Photo Diary: John Baldessari’s ‘Pure Beauty’ at LACMA.


And whenever possible, add a unicorn. Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966-68 by John Baldessari. (Photos by C-M.)

While I was in L.A., I managed to pop into LACMA for a brief jaunt through the John Baldessari retrospective that just opened this past Sunday. I have to admit that his work had always struck me as a little clinically conceptual  — the ultimate in art-industry inside-baseball. (Full disclosure: Prior to this show, my exposure to him had been limited to group shows.) But this exhibition, which gathers more than 150 objects dating back to the early ’60s, has convinced me that he has a very wry sense of humor, even if it’s an art-nerdy one.

In one video, he says “I am making art” over and over — an absurdist art mantra. In his Ghetto Boundary Project, from 1969, he marked the boundaries of a San Diego, Calif. ghetto (as defined by the local planning commission) with stickers — making him an O.G. street artist. In the seriously stonerrific video, Six Colorful Inside Jobs, from 1977, he has a house painter paint a small cube six different colors. I was hypnotized.

There are unusual photographic collages and arrangements and a giant brain sculpture that incorporates video of the viewer. (Yep, it was a head-trip.) Moreover, the imagery is saturated with Southern California — images of film stills, palm trees, blue skies and wide streets lined with bungalows. I really dug it.

Pure Beauty is up through Sept. 12. If for some reason, you can’t make it. There’s always his digital app, which lets users create their own 17th century Dutch still-life. Plus: read Christopher Knight’s review in the L.A. Times here.


Planets (Chairs, Observer, White Paper), 1987.


Lizards to Pianist (with Gold Sphere), 1984.


Virtues and Vices (For Giotto), 1981. Like a giant set of teeth ready to gnash the viewer.


Looking East on 4th & C, Chula Vista, Calif., 1966-68.


Redolent of L.A.: an installation view.


A Movie: Directional Piece Where People Are Walking, 1972-73.


From left: Thaumatrope Series: Two Gangsters (One with Leather Suit) and Two Gangsters (One With Glasses and Pistol), both from 1975.


A little girl skips through the gallery. Pure beauty.


Installation view of Aligning Balls, 1972. I really dug the whimsical nature of this piece.


LACMA’s Annie Carone and I stand in front of Brain-Cloud, 2009. The piece tapes visitors walking through the gallery and plays the film back on a 30-second delay. It makes for a weird flashback of totally mundane behavior. It’s also ripe for some impromptu dance choreography.

6 comments

  1. Pingback: More reasons why I am in love with John Baldessari. | text • chris rusak
  2. Pingback: Vitro Nasu » Blog Archive » Recycling John Baldessari
  3. Pingback: SOCIETY OF CONTEMPORARY ART HISTORIANS | John Baldessari: Pure Beauty
  4. kathie heng

    I fear it is true what Mr Baldessari said in The New Yorker…he hasn’t a clue what art is…ah well, he seems like a very nice man.

  5. Alice Armstrong

    when my daughter was young we had a book that was entitled :Everyone Poops”. re “baldessari’s” artwork – which i have just been reading about in the new yorker – i feel he is expressing the same message: everyone poops, and many of us also are compelled (or some of us poor, smitten few) to make art. for better or worse, for stupider or more edifying, we do it because we must. some of us teach it, because it really is tough to say it is something saleable… and simply make it.
    i admire the baldessaris (and cornells, balthuses, and other lovely loners), and thank them for having the courage to be them selves. as oscar wilde said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

  6. Nitin Hadap

    I am fan of Him. As an artist he has allways inspire mi lot.His work Tips for artists who want to sale is great and timeless.