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About the Photographer
American, 1931 - 2020
John Baldessari is a conceptual artist working in photography, film, video, artists' books, billboards, and public works. Starting as a painter early in his career, Baldessari cremated all of the work he produced between 1953 and 1966 in a ceremony in 1970 to mark his transition from abstract painting to text-based art. Subsequently, he focused on photographic work, incorporating found and appropriated imagery while continuing to work with text and blending strategies adopted from Pop Art, Surrealism, Dadaism, and Conceptual art. Baldessari is interested in the interaction of imagery and language to create meaning, often suggesting and obscuring meaning in his work at the same time. He explains: “Words and imagery are both magical conveyors of meaning. Sometimes I think a word can deal with an emotion better, and sometimes I believe an image can say it better. I’m ambivalent about prioritizing an image over a word. I build meaning in my art like a writer builds meaning from putting the right two words together. When you get it just right, it ignites meaning.”
The artists' book, Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts) (1973), in the collection of the MoCP, represents Baldessari’s interest in language and games as structures following both mandatory and arbitrary rules. In Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts), Baldessari attempts to fulfill a simple yet arbitrary goal, following rules in a similar manner to a game as structured by the title of his book. There are thirty-six documented attempts in the book--the typical number of exposures on a roll of 35mm film. The resultant images are documentation of Baldessari’s game, but they also border on abstract imagery and bear a resemblance to his later works involving painting or placing brightly colored circles over faces in appropriated photographic imagery to obscure the subjects’ identity.
John Baldessari completed a BA (1953) and an MA (1957) at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University), CA, and pursued post-graduate work at Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA; Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA; and the University of California at Berkeley. He has been awarded honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, Los Angeles, CA (1990); San Diego State University, CA (2003); the California State University, San Diego, CA (2003); and the National University of Ireland, Burren College of Art, Ballyvaughan, Ireland (2006). Baldessari has exhibited extensively for over five decades, participating in over 200 solo exhibitions and 1,000 group exhibitions in the United States and Europe. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1986); SPECTRUM International Prize for Photography, Stiftung Niedersachsen, Hannover, Germany (1999); Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement, the College Art Association (1999); Lifetime Achievement Award, Americans for the Arts (2005); and a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 53rd International Venice Biennale (2009). He has been a Professor of Art at the University of California, San Diego (1967-1970); the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (1970-1988); and the University of California, Los Angeles (1996-2007). Baldessari lives and works in Santa Monica, CA.