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John Baldessari at Spruth Magers 2016
"MAYBE THAT IS THE SIMPLEST WAY", 2015Courtesy of John Baldessari, Marian Goodman Gallery and Sprüth Magers

John Baldessari and the art of not making sense

The LA-native and art legend is back with a series of signature-style new works, pairing found imagery with mismatched text

It’s been almost forty years since John Baldessari burned all his paintings and turned the ashes into freshly baked cookies for his “Cremation Project” in 1970. While it might have been bold (back then, slightly mad), it wasn’t for nothing – marking his transition from painter to a conceptual artist. For the ensuing installation, the LA-native placed the cookies in an urn and paid homage to the lost works by having their names immortalised as bronze plaques, featuring their birth and death dates, and kindly including the recipe for the cookies. A year later, he had a group of students create the work “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art”, a lithograph that repeated those words in black and white, scrawled over a canvas. Since, he’s gone on to work in print, performance and film, alongside teaching, and he’s now rightfully known as one of the most formidable artists to come out of the City of Angels.

At 84-years-old, he’s exhibited over 200 times and is currently gearing up for his latest eponymous show in his hometown. In signature style, Baldessari re-appropriates a series of “banal" found imagery, like a woman resting on a sun chair with her back to the camera. Each image is paired with random text like “BEN’S JACKET DRAPES PERFECTLY OVER HIS SHOULDERS” and bright pops of colour, telling Dazed last year, “Well, if you know my work, it’s always the weirdest images I can find.”

Floating ideas of authorship in his work is nothing new, he’s long been playing with found images and texts, turning them into brightly coloured, chaotic and acclaimed works of art, and by doing so, creating a connection between ill-matched images and the words that hang below them – inviting the viewer to make what they will of them, all the while revelling in their confusion.

John Baldessari will be on show at Sprüth Magers Los Angeles from 24 February – 2 April 2016, Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery