baldessari by paul henrickson, ph.d

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An essay evaluating communication, behavior and reason

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Baldessari by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D.John Baldessari

tm. 2010

John Baldessari in Venice, 2009 June 7, 1931 (1931-06-07) (age 78) National City, California American Painting, Conceptual art

Born

Nationality Field

John Baldessari, (b. June 7, 1931, National City, California) is a conceptual artist. His work often attempts to point out irony in contemporary art theory and practices or reduce it to absurdity. His art has been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe[1]. My initial thoughts of Baldessari and his approach follow: my comments are in red.Christopher Miles on John Baldessari writes

John BaldessariBeethoven's Trumpet (With Ear), Opus 127 2007 Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York John Baldessari Resin, fibreglass, bronze, aluminuim and electronics

Christopher Miles on John Baldessari writes: again, my comments are in red.The American artist John Baldessari has influenced several generations of younger artists, (regretably!) and has, since the 1960s, consistently renegotiated his own working practice from his earlier text paintings to his reworkings of old film stills and the commissioning of paintings made by amateur artists to his specifications. How oxymoronic to employ an algorithmic approach to what normally is

inspirational Christopher Miles pays him a visit.When I visited John Baldessari, the first thing he showed me after introducing me to his dog, Giotto, reproduction of a Velzquez he saw recently at the Prado a painting he appreciates for the way its representational imagery yields to a kind of embedded abstraction.[What, pray, is so surprising about there being abstract qualities in realistic work?] Such an interest in Old Masters might seem odd [why?] for an artist who famously burned most of the paintings in his studio four decades ago. That radical gesture marked the end of what one might call Baldessaris first career (that of an abstract painter) and the beginning of his second career and emergence as a conceptual artist. But that career would come back to an intensive studio practice and an intimate involvement with making things by hand.oh my, how innovative! One might recall that Rouault also burned his work and, perhaps, they were burned for somewhat the same reasons although I doubt it. I had assumed Rouault had burned his work because these pieces failed to reach

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his standard. I assume, also, that Baldessari burned his because he had given up trying to reach

his standard and chose, instead, to change the perspective and achieve success a different way a more cynical way it would seem. Not unlike a severely disappointed lover who dons a satirical costume resembling his beloved. This sort of transfigured transvestitism has a colorful history, according to some report a young Aztec conquered by Cortez, as often prisoners do, fell in love with his conqueror, but the conqueror wanted his sister so the passionate youth, killed his sister and crawled into her skin.my gosh!

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I wonder how much a coincidence it is that the name of Giotto, one of Western civilizations major artists who recreated

substance in the graphic arts, should be a favorite name with at least two personages I know about claiming to have an interest in artboth of whom seem to get a thrill from combining the unusual, in Baldissaris case joining the name Giotto to a dog and in the Nuns case choosing the name Giotto for herself, The Dominican Nun, stationed in Albuquerque, and allowed by her Order to run a gallery,stressed nihilism, was sexually provocative and questionably proved herself to be a thief. Do they see themselves, I wonder, as somehow Christ-like in pointing out the vanity of mans efforts? Such a program, I suppose, would have as much justification as Dantes having condemned to Hell and Purgatory many of his contemporaries. Well, if condemnation is in style, let is begin by firstly condemning the effort to apotheosize triviality. I find it quite humbling to politely listen to what is supposed to be an orderly presentation of the ideas inherent in organizing a communities cultural efforts offered by a Ph.D. graduate but turned out to be random memories of his childhood which was of nointerest to the audiene and ended up with a dramatic grammatical error.hhmmm, modern education.

In the late 1960s, having studied during most of the 1950s at a handful of art schools and universities in California, Baldessari was back in the town of his youth. National City, a place he describes as not much different now than it was then, is a crossroads off the highway south of San Diego on the way to Tijuana, populated largely by servicemen and workers connected to the Navy. He returned to the town where his parents (a Danish nurse who had made her way to San Diego and an Austrian entrepreneur and jack-of-alltrades who had [emigrated to] the US after the First World War) had raised him and his sister. Here, he set up his studio in a failed movie theatre that his father had built. I was filling the place up, he recalls. I thought, If I continue this, I am going to be inundated with paintings, so I just called up a few friends and said, If you want anything, you can have it; I am going to cremate the rest of them. as a tribute to Moloch? He saved works representing a new direction he was exploring. The rest were reduced to ashes and became the contents of a defining work in the emerging conceptual art movement. Heavily influenced by artists including Sol LeWitt and Marcel Duchamp, as well as composer John Cage, Baldessari had come to identify with the conceptual art designation. A sampling of titles from exhibitions he participated in at the time reveals both the momentum of the new movement and his immersion in it: Konzeption Conception at the Stadtischen Museum in Leverkusen, Germany (1969), ConceptionPerception at the Eugenia Butler Gallery in Los Angeles (1969), Art by Telephone at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1969), The Appearing Disappearing Image Object at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, California (1969), Information at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1970) and Software at the Jewish Museum in New York (1970), where a plaque

commemorating the cremation was displayed and an urn containing the ashes was temporarily embedded in a wall. Shortly thereafter, Baldessari moved to Los Angeles, where he still lives in Santa Monica. Matters of timing and place are not unrelated to the shift in his work. He remembers National City as a cultural blank spot, where his contact with other artists and access to an art scene was limited: I think the good part about it was that I had this idea of what my life might be, and I said, Nobodys ever going to see this stuff, so Ill just do what I want. I didnt feel anybody looking over my shoulder, anyway. So it was good, because I had to figure out what art was for me and what I believed, rather than receive wisdom. Receive wisdom?...what has he received and

has he generated any? I will say that to just do what I want is a real beginning to self-knowledge and if, by chance, what Baldessari learns about himself is that he is better at ridiculing the efforts of others than at devising a more substantial vision such as did the painter, (not the dog or the Nun), Giotto, then he and the world knows where to find himif they have the eyes to see.Part of what he wanted to do was renegotiate his relationship with making art, and with photography: I was doing some sort of visual looping. I would photograph stuff that looked like the paintings I had just done, and then I would feed that back into the paintings, and then take photographs again of the paintings and keep doing this. Photography also was visual note-taking. I would pin these photographs up on the wall, just to look at for inspiration for my paintings. Then I thought: Why do I have to translate this photograph into a painting? I mean, this takes a lot of time. And thats where I made the leap to say, Why do this? Why cant I just use photography? Oh my! What a brilliant discovery..indeedhow innovativenow, WHAT?.

photography? Such a transformation is quite reasonable, very understandale and it does represent a willingness, obligation or compulsion to move (change) in response to something, But why, I must ask myself, does there seem to be little evidence of his having used the photographic reality to build a new and self-contained and internally logical image, that is, an image that the observer can understandan image that stands upas it were. Granted in many situations there will be no observers who are able to read the internal logic of a work.and there are some works that have none.it sometimes seems. It is my growing belief that there is in Baldessaris work, most especially those where areas of color block out the original image, where what the observer gets is a reactive response on Baldessris part to something he didnt like.That is something not unlike the temperamental response of an adolescent Is this all one might expect from someone who claims, and gives some evidence of being, a creative personality? I have met up with the type before, one which is passionate about finding fault with what disappoints him but incapable or unwilling to offer an alternative.

Well, John, give it some real thoughtJohn Baldessari The Pencil Story 1972 - 1973 Marian Goodman Gallery, New York John Baldessari Colour photographs, with coloured pencil, mounted on board

That epiphany part philosophical, part practical went beyond the use of photography to the larger issue of removing the artists hand from the practice, and led to the works that were spared from the National City cremation. I am not sure that spared is the right word. These were works that combined photographic images, printed directly on canvas, accompanied by simple, caption-like

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