John Baldessari dies aged 88

John Baldessari, the Californian artist and teacher known as the godfather of conceptual art, has died aged 88.

His death on Thursday at his Los Angeles home was confirmed last night by his long-time dealer Marian Goodman who described him as “intelligent, loving and incomparable”.

At 6 ft 7 inches tall, Baldessari was a towering presence in more ways than one. Over the past five decades, he had more than 200 solo shows and 1,000 group shows and won numerous awards including the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2014.

Baldessari's 'Beethoven's Trumpet (with ear), opus 13'


A thinker and, in his own words, “a frustrated writer” (there was a short-lived stint as a critic in the 1950s), Baldessari constantly probed and pushed the parameters of art. He gave words and images equal weight and rejected the hand of the artist, choosing instead to employ professional sign painters to create his text works.

Counter to the puritanical seriousness of conceptual art, his approach was often irreverently humorous, although he once said the word funny made him “feel uncomfortable”. In a 2013 interview he told his friend and former student the artist David Salle: “I don’t try to be funny. It’s just that I feel that the world is a little bit absurd and off-kilter, and I’m sort of reporting.”

His decision to ditch gestural painting for language and ideas came early on, while teaching in the San Diego area in the early 1960s and painting in his spare time. “I decided, in some Cartesian way, that I was going to figure out what art meant to me. What was the bottom line,” he told the Los Angeles-based critic Christopher Knight in 2012.

“I finally decided that anything on canvas […] was the signal for art. You could do anything you wanted on it. And it was art.”


by Anny Shaw

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