RIP: John Baldessari, Landmark Voice in Conceptual Art, Has Passed Away at Age 88

January 5th, 2020

John Baldessari
John Baldessari

Artist John Baldessari, who pioneered a uniquely humorous and challenging approach to painting and conceptual art making over the past half century, has passed away at the age of 88.  A leading voice in the development of conceptualism, his interest in ideas and their functioning over the image itself would make him an influential and dynamic voice for post-war art.John Baldessari, Pollock/Benton: Frequent (2016), via Art Observed
John Baldessari, Pollock/Benton: Frequent (2016), via Art Observed

Born in 1931 in National City, Calif., the artist studied in Southern California, majoring in arts education at San Diego State College while beginning to show works that incorporating inflections of the surreal and the pointedly critical, establishing a mode of production and a mode of looking in due course.  But his work would find a new ground, and a rebirth of sorts, in 1970, when Baldessari burned all of his previous art works.  His work would take an engaging and peculiar course from then on out, finding its voice among the burgeoning “Conceptual Art” movement both in Los Angeles and abroad.

John Baldessari, Arms and Legs (Specif. Elbows and Kness) (2008), via Marian Goodman
John Baldessari, Arms and Legs (Specif. Elbows and Knees) (2008), via Marian Goodman


Baldessari would continue to pioneer new styles and modes that constantly interrogated the art object and the viewer.  Working with photographs, text, and readymade or appropriated materials, his work was formative in new explorations of the art object and how it’s viewed. “The assumption in a lot of my work is that people want to make something out of nothing,” he once said. “Remember the old days when you had snow on TV, and people would try to see something in it? I miss that.”

Baldessari is survived by his daughter, Anna Marie; his son, Tony, and his sister, Betty Sokol.


Read More:
John Baldessari, Who Gave Conceptual Art a Dose of Humor, Is Dead at 88 [NYT]
John Baldessari, Fearless Conceptual Artist Who Put Big Ideas Before Pretty Pictures, Is Dead at 88 [Art News]