John Baldessari

John Baldessari, one of southern California’s most influential artists, is recognized internationally for his role in the conceptual art movement. Born in National City, California, in 1931, Baldessari has routinely drawn on images from popular culture, especially from the 1950s and ‘60s. His work is easily identifiable by his regular practice of placing colored dots over the faces of people in stock images as well as his clever use of words like pure beauty, unpleasant, and aghast. Baldessari is also known for creating works composed of helpful hints, such as Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell and Terms Most Useful in Describing Creative Works of Art.

John Baldessari’s X sign meets the U.S. Mail(1962), purchased by the Lannan Foundation in 1992, is an example of the artist’s early experimentation with assemblage, which gave him an opportunity to move beyond the restrictions of a flat canvas. One of several pieces made at this time, the work in Lannan’s collection is a rare surviving example, as most of his work made prior to 1966 was destroyed in a performance piece in which Baldessari and five of his friends burned all the paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966. The resulting Cremation Project was created from the ashes, which were baked into cookies and placed in an urn. A commemorative plaque listed the destroyed paintings’ birth and death dates, as well as a recipe for the cookies. Though this work differs in style greatly from the artist’s more well-known reductive conceptual work of the last few decades, the use of words is in keeping with his interest in language.

John Baldessari attended San Diego State University and did postgraduate work at Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute, and the University of California at Berkeley. He taught at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia, California, from 1970 to 1988 and at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1996 to 2007. His work is represented in major museums worldwide and has been included in a number of exhibitions. He has participated in Documenta (1978, 1982), the Venice Biennale (1997, 2003), and seven Whitney Biennial exhibitions. A major retrospective, John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, was on view at the Metropolitan Museum, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Tate Modern, London, in 2009 and 2010.

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