Shin Gallery is pleased to present Come, Sweet Death, an immersive exhibition that inhabits John Baldessari’s monumental “A Fix’d Inflexible Sorrow” by translating elements of his work through the existential lens of Jean-Paul Sartre. The title of the show borrows its name from the ending credit music of the immensely popular anime Neon Genesis Evangelion which encapsulates the show’s integrated, philosophical themes and underlying pursuit for a larger, unintelligible truth.
Baldessari is famously known for his work involving the obfuscation of faces with a colored dot, an act that objectively re-emphasizes focus to the action or event captured in the work. To this end, the absence of the face incites an absence of atmospheric mood. Their flagrant anonymity pantomimes the existential attitude of a meaningless reality. Cue Jean-Paul Sartre, whose postulation that “existence precedes essence,” invariably constitutes that human beings exist without any ulterior meaning.
According to Sartre, we are born without an overarching utility or essence; rather, we manufacture them for ourselves through our selected work or social identities. Along this vein, identity is seen as a fashioned veil propagated by how we choose to represent ourselves and how others perceive us, though thinly concealing the ultimate anonymity of our bodies after death. Sartre’s thought dismisses the possibility of an afterlife or omniscient higher being, effectively isolating the human condition to what can be solely observed: we live and we die. Baldessari’s figures emulate this dichotomy and convey an attitude of hopeless apathy to their lot.
Evangelion’s protagonist, Shinji, faces a mental quandary parallel to the existential crisis of being, viewing the total freedom conceit as a debilitating prison, because despite the lawlessness of intrinsic freedom and moral absence, existence is also inconsequential and fixed to a certain end. Baldessari’s scene inspires this existential dread, but also invokes a gravity of slight humor. The juxtaposed images toy with the notion of death, bringing a light-hearted playfulness to the subject with his own thoughtful, linear arrangement and pop of vibrancy.
The jocularity is brought to an interactive level at Shin Gallery, where the walking space is packed with an array of plastic, playpen balls, integrating an inspired, creative element to our collection. Visitors can wade through the exhibition for a closer viewing of the Baldessari piece to the uplifting melody of “Come, Sweet Death,” whose lyrics offer a straightforward narration of Evangelion’s similar search. Above the plastic balls, knotted ropes hang like nooses from the ceiling as an overarching reminder that our shared “fix’d inflexible sorrow” unavoidably looms overhead, but is ultimately out of our hands.