In Brief

John Baldessari Lends His Voice and Conceptual Art to The Simpsons

The grandfather figure of California conceptual art recently turned up in a Springfield art gallery for a cameo on the beloved cartoon.

John Baldessari's appearance in episode 13 of season 29 of <em>The SImpsons</em>, "3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage" (Courtesy The Simpsons ™ and © 2017 TCFFC, all rights reserved, via WikiSimpsons)
John Baldessari’s appearance in episode 13 of season 29 of The Simpsons, “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage” (Courtesy The Simpsons ™ and © 2017 TCFFC, all rights reserved, via WikiSimpsons)

In a recent episode of The Simpsons, Marge Simpson interviews a young-ish version of the conceptual artist John Baldessari — but an infant Bart steals the scene when he vandalizes a giant inflatable sculpture. Baldessari, who, as Apollo Magazine first pointed out, voiced his own Simpsons avatar, joins a formidable list of arts and culture figures who’ve appeared on the beloved primetime cartoon, including Frank Gehry, Shepard Fairey, and Jasper Johns.

Much of the March 25 episode, “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage,” is devoted to flashbacks to Marge and Homer’s lives before they had kids, showing how children, in essence, made their existences miserable. The scene featuring Baldessari comes about when Marge, a recent mother, is ordered by her editor at the Springfield Shopper to find “a good nightlife story.” Apparently, in the 1980s, contemporary art was just a pretext for partying.

A scene from episode 13 of season 29 of <em>The SImpsons</em>, "3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage" (screenshot by the author via Fox)
A scene from episode 13 of season 29 of The Simpsons, “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage” (screenshot by the author via Fox)

“So you’ve moved into painting giant schnozes,” Marge says to Baldessari, who stands amid large canvases featuring his distinctive, monochromatic paintings, each of them featuring a realistically rendered nose or ear floating atop the vague outline of a face. (It seems that his more recent work was deemed better-suited to visual gags, but for my money, his earlier text paintings and videos have far more comic potential.)

“Marge, the mouth has had its say,” Baldessari replies in his characteristic new-age guru tone. “Now it’s time to find out what the nose knows.”

Shortly thereafter, Homer turns up with an unconsolable baby Bart, who proceeds to fashion a slingshot out of a minimalist sculpture and shoot a pin into a Koonsian inflatable sculpture of a rabbit. Unlike a true Koons balloon animal, which would actually be made of steel — perhaps the gag’s intended target is actually Baldessari’s fellow West Coast art star Paul McCarthy? — the sculpture deflates in an instant, and Sideshow Mel declares in his British brogue: “It’s not art anymore, it’s a misshapen lump on the floor, not like this masterpiece” — whip pan to a sculpture of a misshapen lump on a pedestal titled “Futility no. 37.”

A scene from episode 13 of season 29 of <em>The SImpsons</em>, "3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage" (screenshot by the author via Fox)
A scene from episode 13 of season 29 of The Simpsons, “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage” (screenshot by the author via Fox)

The resulting front-page news story about Bart’s vandalism — titled “Terrible Enfant Shocks Art World” — gets Marge fired for scaring away the newspaper’s art advertisers. Though the sequence is short on laugh-out-loud jokes, it’s at least as effective as the show’s 2014 send-up of the art world, in which Marge and Homer found a valuable painting at a flea market.

John Baldessari’s appearance on The Simpsons comes at the 13:30 mark in “3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage,” which can be watched online at Fox.

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