100 Artists: John Baldessari

100 Artists is a yearlong celebration of the 100 artists who have appeared to date in Art21′s award-winning film series Art in the Twenty-First Century. Throughout 2013, we are dedicating two to three days to each artist on our social media platforms—Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and here on the Art21 Blog. Our current featured artist is John Baldessari.

John Baldessari. "Tetrad Series: WHAT IS A LITTLE AND WHAT IS A LOT," 1999. Digital printing, hand lettering, and acrylic paint on canvas, 94 x 94 in. © John Baldessari. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

John Baldessari. “Tetrad Series: WHAT IS A LITTLE AND WHAT IS A LOT,” 1999. Digital printing, hand lettering, and acrylic paint on canvas, 94 x 94 in. © John Baldessari. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

In a new previously unpublished interview with Art21, John Baldessari discusses language and communication, and how years of teaching, from preschool to college level, influenced his work in the studio. Here’s an excerpt:

Art21: How do you feel about people applying the term “conceptualism” to your work?

Baldessari: I think isms—impressionism and so on—are useful for writers when something seems to be brewing and they want to give it some sort of generic title. I think with conceptual or minimal art or the period when I began to emerge, I just got put in that basket—that I was a conceptual artist because I used words and photos. But as time goes on you begin to see the artist more distinctly and realize that the labels don’t really apply. And I think if you asked any artist that you might think of as conceptual now, if he or she would use that term, the answer would be, “No, I’m not a conceptual artist.” Once I said to Claes Oldenberg, “You’re a pop artist.” He said, “No, I’m not; I’m an artist.” And Roy Lichtenstein said the same. I have the same feeling. Conceptualism doesn’t really describe what I do. If somebody wants to use that term, it’s fine, but I’d prefer a word that’s broader and better. I’m really just an artist.

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On June 25, Baldessari will participate in a public program at New York’s Jewish Museum, sharing his memories of Jack Goldstein, a fellow artist who taught at CalArts in the early 1970s. On June 27, an exhibition of Baldessari’s early installation works will open at Marian Goodman Gallery.

Contributor
Nicole J. Caruth is Digital Content Editor at Art21. Her writing has appeared in a range of publications, includingARTnews, Big Red & Shiny, C Magazine, Gastronomica, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, Public Art Review, and the Phaidon Press books Vitamin Green and Vitamin D2. A regular contributor to this site since 2008, she joined the Art21 staff in 2013.

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