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John Baldessari (American, b.b. 1931)


Also known as:  Baldessari, John Anthony

Birth Place: National City (San Diego county, California, United States)

John Baldessari (June 17, 1931 - ) is a leading Californian conceptual artist who continues to be an important influence in the contemporary art world today. Born in National City, California, Baldessari is most well-known for his works that include appropriated images and photography that, through riddles and humor, bring light to the unspoken presumptions of contemporary art.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University, Baldessari completed post-graduate work at Otis Art Institute, Chouinard Art Institute, and the University of California at Berkeley.

As a painter at the beginning of his career, working primarily in the gestural style, he introduced text and photography to his canvases in the mid-1960s. He abandoned painting almost entirely in the 1970s and experimented with a variety of media, while maintaining the photographic image as the focus of his interests. Conceptual art has shaped Baldessari’s motivation to reveal the communicative power of the photographic image, but his work contains little of the seriousness associated with that style. Instead, the influence of Pop art reflects more strongly in his work through his use of light humor and bright color and materials.

Baldessari began truly exploring the function of images and their narrative potential when he moved away from gestural painting and started working with billboard poster materials. In using this very public means of communication, he found ways that asked the blatant question of how and what exactly the images are communicating. Baldessari would crop and collage pre-existing images with unrelated images to skew a supposed narrative, and he would then block out the faces and objects with brightly colored dots. This method of distortion has been used throughout his work ever since.

The introduction of text in his paintings was a pivotal moment in his career, as he began understanding the similarities in how both text and images communicate using codes. Although he slowly stopped incorporating text in his work in the early 1970s and relied primarily on the use of collage, the artist’s understanding of the coded nature of images continued to motivate his work. Ever since the early 1970s when he stopped using text in his work has he relied on the use of collage, but his work has continued to operate with the same understanding of the coded character of images.

He has also been a famously influential teacher, having taught at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California from 1970 to 1988, and at the University of California in Los Angeles from 1996 to 2007. Through Baldessari’s ideas and his relaxed and creative approach to teaching, he has made an important impact on several artists. Most notably the so-called Pictures Generation, whose mix of Pop and Conceptual art was prominent in the 1980s.

Baldessari's artwork has been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions and in over 1000 group exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. He has received many awards and honors, including the 2014 National Medal of Arts Award, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, awarded by La Biennale di Venezia and the City of Goslar Kaiserring in 2012. Baldessari has received honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland, San Diego State University, Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, and California College of the Arts. He currently works in Venice, California.
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