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(1931 – 2020), USA

John Baldessari Biography

John Baldessari was an artist's artist. He is celebrated as one of the most influential artists of his generation, both as a pioneer in conceptual art and as a teacher for more than three decades. In addition to his language-based paintings and performances of the late 1960s and 1970s, now considered milestones in conceptual art, Baldessari is also known for his use of colourful dot-shaped adhesives to conceal faces in photographs. As an artist who often expanded his repertoire through painting, printmaking, sculpture, photomontage, video, film, and books, Baldessari's work is characterised by humour, wit, and an air of insouciance towards tradition.

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Baldessari began his career as a painter, working with oils in the abstract expressionist manner that was dominant in America at the time. Many of his early paintings, however, do not survive, because in 1970 he burned the artworks made between 1953 and 1966 in a crematorium. Baldessari conceived the incineration as an artwork in itself, documenting and titling it Cremation Project. After the burning, the artist commemorated the destroyed paintings by having their birth and death dates inscribed on bronze plaques, and baking cookies with their ashes. Cremation Project signalled both his break with abstract expressionism and his increasing experimentation with conceptual art.

Throughout his career, Baldessari questioned the role of the artist and the meaning of authorship by diminishing authorship and challenging traditional boundaries in art-making. In the late 1960s, he occasionally hired professional sign painters to paint for him, notably Pure Beauty (1966–8), a simple white canvas with its title written across it in black capital letters. Such sign paintings not only emphasise the importance of concept over the artist's touch, but also disconcert the definition of a painting as composed of images by creating paintings composed of signs. In another iconic work, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971), Baldessari asked students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada, to write the sentence 'I will not make any more boring art' on the gallery walls of his exhibition. The well-known performance emerged from his lack of finances to travel to Nova Scotia, where the artist had been asked to exhibit. Baldessari, who had been deeply dissatisfied with the limitations of traditional painting, conceived to cover the space that conventionally hangs paintings with sentences in a repeated manner that resembles a punishment. At the same time, however, the artist intended the punishment-performance to be instructive for young students, encouraging them to rebel against tradition.

In the 1980s, Baldessari began using stills from B movies or noir films to create fragmented and ambiguous narratives. For example, the collage Kiss/Panic (1984) consists of ten images of hands holding guns that frame an extreme close-up of a kiss and a scene with a gathering. The guns point away from the central images as if to protect or threaten moments of intimacy by holding them hostage. During this period, Baldessari also began to block out faces, bodies and other parts of photographs with paint, later utilising his famous dots to cover faces as a way of withholding important visual information from the viewer. Confronted with the concealed spaces, the spectator becomes an active participant, using their imagination to complete the missing parts.

Text and image are central to Baldessari's practice, in which unrelated components are paired to stimulate the viewer's participation in the construction of meaning. OFFICE BUILDING—DAY MAYO Is there a Courbet for sale here? (2017), for instance, depicts the emoji of a green gecko, multiplied in size and printed on canvas, above the question in its title. By juxtaposing elements with no apparent relationship, Baldessari encourages the viewer to search for possible links between them—making associations and speculations, actively constructing meaning in the process. His 'Movie Scripts / Art' series (2014), which pairs excerpts from film scripts with details of art historical images, achieve a similar effect.

Baldessari's sense of humour translates to his often larger-than-life sculptures of flora and fauna. He created his first sculpture in 2007, while working with publisher Beyer Projects; Beethoven's Trumpet (With Ear) takes the form of a six-foot-high wall-mounted ear in white, from which a bronze-plated trumpet protrudes. As noted in 'John Baldessari's Enduring Presence', published by Ocula Magazine in 2020, the artist's versatile sculptural practice includes Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large) (2013) and the gigantic Pineapple (2019). Baldessari also paid homage to the sculptor Alberto Giacometti with his Giacometti Variations (2010), created for a solo exhibition at Fondazione Prada in Milan, that consists of nine Giacometti-inspired bronze figures accompanied with brightly-coloured hula hoops, a pile of books, or a large shoe.

Baldessari studied art and literature at San Diego State University, where he received his MA in art history in 1957, and completed further post-graduate work at Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. Since first teaching art in his native National City in 1959, he taught for more than three decades at junior colleges, community colleges, and universities. Between 1970 and 1988, he held his celebrated Post-Studio Art classes at CalArts, which encouraged young artists to experiment outside traditional painting and sculpture. Among his first students were Barbara Bloom, Troy Brauntuch, Matt Mullican, David Salle, and James Welling, who are now some of the most prominent artists of their generation. Baldessari returned to teaching in 1996 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and continued to teach until 2007, further contributing to contemporary art by influencing a younger generation of artists.

Baldessari's work has been exhibited extensively in the US and Europe; the artist's biography on his website reveals that he held more than 200 solo exhibitions and over 1000 group exhibitions during his lifetime. Selected solo exhibitions include Learning to Read with John Baldessari at Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2017); John Baldessari, the inaugural show of Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles (2016); and John Baldessari: Pure Beauty (2009), a major retrospective organised by Tate Modern that travelled to Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010. In 2009, Baldessari was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 53rd Venice Biennale.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020

John Baldessari Featured Artworks

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Scene ( ) / Take ( ) : A
lump of sugar... by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariScene ( ) / Take ( ) : A lump of sugar..., 2014Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint
270.5 x 121.5 cm
Galerie Greta Meert Contact Gallery
Vertical Series: Straight by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariVertical Series: Straight, 2003Maquette; archival digital print on graph paper
55.5 x 42.8 cm
Marian Goodman Gallery Contact Gallery
INT. PRODUCTION STUDIO - DAY BRIMANDA by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariINT. PRODUCTION STUDIO - DAY BRIMANDA, 2017Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint
163.8 x 137.2 x 3.8 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Word Chain: Faucet (Ilene's story) by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariWord Chain: Faucet (Ilene's story), 1975Colour and black & white 35mm contacts on grid paper
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
OFFICE BUILDING - DAY MAYO Is there a Courbet for sale here? by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariOFFICE BUILDING - DAY MAYO Is there a Courbet for sale here?, 2017Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint
158.8 x 137.2 x 3.8 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire
Raised Eyebrows/ Furrowed Foreheads: Airplane Falling by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariRaised Eyebrows/ Furrowed Foreheads: Airplane Falling, 2008Three dimensional archival print laminated with lexan and mounted on Sintra with acrylic paint
183.5 x 147.6 x 10.1 cm
PKM Gallery Enquire
Brutus Killed Caesar by John Baldessari contemporary artwork
John BaldessariBrutus Killed Caesar, 1976Gelatin silver print mounted on board; in 3 parts
273.1 x 249.6 cm
Sprüth Magers Enquire

John Baldessari Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, WORDS at Simon Lee Gallery, London
10–31 July 2020 Group Exhibition WORDS Simon Lee Gallery, LondonLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, WORDS at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong
22 June–19 July 2020 Group Exhibition WORDS Simon Lee GalleryOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, (SELF) PORTRAITS at Parkett, Zurich
22 February–30 September 2020 Group Exhibition (SELF) PORTRAITS Parkett, Zurich Exhibition SpaceZurich Exhibition Space

John Baldessari Represented By

Beyer Projects contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Beyer Projects New York
Marian Goodman Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Marian Goodman Gallery New York, Paris, London
Sprüth Magers contemporary art gallery in Berlin, Germany Sprüth Magers Berlin, London, Los Angeles

John Baldessari In Ocula Magazine

John Baldessari's Enduring Presence Ocula Insight John Baldessari's Enduring Presence By Tessa Moldan, London

Having turned to sculpture relatively late, John Baldessari's work since 2006 was continuously versatile, proving how processes of cropping, alteration, and erasure had come to define his practice.

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Bob Rennie Ocula Conversation Bob Rennie By Anna Dickie, Hong Kong

In Vancouver's Chinatown, an area wedged between the gleaming office towers of the city's affluent West End and the city’s poorest neighbourhood, Downtown Eastside, is a gallery showcasing work from one of the world’s leading private collections. Housed in a restored iteration of Chinatown’s oldest building, the...

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John Baldessari In Related Press

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Frieze Sculpture 2018: the highlights Related Press Frieze Sculpture 2018: the highlights 4 July 2018, Wallpaper*

Between Wimbledon and the FIFA World Cup, there's been plenty of distractions from London's unusually Mediterranean weather of late.

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John Baldessari on his giant emoji paintings: 'I just wondered what they'd look like large' Related Press John Baldessari on his giant emoji paintings: 'I just wondered what they'd look like large' 27 November 2017, The Guardian

The neighbourhood surrounding John Baldessari's studio in Venice is as eclectic as it is incongruous. Sleek, modernist homes sit next to quaint bungalows, while an old hippy with a surfboard tucked under one arm bikes past a Sotheby's real estate sign hanging in front of a million-dollar home. With his laid-back demeanour, lanky 6ft 7in frame...

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The beasts within: Artists tap into their wild sides for a roaring show Related Press The beasts within: Artists tap into their wild sides for a roaring show 26 November 2016, Wallpaper*

Rarely before have we seen such a long and varied list of contributors, as we do in Marian Goodman Gallery's group show Animality. The 'cast of creatures' ranges from dogs, camels, fish to octopi, and charts a history from George Orwell to Gabriel Orozco by way of Marcel Broodthaers. Curator Jens Hoffmann, never one to turn down a...

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Cao Fei's BMW 'Art Car 18' delves into Chinese contemporary culture Related Press Cao Fei's BMW 'Art Car 18' delves into Chinese contemporary culture 23 June 2016, designboom

Since 1975, globally prestigious artists such as; Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, have been creating ‘art cars’ using contemporary BMW vehicles as their basis. In november 2015, it was announced that the chinese artist, Cao Fei, and the american artist, John Baldessari, had been selected by a jury of distinguished museum...

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