US conceptual artist John Baldessari dies | Arts | DW | 06.01.2020
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US conceptual artist John Baldessari dies

The influential contemporary artist was one of the leading figures of the Conceptualism movement. John Baldessari, who humorously defied established definitions of art, has died at the age of 88.

I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art is the title of one of John Baldessari's most famous works — and the sentence embodies well the approach of the influential artist.

For one, Baldessari, who died on January 2, 2020, opposed the stiffness of the art world, to a point that his fellow Conceptualist artists, mostly based in New York, felt that the Californian wasn't taking their work seriously enough: "The Conceptualists thought I was just doing joke art, and I thought theirs was boring," Baldessari once told The New Yorker.

In a renowned piece from 1971, Baldessari defied one of the most established notions of the modern art world: authorship. Although he was behind the idea, his hand did not participate in the actual creation: He had art college students in Nova Scotia scrawl "I will not make any more boring art," like a punishment, on the walls of a gallery in which he didn't set foot. 

One of the prints that emerged from this project is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Irony, stickers and cookies

Born on June 17, 1931, Baldessari started as a painter in the 1950s.

By 1966, he was already combining text and photographs on canvas. He increasingly removed his own handwriting from the written text displayed in his works, having sign painters letter the words in a simple black font to avoid distracting the viewer. Even the title of that first series of paintings made an ironic statement: "A two-dimensional surface without any articulation is a dead experience" (1967).

Disowning his early works

For a piece titled The Cremation Project in 1970, the artist burned all the paintings he had created from 1953 to 1966 and baked the ashes into cookies that were placed in a commemorative urn, adorned with the recipe for the cookies. 

One of his prevailing motifs from the mid-1980s onwards was to stick dots onto painted or photographed portraits. By using the round stickers that were commonly used in galleries to indicate that an artwork had been sold, Baldessari shared his satirical vision of the art market here too.

Sculpture of an ear with horn: A piece of art entitled 'Beethoven's Trumpet (with ear), opus 13' by US artist John Baldessari n (picture-alliance/dpa/I. Langsdon)

Baldessari's 'Beethoven's Trumpet (with ear), opus 13'

Baldessari was also behind unusual performances and created sculptures, including Beethoven's Trumpet (with Ear) Opus # 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135. The series pays tribute to the composer, who was deaf by the time he wrote those works. In the interactive sculptures, Beethoven's music was triggered when a viewer spoke into the horn.

Over the course of his six-decade career, Baldessari was featured in over 200 solo exhibitions and 1,000 group shows. 

The most prestigious accolades for Baldessari's work include the National Medal of Arts awarded by then-President Obama in 2014, the Venice Biennale's Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in 2009 and Germany's Goslar Kaiserring in 2012.

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