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LACMA Presents Most Extensive Retrospective of John Baldessari to Date
Arms & Legs (Specif. Elbows & Knees), Etc. (Part Two): Green Knee/Red Elbow, 2008. Three-dimensional archival prints laminated with Lexan and mounted on Sintra, and acrylic on wall. 59 1/2 x 67 2/8 x 9 in. Courtesy Galería Pepe Cobo, Madrid. © 2009. John Baldessari. Photo Courtesy Galería Pepe Cobo, Madrid.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents John Baldessari: Pure Beauty, the most extensive retrospective to date of Los Angeles-based artist John Baldessari (b. 1931), on view June 27 to September 12, 2010. Organized by LACMA in association with Tate Modern, the exhibition will bring together more than 150 works and examine the principal concerns of Baldessari, who is widely regarded as one of the most important artists working today. LACMA’s presentation will be the only West Coast showing and feature the greatest number of works of any venue on the show’s major international tour.

“Pure Beauty will be a revelation to many, even those who are familiar with Baldessari, as it features many of the artist’s lesser-known works,” says Leslie Jones, LACMA associate curator of prints and drawings. “The exhibition will explore Baldessari’s lifelong interest in language and mass media culture, which seems increasingly relevant—-even imperative-—in an era of information and image proliferation.”

Based in Los Angeles since 1970, Baldessari is one of the most influential artists of his generation. His text and image paintings from the mid-1960s are widely recognized as among the earliest examples of conceptual art, while his 1980s photo compositions derived from film stills rank as pivotal to the development of appropriation art and other practices that address the social and cultural impact of mass culture. His continuing interest in language, both written and visual, has been at the forefront of both his work and teaching, through which, for more than thirty years, he has nurtured and influenced succeeding generations of artists, including David Salle, Cindy Sherman, and Barbara Kruger among others. With humor and irony, Baldessari dissects the ideas underlying artistic practice and questions the historically accepted rules of how to make art. The combination of photography, painting, and references to film has become one of the key elements in his work. Beginning with his little-known paintings from the early 1960s, the exhibition features the landmark photo and text works from 1966-68, photocompositions derived from films stills of the 1980s, irregularly shaped and over-painted works of the 1990s, as well as video and artist books. The show concludes with his most recent work, which includes a special multimedia installation conceived for the retrospective.

In the 1960s, Baldessari notably painted statements derived from contemporary art theory and instructional manuals onto canvas. These early major works, such as Wrong (1966–68, LACMA) and Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell (1966–68), will be on view. In 1970 Baldessari cremated nearly all the paintings he had created between 1953 and 1966. Cremation Project was both a public renunciation of painting and the beginning of Baldessari’s more documentary, hands-off approach to art making, in which he used photography and video to record acts and events. His strategies embraced chance and accident, and included gameplaying, as in Choosing (A Game for Two Players): Carrots (1971), or seemingly pointless tasks, as in The Artist Hitting Various Objects with a Golf Club (1972–73). During the ‘70s, Baldessari also began to use cinematic tools of the script and storyboard as means to restructure conventional notions of narrative.

Beginning in the early 1980s, cinematic references become even more apparent with the artist’s use of found film stills that he cropped and enlarged to create photo-compositions. Abandoning the standard rectangular canvas or photographic format, Baldessari constructs irregularly shaped compositions from film stills, creating provocative juxtapositions.

According to the artist: “I think of the images that I use as units, like words might be units, and I construct similarly to a good poet, where I’m trying to get a certain kind of syntax, a certain explosion, a meaning when these units collage, building up an architecture of meaning, so to speak.”

Baldessari’s work of the past two decades has continued to explore the relationship between imagery and language, as in the Goya Series (1997), as well as the social and cultural impact of mass media imagery, through his ongoing use of altered film stills and other photographic imagery. Recently the artist has added dimension to his works, employing raised and recessed surfaces, as well as more color, which enhances the allusion to painting. Of particular note is Brain-Cloud (2009)—made specially for the exhibition—a multimedia installation involving photography, cast
sculpture, and video that occupies an entire gallery and concludes the show.

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty is curated by Leslie Jones, associate curator of prints and drawings, LACMA, and Jessica Morgan, curator of contemporary art, Tate Modern, and assisted by Kerryn Greenberg, assistant curator, Tate Modern. Prior to LACMA’s presentation, the exhibition was on view at Tate Modern (October 13, 2009–January 20, 2010) and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (February 11–April 25, 2010). Following its showing at LACMA, Pure Beauty will conclude its tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (October 20, 2010–January 9, 2011). The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue with essays by major writers, curators, art historians, and former students of Baldessari.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art | "John Baldessari: Pure Beauty" | Leslie Jones |

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