John Baldessari

(b. 1931, National City, California, lives and works in Santa Monica, California)

In the early 1970s, Baldessari produced a series of videotapes in which he conducted ironic investigations into perception, meaning and interpretation. With a deadpan, often absurd humor, Baldessari used irony and incongruity to exploit the gap between what is heard, what is seen and what is understood.

His videos question the very limits of art, and form an irreverent critique of modernist practices. In 1971, he was commissioned by the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Canada to create an original, site-specific work. Unable to make the journey himself, he suggested that the students voluntarily write the phrase “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” on the gallery walls. Inspired by the work’s completion, Baldessari made another version on video. Like a first-class schoolboy, he dutifully writes, “I will not make any more boring art” over and over again in a notebook for the duration of the tape. The methodical, repetitive exercise deliberately contradicts the point of the lesson - to refrain from creating “boring” art.

The work Baldessari Sings Lewitt (1972) is a re-contextualization of Sol LeWitt’s interpretation of art, while his allegorical approach in The Way We Do Art Now and Other Sacred Tales (1973) reveals the space between perception and cognition. The latter work is a specific spoof on the expanding definition of art production. Baldessari compels the viewer to question not only the system under investigation — language, representation, narrative, art-making — but also the tools by which the interrogation is being conducted — photography, video, cinema — as mediators of truth.

Baldessari’s keen interest in language-based art has resulted in a continuous presence of text in his practice. His juxtapositions of text and images demonstrate the enormous associative power of language in the way that art is interacted with and understood. This combination was also an attempt to democratize the elitist nature he associated with the language of painting and an attempt to invite viewers to engage with a language they could relate to. Ironically Baldessari chose art manuals as his subject-matter to question traditions of art education. He followed the usual paths advised by manuals and came up with works that were quite different from what any of them were actually calling for. “I mean, you can follow all kind of rules, and they are probably all right, but it does not mean you are going to come up with anything that we can call art.” John Baldessari (2010)