Discover 3 Prints That Capture the Irreverent Spirit of the Late, Great Conceptual Artist John Baldessari

Jannah Greenblatt, Artnet's Senior Specialist of Prints & Multiples, talks about three upcoming lots by the late Conceptual artist John Baldesarri.

Artist John Baldessari in his studio. Photo by Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.
Artist John Baldessari in his studio. Photo by Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

When John Baldessari passed away earlier this month at the age of 88, he had long been established as a titan of American Conceptualism. His reputation was one built on a humorous irreverence and skepticism — both towards art and his own success — and he was fondly remembered by students, artists, and friends as a perpetually witty, clever, and kind person, who used untraditional approaches to reveal unspoken truths.

Three prints by Baldessari appear in Artnet Auction’s Contemporary Editions sale (through January 28). Below Jannah Greenblatt, Artnet’s Senior Specialist of Prints & Multiples, talks about how the artist’s prints embodied his artistic ambitions.

John Baldessari, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971)
Estimate $20,000–30,000
View Lot

John Baldessari, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971). Estimate $20,000–30,000.

John Baldessari, I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971). Estimate $20,000–30,000.

“I will not make any more boring art”— a pledge, a mantra, an incantation, a vow, this statement marked a turning point in the career of John Baldessari in a tone that was cool, smart, acerbic, and honest. The phrase was originally conceived as an installation idea. The related print followed, and, soon-after, the video of the artist writing the words again and again by hand. “The idea was a Christian one of atonement, of punishment of oneself for one’s sins and of public confession… The genesis was my dissatisfaction with the fallout of Minimalism,” the artist explained. 

The lithograph of I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art was a genesis in other ways. It was the first print created by John Baldessari, who would go on to create many many prints throughout his lifetime, spanning lithographs, multiples, screen-prints and illustrated books. Baldessari made this print in 1971 for a fundraiser for the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, with profits going to cover costs of an on-site installation the college had asked him to create. Since the school lacked the funds to fly Baldessari to Canada for the installation, the artist suggested that the installation be created by students who would write the phrase “I will not make any more boring art” on the gallery walls, as many times as they wanted, starting at the top and moving down the wall, throughout the duration of the exhibition as space allowed.  Following the instructions exactly, the students unexpectedly filled the wall entirely. The realization of this project, cemented the artist’s lifelong devotion to Conceptualism and collaborative art — which incorporated the appropriation of shared cultural images, text and language.  

John Baldessari, Two Opponents (Blue and Yellow) (2004) 
Estimate $3,000–5,000
View Lot

John Baldessari, Two Opponents (Blue and Yellow) (2004). Estimate $3,000–5,000.

John Baldessari, Two Opponents (Blue and Yellow) (2004). Estimate $3,000–5,000.

The dot superimposed on photographic imagery, with primary colors used to highlight or obfuscate aspects of the image, became Baldessari’s signature, but always with unexpected and original affect, as shown in the print Two Opponents (Blue and Yellow) from 2004. In 2012, the artist said that he’d likely be remembered as the guy who put dots on people’s faces. 

John Baldessari, Best Men (from “Emoji” series) (2017)
Estimate $5,000–7,000
View Lot

John Baldessari, Best Men (from Emoji series) (2017). Estimate $5,000–7,000.

John Baldessari, Best Men (from “Emoji” series) (2017). Estimate $5,000–7,000.

The artist continued his exploration of the language of words and images well into his late 80s, with the “Emoji” series produced with longtime collaborators Gemini G.E.L. in 2017. In these works, Baldessari appropriates the icon expressions of the millennial digital age, isolating a single icon with seemingly unrelated text,  as seen here in Best Men where the emoji of plump peach is paired with the incongruous phrase “BEST MEN” text written in all caps below.

Artnet’s Contemporary Editions auction is live now through January 28, 2020.


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