It’s Day 312 and I’m still on a high from my improv show last night. It was so much fun! I am super tired today, but I had a great time doing today’s piece. Join me in honoring John Baldesarri today!
John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images. He lives and works in Santa Monica and Venice, California.
Initially a painter, Baldessari began to incorporate texts and photography into his canvases in the mid-1960s. In 1970 he began working in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography. He has created thousands of works that demonstrate—and, in many cases, combine—the narrative potential of images and the associative power of language within the boundaries of the work of art. His art has been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. His work influenced Cindy Sherman, David Salle, and Barbara Kruger among others.
Baldessari was born in National City, California to Hedvig Jensen, a Danish nurse, and
Antonio Baldessari, an Italian salvage dealer. Baldessari and his elder sister were raised in Southern California. He attended Sweetwater High School and San Diego State College. Between 1960 and 1984, he was married to Montessorian teacher Carol Ann Wixom; they have two children.
In 1959, Baldessari began teaching art in the San Diego school system. He kept teaching for nearly three decades, in schools and junior colleges and community colleges, and eventually at the university level. When the University of California decided to open up a campus in San Diego, the new head of the Visual Art Department, Paul Brach, asked Baldessari to be part of the originating faculty in 1968. At UCSD he shared an office with David Antin. In 1970, Baldessari moved to Santa Monica, where he met many artists and writers, and began teaching at CalArts. His first classes included David Salle, Jack Goldstein, Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler, James Welling, Barbara Bloom, Matt Mullican, andTroy Brauntuch. While at CalArts, Baldessari taught “the infamous Post Studio class”, which he intended to “indicate people not daubing away at canvases or chipping away at stone, that there might be some other kind of class situation.” The class, which operated outside of medium-specificity, was influential in informing the context for addressing a student’s art practice at CalArts. He quit teaching at CalArts in 1986, moving on to teach at UCLA, which he continued until 2008. At UCLA, his students included Elliott Hundley.
Early text paintings
By 1966, Baldessari was using photographs and text, or simply text, on canvas. His early major works were canvas paintings that were empty but for painted statements derived from contemporary art theory. An early attempt of Baldessari’s included the hand-painted phrase “Suppose it is true after all? WHAT THEN?” (1967) on a heavily worked painted surface. However, this proved personally disappointing because the form and method conflicted with the objective use of language that he preferred to employ. Baldessari decided the solution was to remove his own hand from the construction of the image and to employ a commercial, lifeless style so that the text would impact the viewer without distractions. The words were then physically lettered by sign painters, in an unornamented black font. The first of this series presented the ironic statement “A TWO-DIMENSIONAL SURFACE WITHOUT ANY ARTICULATION IS A DEAD EXPERIENCE” (1967).
Another work, Painting for Kubler (1967–68) presented the viewer theoretical instructions on how to view it and on the importance of context and continuity with previous works. This work referenced art historian George Kubler’s seminal book, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things. The seemingly legitimate art concerns were intended by Baldessari to become hollow and ridiculous when presented in such a purely self-referential manner.
Disowning of early work
In 1970 Baldessari and five friends burnt all of the paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966 as part of a new piece, titled The Cremation Project. The ashes from these paintings were baked into cookies and placed into an urn, and the resulting art installation consists of a bronze commemorative plaque with the destroyed paintings’ birth and death dates, as well as the recipe for making the
cookies. Through the ritual of cremation Baldessari draws a connection between artistic practice and the human life cycle. Thus the act of disavowal becomes generative as with the work of auto-destructive artist Jean Tinguely.
Juxtaposing text with images
Baldessari is best known for works that blend photographic materials (such as film stills), take them out of their original context and rearrange their form, often including the addition of words or sentences. Related to his early text paintings were his Wrong series (1966-1968), which paired photographic images with lines of text from an amateur photography book, aiming at the violation of a set of basic “rules” on snapshot composition. In one of the works, Baldessari had himself photographed in front of a palm precisely so that it would appear that the tree were growing out of his head. His photographic California Map Project (1969) created physical forms that resembled the letters in “California” geographically near to the very spots on the map that they were printed. In the Binary Code Series, Baldessari used images as information holders by alternating photographs to stand in for the on-off state of binary code; one example alternated photos of a woman holding a cigarette parallel to her mouth and then dropping it away.
Another of Baldessari’s series juxtaposed an image of an object such as a glass, or a block of wood, and the phrase “A glass is a glass” or “Wood is wood” combined with “but a cigar is a good smoke” and the image of the artist smoking a cigar. These directly refer to René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images; the images similarly were used to stand in for the objects described. However, the series also apparently refers to Sigmund Freud’s famous attributed observation that “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, as well as toRudyard Kipling’s “… a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”
In “Double Bill”, a 2012 series of large inkjet prints, Baldessari paired the work of two selected artists (such as Giovanni di Paolo with David Hockney, or Fernand Léger withMax Ernst) on a single canvas, further altering the appropriated picture plane by overlaying his own hand-painted color additions. Baldessari then names only one of his two artistic “collaborators” on each canvas’s lower edge, such as …AND MANET or …AND DUCHAMP.
Baldessari has expressed that his interest in language comes from its similarities in structure to games, as both operate by an arbitrary and mandatory system of rules. In this spirit, many of his works are sequences showing attempts at accomplishing an arbitrary goal, such as Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (1973), in which the artist attempted to do just that, photographing the results, and eventually selecting the “best out of 36 tries”, with 36 being the determining number just because that is the standard number of
shots on a roll of 35mm film. The writer eldritch Priest ties John Baldessari’s piece Throwing four balls in the air to get a square (best of 36 tries) as an early example of post-conceptual art. This work was published in 1973 by a young Italian publisher: Giampaolo Prearo that was one of the first to believe and invest in the work of Baldessari. He printed two series one in 2000 copies and a second more precious reserved to the publisher in 500 copies.
Much of Baldessari’s work involves pointing, in which he tells the viewer not only what to look at but how to make selections and comparisons, often simply for the sake of doing so. Baldessari’s Commissioned Paintings (1969) series took the idea
of pointing literally, after he read a criticism of conceptual art that claimed it was nothing more than pointing. Beginning with photos of a hand pointing at various objects, Baldessari then hired amateur yet technically adept artists to paint the pictures. He then added a caption “A painting by [painter’s name]” to each finished painting. In this instance, he has been likened to a choreographer, directing the action while having no direct hand in it, and these paintings are typically read as questioning the idea of artistic authorship. The amateur artists have been analogized to sign painters in this series, chosen for their pedestrian methods that were indifferent to what was being painted. Baldessari critiques formalist assessments of art in a segment from his video How We Do Art Now(1973), entitled “Examining Three 8d Nails”, in which he gives obsessive attention to minute details of the nails, such as how much rust they have, or descriptive qualities such as which appears “cooler, more distant, less important” than the others.
Partial biography is from wikipedia.
I hope you enjoy my tribute today! It was fun making it. I will see you tomorrow on Day 313.