15 Bytes | Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

David Baddley’s Not Home

“. . . Subjects such as abandonment and alienation are dear to artists’ hearts; there is a vast body of work devoted to this subject. The paintings of Edvard Munch or Edward Hopper come to mind. And while some may resent the connection of this subject with the State of Utah, on another level David Baddley’s Not Home offers a welcome reprieve from the Land of Positive Thinking. And yet, there are flies in the ointment …”

Read Alexandra Karl’s review of David Baddley’s Not Home in the June 2012 edition of 15 Bytes.

Alexandra Karl did a BFA in Ottawa (Canada) and then spent ten years studying art history in Europe. She worked at Munich’s Lenbachhaus for five years while completing her Masters, and received her PhD in the History of Art from Cambridge. She has taught at the U, the McGillis School and Congregation Kol Ami. She has led tours to the Spiral Jetty and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Stromquist House. She believes a vigorous art scene is essential to any thriving society.

4 replies »

  1. I strongly and vehemently disagree and am opposed to your entire approach to Baddley’s work, something you call commonplace I call insightful and the result of an acute eye for form and content. You make an argument against absence in these stark photographs but you address no reasoning why absence is such a bad thing. Does a photograph have to be filled with people to be pleasing? Not for me and not for David Baddley. Where I see vacancy I also see mystery, provocation, intrigue, abstraction and acute visual interest in what is not present. You vastly underrate this seasoned photographers abilities of composition. Do you actually see this as clumsy? These photographs are masterfully articulated in such a way that urges a sense of spontaneity, immediacy, disorder and a purposeful awkwardness which is refreshing from this very honest artist. Baddley has a vast body of work and I ask myself “Have you bothered to investigate?” Everything you accuse as lacking in his photographs Baddley has proven again and again. I welcome these exciting fresh images and enjoy the spontaneity touched with chaos and a sense of minutia that is visually appealing and cognitively compelling. You might refer to the vast oeuvre of this expert artist photographer.

  2. I’ve been following David Baddley’s art career for about two decades. I’m a huge fan of his land-based conceptual work, I think it’s some of the strongest in the West, but I also enjoy glimpsing a more personal side in his poetic photographs from the road. Many of the complaints you had about his work I would have consider compliments, especially if you compare it to contemporary photography and not century’s old painters. William Eggleston’s work, for example, is very arbitrary, banal and a bit haphazard. Robert Adams shoots vistas of Denver that are completely empty. When I look at David’s work it transports me to that place, it opens my eyes to details I wouldn’t have thought to notice. I feel like I’m on the road. Sentimental? Maybe. I’d say it’s a sign of a successful artist.

  3. I usually don’t comment on reviews of my work, but in this case, there are some details you should be aware of. There are several mistakes, some just careless (misspelled titles, etc.), others so blatantly false that they indicate a serious lack of observation and/or serious dishonesty of the reviewer. At best, this is just sloppy writing. At worst, it is intentionally misleading. Because of conflicts of interest that I won’t detail here, it’s likely that this review was written as a personal attack.

    Karl associates my work with the Decline of the American Empire. While I don’t mind this association, I must admit that I don’t wake each morning pondering how I can photographically explore this phenomenon’s impact on our daily lives. I dig being on the road in the American West, and while traveling I enjoy taking pictures of whatever catches my eye. This exhibit contains some of my favorites from the past couple of years. It’s as simple as that. Personally, I don’t see the negativity and gloom Karl apparently finds in my work, but gloomy nihilism is definitely within me, so I guess it’s only natural and honest that it emerges in my work. I am not interested in following any particular artistic trend, rather I just make the pictures I want to make.

    Some artists include literal depictions of people in their work, some don’t. I obviously include humanity in my work, but within a poetic space of artifact and environment. Whatever. Does Karl really want to make an issue of this? FORMALISTS AND ABSTRACTIONISTS BEWARE! In another bold move, I’ve also rendered several of my skies in blue rather than gold.

    Karl belittles my investigations by stating “somehow, I suspect this is not new to American photography.” Unfortunately, her suspicions appear to be all she has to go on, since she apparently lacks any actual knowledge in this field. The message here is clear: Unless your work is so revolutionary that it will impact the history of art, boys and girls, you’d best not put it up in public or Alexandra Karl will attack you too.

    Karl’s powers of imagination clearly outpace her powers of observation. La Casita is a family Mexican restaurant in Springville. The “tobacco-stained walls” are, in fact, freshly painted. Considering this restaurant in this town, it’s likely that a cigarette may have never been smoked in this room. I subtly make light of this by including not only a ceiling fan, but also a fire alarm leaving the frame on the right. The “framed poster of a western couple” is in actually a cheap, hokey, touristy (but real) assembly-line painting, right here in the heart of “Art City.” This is just one example where her careless observation has modified the content of the work she writes about.

    In this review, abandonment is repeatedly referenced to suggest cliché (kind of funny reading this word in a review that also contains phrases like “flies in the ointment”). But with the sole exception of a derelict florescent light overgrown by a feral apple tree, nothing in any of the pictures in this exhibit has been abandoned or is in a state of decay. With even brief examination of the details this is easily obvious. This is a world alive and still in use. There is no headless doll, no lost shoe, no untended baseball diamond and no derelict post office. Since they are not contained in, or even implied by the pictures in this exhibit, why does this reviewer evoke these images? Likely it’s because there is nothing in the show to support the point she wants to make about the abuse of sentimentality, so she simply invented them.

    I don’t weep nostalgically in the presence of transformer stations and parking lots, but I am somehow moved. If Karl finds sentimentality here, I don’t want to deprive her of this guilty pleasure. Most artists hold some affection for their subject, but this is not an abuse of sentimentality, it is just honesty. Check it out for yourself by going to http://davidbaddley.com/work/nhome/ This is not a calendar of cute puppies.

    Karl concludes by stating “Baddley’s works do not offer an aesthetics of decline, they are symptomatic of it.” Damn right. I know that these flowery words were meant to insult me, but really this can be said for all art currently being made. The myth of the heroic artist leading the way with a doe-eyed public appreciatively following along died with modernism. Any artist who tells you differently is delusional, any critic who tells you differently is a stuffed shirt.

    – David

  4. Alexandra Karl’s review of David Baddley’s exhibition, and the comments, both in public and private, we have received in regard to it, have given us an opportunity to consider our editorial policy and the impetus to briefly outline it here.

    Since its inception, 15 Bytes has been designed as a forum for the community to express its views about art and our arts community. This has been both a matter of necessity – in a community the size of ours there are very few paid positions for arts writers in general and we rely therefore on the efforts of volunteers to keep the discussion about the arts alive – and a matter of choice – we feel it is important that as many voices as possible be heard, and no one editorial or aesthetic stance should dominate (a position, we feel, demonstrated by the breadth of our coverage). Consequently, we try to maintain a light editorial hand, discussing with our writers how their pieces are written, but not telling them what to write.

    This does not mean that keeping the forum alive is not without its complications, nor that we don’t aspire to certain journalistic standards. In such a small community there are necessarily a variety of overlapping personal and professional relationships causing possible conflicts of interest. We try to avoid these conflicts as best as we can, but taken to an extreme an editorial policy that banned any possible conflict of interest would result in nothing ever being written. We are pretty firm about the most glaring: when the writer has a financial or familial relation with the subject. These, of course, are not the only types of possible interests, and we deal with the others on a case-by-case basis, considering things such as the type of article being written, the nature of the relationship and the writer’s history with our publication.

    When I read Alexandra Karl’s review of David Baddley’s exhibition Not Home, it was apparent that the writer was unsympathetic to the work. But because she attempted to describe the work under consideration, provided a context for what she felt the artist was trying to accomplish, and then drew her conclusions as to whether or not that attempt was successful or worthwhile, I felt she was doing the job of a reviewer. Baddley and others have argued here that these conclusions are not consistent with a careful reading of the work, or that what Karl thinks art is supposed to be is misguided. To decide whose interpretation is correct (or, for that matter, to agree with all the opinions expressed in our pages) is not, I feel, my role as an editor. That I leave to the reader. Luckily both the review and the work are available (either at the exhibit or at Baddley’s website:http://davidbaddley.com/work/nhome/ ), and we invite our readers to make their own conclusions, and, if they wish, comment in this space.

    That being said, as an editor I do have a role to consider questions of conflict of interest. Since the publication of the article, Baddley has raised concerns about professional interactions he has had with Karl that he feels are germane to the negative light under which his work was portrayed. While these are not the glaring conflicts described above; and while I don’t pretend to know the intents of either party; when considering the publication of this review I was not aware of – and so did not consider – these issues, and that is a failing on my part. The idea of the “conflict of interest” is not to identify (for how could it) why someone is motivated to do something, but to avoid the question altogether. To manage these interests so that our project remains successful and important to the community is my job, and for not being fully informed I take responsibility.

    – Shawn Rossiter
    Editor, 15 Bytes

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