Ambitious Concept: New book takes a panoramic look at the work of conceptual artist John Baldessari
This month sees the publication of a highly anticipated book on the conceptual American artist John Baldessari. John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonne v. 1; 1956-1974 brings to light about 500 works, chronicling an important shift in Baldessari’s thinking during these formative years.
Creating an illustrated catalogue raisonne for an artist that famously destroyed a huge body of his work must not have been easy. Hoever, this week Yale published the first volume in what will be a complete catalogue raisonne of the works of the pioneering conceptual artist John Baldessari (b. 1931).
In 1970 Baldessari gained widespread notoriety for burning all of the paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966 as part of his new piece, The Cremation Project. The resulting ashes were baked into cookies and placed into an urn. Baldessari’s finished art installation consists of a bronze commemorative plaque with ‘birth’ and ‘death’ dates of his paintings, as well as the recipe for making the cookies.
The following year, Baldessari proposed his I will not make any more boring art project, which was realized by students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and involved them endlessly writing the phrase “I will not make any more boring art” on the art gallery walls.
Highly conceptual, Baldessari’s work and teaching have been greatly influential on a subsequent generation of artists. Both The Cremation Project and I will not make any more boring art are included in Yale’s lavishly illustrated catalogue raisonne, alongside about 500 other works, which chronicle an important shift in Baldessari’s thinking during these formative years.
Baldessari began his career as a painter in 1950s California, studying and teaching in San Diego, Berkley and Los Angeles. In the subsequent decades he expanded his practice in a new and groundbreaking direction by juxtaposing texts with found photography or appropriated images.
These texts questioned the nature of art and the art-viewing experience, suggesting new meanings for the images they accompanied. This interaction of words and images remained a critical aspect of Baldessari’s work, even as he branched into other media, such as site-specific installations, drawings, video, sculpture, prints and multiples.
The first of a projected four-volume set, John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonne v. 1; 1956-1974 is a must-have for any Baldessari completist, or for those fascinated by the evolution of contemporary art in America. As well as listing and displaying Baldessari’s extensive works, the book features an essay by Yve-Alain Bois (School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton) considering Baldessari’s ethos as a generator of his artistic practice. Also included are an interview with Christopher Knight and a detailed chronology of the artist’s life and work.
John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonne v. 1; 1956-1974 is available now from Yale University Press.
The above video, narrated by Tom Waits, was commissioned by LACMA for their first annual “Art Film Gala” honoring John Baldessari and Clint Eastwood.