John Baldessari




John Baldessari is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images. Initially a painter, Baldessari began to incorporate texts and photography into his canvases in the mid-1960s. In 1970 he began working in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography.[1]He has created thousands of works that demonstrate—and, in many cases, combine—the narrative potential of images and the associative power of language within the boundaries of the work of art.

Baldessari has expressed that his interest in language comes from its similarities in structure to games, as both operate by an arbitrary and mandatory system of rules. In this spirit, many of his works are sequences showing attempts at accomplishing an arbitrary goal, such as Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (1973), in which the artist attempted to do just that, photographing the results, and eventually selecting the "best out of 36 tries", with 36 being the determining number just because that is the standard number of shots on a roll of 35mm film. The writer eldritch Priest ties John Baldessari's piece Throwing four balls in the air to get a square (best of 36 tries) as an early example of post-conceptual art.[22]

Much of Baldessari's work involves pointing, in which he tells the viewer not only what to look at but how to make selections and comparisons, often simply for the sake of doing so. Baldessari's Commissioned Paintings (1969) series took the idea of pointing literally, after he read a criticism of conceptual art that claimed it was nothing more than pointing. Beginning with photos of a hand pointing at various objects, Baldessari then hired amateur yet technically adept artists to paint the pictures. He then added a caption "A painting by [painter's name]" to each finished painting. In this instance, he has been likened to a choreographer, directing the action while having no direct hand in it, and these paintings are typically read as questioning the idea of artistic authorship. The amateur artists have been analogized to sign painters in this series, chosen for their pedestrian methods that were indifferent to what was being painted.[23] Baldessari critiques formalist assessments of art in a segment from his video How We Do Art Now (1973), entitled "Examining Three 8d Nails", in which he gives obsessive attention to minute details of the nails, such as how much rust they have, or descriptive qualities such as which appears "cooler, more distant, less important" than the others.

In Choosing (A Game for Two Players): Carrots (1972), Baldessari asks two participants to impose their own aesthetic criteria upon a grouping of carrots (or green beans in the case of Choosing: Green Beans, 1971). As participants select the carrot that appeals most to them, said carrot is advanced to the next round and compared against two new carrots, and so on, and so forth. Ultimately this “faux exercise of taste,” as David Salle calls it, communicates the message that if there isn’t even consistency in scrutinizing a vegetable, how could we possibly impose a universal definition of beauty? Long-coveted, it continues to elude us.

U.S.A. (burnt/unburnt) is a 2011 installation by Paris-based artist Claire Fontaine (previously) constructed from thousands of green matches that were inserted into a wall at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art as part art of “Evidence of Bricks” at the 2011 Time-Based Art Festival. Fontaine has made somewhat of a name for herself with her match installations and flaming geography, most recently completing a similar U.S.A. map at Queens Nails Gallery in San Francisco.


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