John Baldessari, the Godfather of Conceptual Art, Dead at 88

Photo: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for LACMA

Artist John Baldessari, whose irreverent, multimedia work and lengthy career as a teacher at CalArts and UCLA inspired an entire generation of artists, died Thursday at the age of 88 at his home in Venice, California. According to the New York Times, his studio manager and foundation chairwoman, Virginia Gatelein, confirmed his death on Sunday. At times a sculptor, a painter, photographer and videographer, Baldessari’s surrealist mixed-media body of work helped shape the modern Los Angeles art scene and, eventually, the world’s. In 1970, he famously burned all of the art he made between 1953 and 1966 at a San Diego crematorium, subsequently baking it into cookies and enclosing them in an urn. In 1971, Baldessari declared, “I will not make any more boring art,” filming himself writing the phrase over and over until he ran out of tape. As the resulting decades suggest, he took the announcement to heart.

Though his career spanned decades and includes thousands of pieces, incorporating Pop Art, found and appropriated images, and conceptual art, some of Baldessari’s signature works include photographs with black or colored dots (originally price stickers) obscuring the subject’s face, sculptures of massive disembodied ears, noses and hands, and — perhaps most iconically — photo collages blending film stills and painting.

Among his many accolades, the artist received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988, a lifetime achievement award from the Americans for the Arts in 2005, and a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement from the 53rd International Art Exhibition Venice Biennale in 2009. In 2014, Baldessari received the National Medal of Arts from then-President Obama. He is survived by his daughter, Anna Marie, and his son, Tony.

John Baldessari, the Godfather of Conceptual Art, Dead at 88