The wrong picture
After a first foray into the world of art through abstract painting in the fifties, a visit to an exhibition by the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp encouraged John Baldessari to enter more experimental grounds. From video to installation or sculpture, few disciplines have since been out of reach. One of the means with which more and better transgressed was with photography. Between 1966 and 1968, the artist created the photograph Wrong (wrong or incorrect), in which he already works with what is probably his most recognized way of questioning the pre-established truths: that of the intersection between the image (photographic or pictorial, which for him was the same) and the text. In this piece, a self-portrait of himself in front of a palm tree, Baldessari reflects on the artistic quality of photography beyond formal beauty or compositional exquisiteness, while generating issues in the viewer's head by mixing a very concrete visual representation. With that word, wrong, full of ambiguous senses: Is the artist, the image, its protagonist wrong ...? What is right and what is not when it comes to expressing one's own expressive subjectivity?
The end is a new beginning
It was a hot summer afternoon. The calendar marked 1970 and the map locator was located in San Diego, California. With the help of friends and art students, Baldessari collected all the paintings he had produced between 1953 and 1966 and still preserved, around a hundred. Shortly before he had destroyed them by jumping on them, tearing them apart. That Friday he provided his final rest at a funeral home where, as if it were a corpse, he burned them to ashes. Documented in images, that radical and dramatic gesture - motivated on the one hand by prosaic logistical questions, since Baldessari had just found work as an art teacher, one of the main tasks of his life, and had to move to Los Angeles from his National City native; and on the other because of his disaffection towards the pictorial tendencies of the sixties - he marked the beginning of the legend of Baldessari as the godfather of conceptual art. He called it Cremation Project and sentenced that it was "the best work he had done."
Art will never be boring again
After his start of creative destruction, Baldessari dove into his text-visual expeditions with pieces like I will not make any more boring art (I will not create more boring art, 1971), a repetition of the same phrase as a school punishment. This composition brings together many of the characteristics that defined its particular approach: the use of language as a visual element; the questioning of the nature and function of the images; the reflection on the usefulness of words as an internal and external explanatory element to the work of art and, above all, the use of irony and sense of humor as transmitters of meanings. The fact that it was some students from Canada who really wrote the words (first as an “exhibition”, on the walls of a room and then, as a result of a workshop, on an impression preserved in the MoMA), also raises questions about the notion of authorship and the value of manual labor.
"The uncle who put dots on people's faces"
From the eighties, the artist endorsed the concept postmodern of appropriationism. This time without texts involved, Baldessari reused in collages Photographic images of characters that covered the head with colored stickers. In this way, he stripped them of his personality while transforming them into a kind of consumable object with sight. Ideas such as recycling, reuse, juxtaposition and pastiche are erected as well as props of his career. In the funny video Brief history of John Baldessari, narrated by Tom Waits, the artist himself says he suspects that in a hundred years he will be remembered, precisely, "as the uncle who put points on people's faces."
An illogical sum?
In recent years, Baldessari carried out works focused on the figures of great masters of art history. In 2013 he set up his first exhibition in Russia, 1 + 1 = 1, a title that refers to one of his obsessions: that the sum of images and text does not result in an addition to use. The works of the exhibition matched - among other issues - images of works by great masters from the 18th to the 20th centuries, such as Gustave Courbet or David Hockney, with the title of a song or a black film or the name of another artist. The result generated a short circuit between the meaning of the images and that of the words, forcing the viewer to rethink their beliefs about the truthfulness and arbitrariness of the things we say about those we perceive.