John Baldessari was a leading American conceptual artist. Working in the spirit of Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte, he used strategies of appropriation and linguistic play to explore the relationship between art and meaning. His vast multimedia practice included paintings, prints, photography, video art, sculpture and installation.
Baldessari studied at San Diego State University in the 1950s. In 1957, he moved to Los Angeles, where he pursued post-graduate work at Otis Art Institute. He returned to San Diego in the mid-1960s, living in relative isolation from the larger art world. His early works, which involved merging painting with text and photography, gradually became more radical. In 1969, he hired other people to paint his Commissioned Paintings series. The following year, his Cremation Project saw him incinerate much of his own work. He announced the destruction with a notarised affidavit in the San Diego Union. Some of the ashes were put in boxes; others were baked into cookies.
Baldessari's ‘anti-style’ of deadpan humour became the visual lingua franca of 1970s conceptualism. Many of his works, such as Astronauts and Businessmen (1988), used coloured dots to obscure the faces of their subjects. Elsewhere, works such as his Wrong series and his 1972 video Teaching a Plant the Alphabet explored the relationship between image and language. As art’s parameters expanded, Baldessari poked fun at the institutional reverence surrounding its new forms. His seminal 1971 video I am Making Art saw him lampoon the emerging aesthetics of performance art. The same year he invited a group of students to write ‘I will not make any more boring art’ on the walls of a gallery in Nova Scotia. His witty vernacular and use of found materials had a profound influence on artists such as Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince and David Salle.
Until his death in 2020, Baldessari continued to push the boundaries of art. His later work explored emojis and the language of the internet. He received numerous honours and awards during his career. In 2009 he won the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2014.
A Fable Concerning Power (with Football Player and Person on Scooter) (Maquette)
Former Site of Duck Pond Bar 3003 National City Blvd. National City, Calif.
Noses & Ears, Etc. (Part Three): (Black) Face and (Yellow) Face with Noses, Hands, and Bookcase
Noses & Ears, Etc. (Part Three: Altered Person (Violet) With Three Views/Altered Person (Yellow) With Three Viewers
Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), etc. (Part Two): Elbows, Knees, Shirt and Tie (with Blue Barrier)