Born Chicago, Illinois, 1981 / BFA, Kansas City Art Institute / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Detroit
It is hard to talk about Corrie Baldauf ’s work without talking about Corrie Baldauf. Fine art culture, by design or default, tends to take on an air of exclusivity and the artist persona can be steeped in irony and detachment. In this respect, Baldauf ’s personality is a breath of fresh sincerity, and her work reflects the power of optimism, a practice that Baldauf has honed for decades, though never to the point of reflexivity. “Optimism is hard work,” Baldauf will tell you.
Baldauf ’s projects are deeply intertwined with the world and those human interactions taking place around her, and seek in many ways to interact with that world without altering it physically. One mechanism for this is her series Circle Drawings (2005–present)—at a glance present as mandalas of tight, concentric rings, but further investigation will reveal them to be meticulous registers for snippets of overheard conversations, obsessively charted and detailed in word clusters bordering the circle. Another is her series Optimism Filters (2008–present), slabs of colorful plexiglass that Baldauf uses in conjunction with cameras to create filtered views of life encounters, sometimes having her subjects hold the filters themselves so the device is evident in the picture, sometimes shooting to create entirely tinted or altered images through the filters. Finally, there is the collaborative series produced with father-and-son sign painters Craig Signs, which Baldauf has been working on since 2007. While the notations in the circle drawings are cumulative and subtle, the vinyl signs are bold and definitive, recording the accumulation of messages that reflect the economic state of cities that she is a part of. She views advertisement as far more than a reflection of the specific services being offered; rather, it marks the decline or growth in the places we live and work.
These efforts to color reality or look at the world with new eyes become more significant when taken as part of the critical relationship Baldauf has with color. As the majority of art deals in color to a certain extent, the impact of this choice is not readily apparent, but the more Baldauf ’s work is taken as a whole, the more it becomes clear that color is her medium of choice, played out across a number of different expressive media, including photography, film, works in ink on paper, and even her own daily style of dress. More recently, it has cropped up in her 2014 “Infinite Jest” Project (Phase 1), a work in which Baldauf marked out every instance of color appearing in David Foster Wallace’s master- work, Infinite Jest, with a page flag of corresponding color. The resulting edition, bristling with more than 2,700 flags, serves as an effective case in point for the kind of compulsive, addiction- driving mentality that is the work’s major theme, but it is also evidence of the impressive extent to which color appears in Wallace’s work—an intentional choice, Baldauf thinks, to help keep readers engaged in what is collectively regarded as a highly challenging literary milestone, equally brilliant and alienating.
But none of this serves to capture the true uniqueness of Baldauf ’s viewpoint. While it may be generally said of artists that they bring value to society by utilizing their art to showcase a worldview outside the main- stream, Baldauf ’s perspective is singular above all. Her attention is constantly tuned in to things that are ubiquitous to the point of invisibility. Spend some time with her and you will find that Baldauf possesses little of the common lexicon, often questioning the meaning or exact wording of everyday aphorisms in the man- ner of a nonnative speaker, deeply curious about subtext that most people have long learned to take for granted. Much like a child still learning the world, Baldauf takes nothing for granted, and the act of engaging with her over the meaning of common things gives them fresh light and newness. However, there is deep intentionality to this perspective, and it would be a grave mistake to take this 2011 Kresge Grant recipient and professor of fine arts at several metro Detroit universities for a child.
With roots in Kansas City and an art-and-teaching practice based in Detroit for nearly a decade, Baldauf represents the intersection of Midwestern sincerity, an honest love of engagement with people, and a rare humility in seeing the world as it is and as it could be. It seems fitting that she reaches out using color, perhaps the most understandable and most avail- able medium—and one of the first we are given access to as we come to know the world.
Sarah Rose Sharp, September 2014
Copyright Essay’d 2014