Arts & Life, Fine & Performing Arts

CSULB professor Chris Miles discusses John Baldessari’s ‘Plant With Heart’ in Kleefeld Contemporary’s art talk series

Three black and white photographs hang on the gallery wall. The photo of an eerie, leafless tree dominates the trio, vaguely resembling an anatomical heart.

Long Beach State art professor Chris Miles spoke at the Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum Tuesday to discuss John Baldessari’s reclaimed photography piece, “Plant With Heart.” Miles discussed Baldessari’s upbringing and how the desire to help humanity led him to become an artist. “Plant With Heart” is one of eight in the Kleefeld Contemporary’s latest exhibit, GYRE: a one-work, one-week exhibition for eight artists.

Baldessari was a California native and lived to become an icon within the art world, leading over 300 solo exhibitions. During the art talk, Miles said that the death of Baldessari had a “seismic” effect on the Los Angeles art community. 

“When I first sat in the room, I just saw the piece by itself,” said attendee Andrew Carroll. “You first notice the heart element, especially with knowing the name of the piece [“Plant With Heart”]. You get the ambiguity of it … the cordial heart with the veins, the actual anatomical heart.” 

Late artist John Baldessari is a multimedia artist whose medium of choice was ever changing throughout his extensive art career. He was initially a painter and later got into films, but ended his art career working with appropriated images, using pre-existing images and recontextualizing it to create a new piece. 

During the art talk, Miles described what he imagined Baldessari’s art process must have looked like. “Flipping through magazines, flipping through books, the TV on with no volume, a coffee table covered with image sources …” Miles said, “it was about processing as much imagery as he could day in and day out.”  

“Plant With Heart” is composed of what was once three separate images, but were put together and recontextualized by Baldessari to create one connected piece. 

Gallery visitor, Tina Thongsran said that she found Baldressari’s art process enlightening, as it offered new perspectives. 

“It showed the thought [art] process of the [Baby] Boomer, Gen-x generations,” Thongsran said. “It gave me a glimpse of someone’s work process without the use of Google images.”  

Although Miles did not know Baldessari personally, he recalled many times he saw the artist’s work in person. Before Baldessari’s death, Miles had the opportunity to meet Baldessari in a face to face interview. According to Miles, that moment was memorable because it was an opportunity to cross that professional threshold and get to know the artist that influenced him so much. 

“He was just someone’s work I observed over many years,” Miles said. “I observed his work as a student [and] it has followed me everywhere I go … He is someone that has been very influential to me as an artist, but it doesn’t show in my work. The breath of influence he had, it comes up all the time in the most unexpected pieces.” 

“Plant With Heart” will be on display at the Kleefeld Contemporary until Feb. 22. Next Tuesday’s artist speaker will be Phung Huynh discussing her piece,“Resistance and Representation.” 

One Comment

  1. Connie Glenn

    And a thank you to the donor?

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