Jordan Baseman
The History of Existentialism

Published in The Independent

Art Criticism

Wigmore Fine Art, London

Jordan Baseman, Untitled (Hackney Hospital), 1995
Jordan Baseman, Untitled (Hackney Hospital), 1995

Wanting to make the grand millennial statement must be tempting. But it’s probably better resisted. Jordan Baseman is an artist I’ve always rather enjoyed. I remember a piece, some years ago, made of black latex and huge dressmaker’s pins. It resembled a sado-masochist’s lavatory brush crossed with a fox’s tail. It was its witty ambiguity that made it appealing. Poignant, too, was a piece shown in 1995 at the abandoned psychiatric hospital in Hackney. A rack of children’s blue school shirts, each with a hallmark tuft of hair, stood in mute isolation. Neither work attempted “the big statement” and was all the better for it. Meaning was fluid and the viewer left to fill in the gaps. But “The History of Existentialism” aims at the big theme. (And what bigger than the end of a millennium?) But it comes across as rather contrived. Existentialism is a loaded word, conjuring intense Sixth Form debates on Sartre and the meaning of life while being cool in Juliette Greco black. Here Baseman leaves us in no doubt as to his theme with a single slide projecting the words “THE END” just above the skirting board. In the basement, three video monitors show a McDonald’s paper cup blowing in an anonymous industrial landscape (the evils of capitalism?), a mangy old crow pecking in a park (ecological devastation, perhaps?) and a defunct fountain in a run-down urban locality over which the words of a lullaby are played (urban decline and the collapse of rooted society?). Next to these is “a modified carbon dioxide dispenser, its tubes ready for insertion into the nostrils” – necessary, no doubt, as we gasp our last, hurtling towards the end of history, and a bottle of sulphuric acid, which sits ominously on a large wooden table, presumably in case we don’t think it’s worth it and want out.

Jordan Baseman The History of Existentialism at Wigmore Fine Art, London until 14 Jan 2000
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999

Published in The Independent


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