A Quiet Man's Telling Choices

For its new exhibition series, "Ways of Seeing," the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden invited artist John Baldessari to select and reinstall works from the museum's permanent collection. Baldessari recently spoke about his choices for the exhibition with Blake Gopnik, art critic for The Washington Post.

For more insight into the artist, read Blake Gopnik's article about the exhibition. Read Michael O'Sullivan's review for a different perspective.

Fifi, The Sun Rises Twice

Baldessari on Ed Paschke's "Fifi," left, and Alfred Jensen's "The Sun Rises Twice (Per I, Per II, Per III, Per IV)"

"I've always liked [Alfred] Jensen....He's really kind of an artist's artist....I never met him, but I remember the first time I saw his work, I fell in love with it....And I've always liked Ed Paschke, and I just put them together because they're both so bizarre, and pretty much in the same color register."

Girl on a Fainting Couch

Baldessari on Emily Kaufman's "Girl on a Fainting Couch"

"My great discovery -- I'm so proud of this piece, by Emily Kaufman, from 1975....There's no history on her beyond that she comes from Chicago. It's made of epoxy resin. And I keep on saying, 'This is what Jeff Koons wants to do.' ... I was just going through storage, and I said, 'What is that?' And nobody seemed to know. There was very little documentation, and I hadn't seen any imagery of it before. And I said, 'Well, I've got to pull this out.' ...

"I think it's fantastic. It was actually purchased by the museum. It would have been more understandable had [Joseph] Hirshhorn bought it in a moment of weakness -- but a curator? What was going on?"

Nimbus V

Baldessari on Anthony Benjamin's "Nimbus V"

"Going through the sculpture storage, I think, 'That is so bad, I've got to pull it out, and at least think about it.' ... It's the kind of thing we all want to do, but don't have the guts to do. And obviously this person -- though I'm just guessing -- he didn't know what not to do, and just did it."

Apparition of Danger

Baldessari on Hyman Bloom's "Apparition of Danger"

"Hyman Bloom -- you've probably never even heard of him, but I remember seeing a reproduction of this when I was just out of art school. And I always liked it. So when I saw that [the Hirshhorn] had it, I said, 'Oh, we have to show it.' Because it's really a kind of Jewish, early abstract expressionism. Isn't it great? I love it."

September White

Baldessari on Jack Youngerman's "September White"

"Youngerman I've always liked, and I've thought he was underrated.... First of all, I thought, 'Well, we need a long sightline,' so I tried it way down the end [of the gallery]. And it was just too obvious. So I said, 'Well, I'll have it in your face, like a [Barnett] Newman' -- you just get enveloped by it when you walk in, and you can't get a long [view] of it. Then you can see that it's a painting, you can see the brush marks, and you know it's not cut out of paper."

Three Masks: Rene Pontier, Andre Claude, Robert Polguere

Baldessari on Jean Dubuffet's "Three Masks: Rene Pontier, Andre Claude, Robert Polguere"

"Some of my recent work has dealt with expressions of Hollywood actors, so I pulled these out -- these are from Dubuffet. I would never have guessed it at all. Which I kind of like -- getting things where you say, 'Who did that? Dubuffet did that? It's hard to believe.' "


Baldessari on Albert Bierstadt's "Iceberg"

"It's a beautiful little thing."

The Hyperborean Expulsion

Baldessari on Jess's "The Hyperborean Expulsion"

"An artist's artist, who's kind of underappreciated -- or maybe not even known that much. All of his stuff, if you didn't know a lot about art history, you'd think it might be done by some 90-year-old lady in a dull art class."

Rock Thrower

Baldessari on Thomas Eakins's "Rock Thrower"

"I've always been interested in Eakins. I just love that pose. It's so awkward and so weird."

Farm No. 3

Baldessari on Richard Artschwager's "Farm No. 3"

"I think Artschwager's a genius, but he's still underappreciated. I like his sensibility. He always goes for the ordinary, banal sort of thing. And this is banal architecture."

From Hand to Mouth, Memory of My Youth in the Mountains

Baldessari on Bruce Nauman's "From Hand to Mouth" (background) and Joseph Beuys's "Memory of My Youth in the Mountains" (foreground)

"You could never have Nauman without Beuys."

PHOTOS: All images courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company