One of America’s most influential contemporary artists John Baldessari has died aged 88.
Baldessari’s conceptual art was widely celebrated as both thought-provoking and, often, irreverently humorous. He was renowned for combining photography with various other media, with some of his most iconic works featuring colorful dots pasted over subjects’ faces in portraits and found photographs.
Born in California in 1931, Baldessari began his art career as painter. But by the mid-1960s he had begun experimenting with a wide variety of media spanning film, collage and installations. He famously disowned his earlier work, and in 1970 burned the paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966 at a crematorium, before baking cookies with the ashes.
A gallery employee poses next to Baldessari’s sculpture “Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear)” at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Credit: CARL COURT/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Renowned for his towering height and droll wit, Baldessari regularly experimented with the interaction of text and images in his mixed-media works. It was a combination he often used to explore the power and influence of language.
In 2014, he was presented the National Medal of Arts by then US president Barack Obama. The artist also won the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2009, which featured his work on multiple occasions throughout his career.
Then US President Barack Obama presents the 2014 National Medal of Arts to John Baldessari at the White House. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Baldessari was influenced by the likes of Marcel Duchamp and, in turn, inspired a variety of prominent contemporary artists himself, including Barbara Kruger and and David Salle. He took an active role in shaping younger artists through teaching posts at the California Institute of the Arts and UCLA.
“Collectors who, a few decades ago, might have considered ‘conceptual’ art something they probably didn’t have time for are now lining up for a chance to own a Baldessari,” Salle wrote. “Despite — or perhaps because of — John’s contrarian nature, he is firmly in the canon.”
How do you fall in love with art?
Baldessari was living and working in Venice, California, at the time of his death.