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Case Number 19710: Small Claims Court

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This Not That: The Artist John Baldessari

Arthaus Musik // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // September 18th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is using his blurbs for text paintings.

The Charge

"You can have seriousness and humor at the same time."—John Baldessari

The Case

The paintings that artist John Baldessari cremated in 1970 might be worth some money today. They're still worth something as a concept, though, and he kept photos and video to ensure that. This Not That: The Artist John Baldessari opens with that scene of artistic destruction, one of many acts of conceptual art that Baldessari has committed over the years.

This Not That gives a more in-depth portrait than other recent Arthaus Musik releases have provided, showing many of his works, including text paintings which put a few simple words against a background, commissioned paintings from slides he provided, and films, including one in which he creates a Psalm-like song about conceptual art. There's also more room for Baldessari's philosophy on his work, delivered gently with a matter-of-fact bluntness.

Scenes that are particularly interesting find the artist, puffing a cigar, touring a home where several of his works are on display and taking his daughter through a show full of optical illusions.

There's a fuller range of extras here as well. A short film, You Call That Art?, from 1973 shows more examples of Baldessari's work, including a film in which he teaches the alphabet to a plant. There are also bonus interviews with Ed Ruscha, Coosje van Bruggen, and others to shed more light on Baldessari's work and conceptual art; these don't work as well as the short film in expanding on the movie, but you might find some interesting nuggets there. The box provides an example of Baldessari's thinking with "Information Paintings Never Completed," a list of eighteen slogans or phrases he didn't use in text paintings, stuff like "This painting should be read and not looked at" and "A witless painting." Producer Jan Schmidt-Garre's introduction to the artist is also included.

The one thing that Arthaus Musik could have done further would be to include a few of Baldessari's short films without comment or trimming so you could view his work completely free of interpretation.

The picture quality is good for the main documentary, but You Call That Art? and some of the video in the documentary are faded with age.

Conceptual art is a tricky concept, but this documentary will give you the general idea. This DVD should be watched and not looked at, if you're studying conceptual art.

The Verdict

Not guilty. The writer burned the original of this review.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: Arthaus Musik
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
• German
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Interviews
• Short Film


• John Baldessari

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