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Russel Baldwin

American
(1933–2008)

Untitled (Cross with Metal Shavings)
1966

Painted glass with aluminum misile shavings
37 x 37 x 2 in. (93.98 x 93.98 x 5.08 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
2010.15

San Diego in the 1960s and 1970s was home to a vibrant craft and design culture. It was also home to an early and important group of conceptual artists. But whereas the craft artists skillfully shaped materials into elegant modernist objects, the conceptualists advanced an art that was deskilled and dematerialized. And while the San Diego craft artists largely disregarded the socialist ideals of the historic Arts and Crafts movement, many of the conceptual artists broadcast their own left-wing, antiwar beliefs in explicit expressions of political protest. Russell Baldwin belonged to both art communities.

An accomplished metalworker, Baldwin’s earliest cast and welded constructions deploy the imagery of an already declining machine age. His somewhat later and far more streamlined Untitled of 1966 is a shallow wall-mounted box filled with aluminum lings the artist salvaged from oneof the many San Diego aerospace factories active during the Vietnam War. The back of its glass face is painted black except for a large x (or + sign, depending on orientation) through which the reflective metal lings are visible. Loosely packed, the lings shift within the box as it is moved for installation, allowing the faintest note of instability into an otherwise boldly simple statement.

The artwork is also a piece of concrete poetry protesting the very war effort that provided the metal waste used in its construction. This irony is characteristic of San Diego conceptualism, as is the introduction of written language into visual art. Because the city lacked a commercial art market, its artists were dependent on educational institutions for support. Baldwin—a long time teacher at Palomar Community College, where he ran its respected Boehm Art Gallery—would come to internalize the linguistic protocols of art teaching and adapt them, as he does here, to a new kind of art making.

Tom Jimmerson


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