Influential contemporay abstract artist, John Baldessari has died at 88

We lost a conceptual art icon this week.

Jori Finkel at the New York Times writes:

John Baldessari, the influential conceptual artist who helped transform Los Angeles into a global art capital through his witty image-making and decades of teaching there, died on Thursday at his home in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 88. […]

Mr. Baldessari majored in art education at San Diego State College and earned a master’s degree in art there. In short order he took jobs teaching art in junior high school, community college and in an extension program before joining the faculty of University of California, San Diego. He spent one summer teaching teenagers at a camp for juvenile delinquents run by the California Youth Authority; he would joke that he had been hired only because of his size — an imposing 6 foot 7 inches.

His artwork at the time, which he was just beginning to show in Los Angeles galleries, was moving in a more philosophical direction. In 1968, already distancing himself from painting, he reproduced a cover for Artforum magazine featuring a Frank Stella canvas, hiring a sign painter to add a caption below it: “This is not to be looked at.”

Love that. Baldessari was a die-hard Duchamp fan. He leaned into that hilarious realm, art on the edge.

He famously gave himself sharp inward critiques of his work and the artworld itself with his Cremation Project. Specifically, he cremated his traditional works, and later folded them into cookie dough at an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Destruction as a catharsis it seems, can be very important. While controversial, it was highly symbolic.

Photo: Artiris

Here’s a fantastic photo from the New Museum archive:

John Baldessari chatting with Marcia Tucker (founder of the New Museum). Behind them is a work from one of my favorite photographers, Nic Nicosia. Source: Instagram (@newmuseum)

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