John Anthony Baldessari Biography

John Anthony Baldessari




John Anthony Baldessari, sculptor, painter, and printmaker, was born in National City, California on June 16, 1931 to salvage dealer Antonio Baldessari and his wife, Hedvig. He studied at San Diego State College, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953, and a Master of Arts in 1957. He was an instructor at the Fine Arts Gallery, San Diego, San Diego city schools, San Diego State College, La Jolla Museum of Art and Southwestern College; Assistant Professor of Art at University of California at San Diego and Professor at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles; and was Visiting Instructor at Hunter College, New York. He received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1973, 1974 and 1975. 

Baldessari was known for trying to dismantle traditional art world norms and allowing artists to find their own path. Among his students were Mike Kelley, Matt Mullican, Barbara Bloom, Meg Cranston, Tony Oursler, Liz Craft, and David Salle, who once said his professor was "immensely understanding of human predicament and what's involved in being an artist," (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 5, 2020). He rejected many labels as he began his career, eschewing much of the Abstract Expressionism dominating the art world at the time and sticking with Conceptualism. After applying unsuccessfully to the Princeton Theological Seminary, he set up shop as an artist in his hometown of National City, California and began teaching.

In 1970 Baldessari seeked to solve a crisis of stasis and ceremonially cremated all of his works from 1953 to 1966 at a San Diego funeral home -- by some accounts baking the ashes into cookies, by others setting them in an urn for a later project.  Thus began a new period of work, considered his most successful and pioneering, in which he began to explore the relationship between fine art and mass media. He borrowed inspiration from artists like Edward Ruscha who combined media such as photography and the printed word, funneled through paint and ink and sculpture.

A prolific exhibitor, Baldessari's showed in over 377 solo and 1,500 group exhibitions, including at the Venice Biennial in Italy, the Carnegie International (PA), the Whitney Biennial (NY), and Documenta in Kassel, Germany, among others. Retrospectives include the Museum of Contemporary Art (LA), the Kunsthaus Graz  and the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Austris, among others. His work is held in major museums throughout the U.S. and abroad.