"I will not make any more boring art."
John Anthony Baldessari was born on June 17, 1931 in National City, California, on the border of the United States and Mexico.
After attending Sweetwater High School, he went to San Diego State College from 1949 - 1953 and obtained his B.A. He continued his education at the University of California, Berkeley (1954 - 1955) and the University of California, Los Angeles (1955) before receiving his M.A. at the San Diego State College which he attended again from 1955 - 1957. He also attended the Otis Art Insitute (1957 - 1959) as well as the Chouinard Art Institute, both in Los Angeles.
Baldessari started teaching art in the San Diego school system in 1959. Having moved to Santa Monica in 1970, Baldessari started teaching at CalArts where he taught "the infamous Post Studio class". Amongst others, his students included Barbara Bloom, Ken Feingold, Mike Kelley and David Salle. In 1986 he moved over to UCLA where he continued teaching until 2008.
Baldessari's early work was destroyed in 1970, when he and five friends burnt all paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966 as part of a new piece of art called The Cremation Project. 1966 saw the beginning of his early text paintings with pieces such as "A two-dimensional surface without any articulation is a dead experience" or the "Painting for Kubler". In the late 1960s, Baldessari started pairing his text paintings with photographic images, most notably in the "Wrong" series (1966 - 1968).
One of his most famous works - "Trowing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line" was produced in 1973 and shows one of many attempts at accomplishing an arbitrary goal. Another work conceived in this period is titled "The Artist Hitting Various Objects with a Golf Club" in which he did just that.
In the mid-1980s, Baldessari started one of his best-known practices. A series where he "put dots over peoples faces", a technique he suspected, he would be remembered for. "Equestrian (Flesh) in Brackets with Orange Showdown" from 1992 is a well-known example from this series. Being asked, how he came up with the idea, Baldessari replied: "I just had these price stickers I was using for something else, in some graphic way and I put them on all the faces and I just felt like it leveled the playing field."
Throughout his career, Baldessari has also been involved in numerous film and performance projects such as "Unrealised Proposal for Cadavre Piece" (1970), "Police Drawing" (1971) or "Thirteen Colorful Inside Jobs" (2013).
His first ever sculpture "Beethoven's Trumpet (with Ear) Opus # 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135" was created relatively late in his career in 2007.
His work has been exhibited widely with more than 300 solo exhibitions and more than 1000 group shows throughout his six-decade long career. Notable exhibitions include:
- Documenta V (1972)
- Retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1981)
- Documenta VII (1982)
- Whitney Biennial (1983)
- Carnegie International (1985 - 1986)
- Retrospective at MOCA, Los Angeles, SFMOMA, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garten, the Whitney Museum and the Musée d'Art Conteomporain, Montreal (1990-1992)
- 47th Venice Biennial (1997)
- "Pure Beauty" at Tate Modern, London, MACBA, Barcelona, LACMA, Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2009 - 2011)
Baldessari will be remembered not just for his own oeuvre but also for having been a formative influence on the body of work of Barbara Kruger, David Salle or Cindy Sherman.
To experience John's amazing humour, we encourage you to watch the below documentary: