John Baldessari, 1931–2020

Californian conceptual artist and pioneer of appropriated images

The American artist John Baldessari has died. A pioneer of West Coast conceptualism, Baldessari is regularly cited as one of the most important artists of the late twentieth century, not least through the influence he wielded in his teaching at CalArts where David Salle, Jack Goldstein, Mike Kelley, Ken Feingold, Tony Oursler, James Welling, Barbara Bloom, Matt Mullican and Troy Brauntuch were among his students.

First rising to prominence with his text paintings in the mid-1960s, Baldessari disowned his early work, cremating much of it, before moving on to work across photography, film, video, artists' books, billboards, and public sculpture in which questions of communication, be it through imagery, signs, language or games and actions, proved central. With California Map Project (1969), Baldessari installed sculptural forms of the letters of the word 'California' in the places those letters fell on a map of the state. In the video I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971) the artist repeatedly writes the title statement for 13 minutes. His practice in the 1980s was dominated by the Dots series, in which the artist placed adhesive coloured dots over the faces of people appearing in found photographs.  

Baldessari enjoyed over 200 solo exhibitions internationally, most recently retrospectives at the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2004); MUMOK, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna (2005); and Tate Modern, London (2009–10), which traveled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2010) and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2010–11), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2013), Garage Center for Art, Moscow (2013), Städel Museum, Frankfurt (2015) and Museo Jumex, Mexico City (2017). He won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2009 Venice Biennale, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, and memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

5 January 2020