JOHN BALDESSARI (1931—2020)

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Pictures & Scripts: …Files toenails., 2015, diptych; varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery New York, Paris and London

John Baldessari, American conceptual artist, died on January 2nd at his home in Los Angeles’ Venice neighborhood, at age 88.

Baldessari emerged as an artist in the early 1960s, working at the time mostly with painting in a gestural style but he felt as though Abstract Expressionism was running out of stem. Having an interest in language, he began introducing text and pre-existing images to his work by the end of that decade. He did so in order to disrupt the notion of painting, by creating riddles and questioning how a work of art is to be created in the first place, similar to other major conceptual artists at the time; Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner and the artists collaboration Art & Language.

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The Estate of John Baldessari and Marian Goodman Gallery
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Hot & Cold Series: YES, THANK YOU, BETTY There’s one called…, 2018, varnished inkjet prints on canvas with acrylic paint. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery New York, Paris and London

“If a painting, by the normal definition of the term, is paint on canvas, why can’t it be painted words on canvas? And then I also had a parallel interest in photography. I would go to the library and read books on photography. I could never figure out why photography and art had separate histories. So I decided to explore both.”  — John Baldessari, via Interview Magazine

He abandoned painting altogether in the 1970s and focused solely on conceptual art, but instead of creating rigid and austere work usually associated with the 60’s conceptual art movement, Baldessari countered what he saw with color and humour, reflecting Pop Art as well. The continues use of text, photographic images and other media shaped his interest in the materials communicative aspect, resulting in works of art forcing us to ask how and what they, in turn, communicate.

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Featured Image: John Baldessari photographed in his studio in Santa Monica by Larry Sultan