceptualist holds that it is no longer possible to make signifiant objects in paint, that one must in fact go wholly beyond objecthood (thus photography becomes essential to such enterprises), and a formalist (definitive or otherwise) holds that painting is capable of significance but that the human presence of the artist much be forgone in favor of anonymous self-referential declarations by the work about itself and about the whole history of the medium.’
His account of the structures that Baltz photographed in The New Industrial Parks is so utterly on the money that I’m going to transcribe it at length here….
‘So insubstantial are these buildings that it is difficult to believe that they continue to exist much beyond the moment of their photographic capture and fixing. One feels as if they were really nothing more than the interior geometry of Baltz’s camera projected outwards against the original schematic, the two images colliding above the site and their resultant collapsing downward to become these on-site lumps of orthogonality – just sitting there, as affrontingly inexorable as mistaken conclusions fallaciously pursued. The result is not a whole, not even a module. It is an abbr., at most a bldg. The vowels have collapsed, there is only a low smog, and there is no space left in which to breathe.
See them as templates, as stencils. These bldgs are perfect examples, even if somewhat ancillary, of that savings-and-loan, punch-card moderne style of design that testifies to the presence of a machine-tending, administered existence. These bldgs ridicule autonomy as only bureaucracy can: nothingness rampant in a blank ubiquity, the stupid candor of a crystal from which all faces are constructible by inference from a single facet. False front/facade/facet/face: all blank. What do these displaced faces mask? Is that the question? Even close? Or is it rather that, unmasked, these bldgs are as blank as unfilled cans, a Shakespearean metaphor for fallacy: empty? What you see is what they are, thin and perishable as philosophical sense-data. So very thin are these subjects that one feels that to enter them you would be immediately translated to the other side of one of Baltz’s prints. The bldgs themselves are of photographic stuff; only their portraits are photogenic.’