Virtues and Vices (for Giotto)
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
'Virtues and Vices (for Giotto)' by the American artist John Baldessari consists of fourteen sections, every one of which contains a photograph and a word. The word refers to a virtue or a vice and the accompanying photograph serves as a visual comment on this. The fourteen parts are exhibited in two rows, one above the other; the virtues higher up on the wall, the vices close to the skirting board. For the virtues the text is shown above the photograph, for the vices it is shown below.
In the title Baldessari is referring to a work by the Italian painter Giotto, who made a cycle of frescos in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua in about 1300 with the life of Christ as the main theme. Part of this work consists of the personifications of the seven virtues and vices. In his own 'Virtues and Vices' Baldessari provides a contemporary translation of this theme. In some cases, Baldessari’s photographs clearly illustrate the characteristic virtue or vice described, for example, the man who is gulping down handfuls of shrimps personifies gluttony. Sometimes the relationship between the word and the image is less clear, for example, the man with a distorted face behind the wheel and the frightened woman in “fortitude”.
After a period in which he made abstract paintings, photography and text became an important means of expression for Baldessari from 1966. He often derived his photographic material from newspapers, magazines or the film industry and every work is based on a starting point formulated in advance. This is one of the characteristics of Conceptual Art and Baldessari’s work can be classified in this movement. In working out the concept chance can play an important role, and Baldessari’s work is often ambivalent. What interests him is searching for the balance between order and chaos, between fact and fiction and between good and evil. The concept and the image are different things which are not or cannot always be completely interrelated.
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