Letter from the Editor –Lindsay Preston Zappas
The Briar and the Tar Nayland Blake at the ICA LA
and Matthew Marks Gallery
–Travis Diehl
Putting Aesthetics
to Hope
Tracking Photography’s Role
in Feminist Communities
– Catherine Wagley
Instagram STARtists
and Bad Painting
– Anna Elise Johnson
Interview with Jamillah James – Lindsay Preston Zappas
Working Artists Featuring Catherine Fairbanks,
Paul Pescador, and Rachel Mason
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
Reviews Children of the Sun
at LADIES’ ROOM
– Jessica Simmons

Derek Paul Jack Boyle
at SMART OBJECTS
–Aaron Horst

Karl Holmqvist
at House of Gaga, Los Angeles
–Lee Purvey

Katja Seib
at Château Shatto
–Ashton Cooper

Jeanette Mundt
at Overduin & Co.
–Matt Stromberg
Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Green Chip David Hammons
at Hauser & Wirth
–Travis Diehl
Whatever Gets You
Through the Night
The Artists of Dilexi
and Wartime Trauma
–Jonathan Griffin
Generous Collectors How the Grinsteins
Supported Artists
–Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Donna Huanca
–Lindsy Preston Zappas
Working Artist Featuring Ragen Moss, Justen LeRoy,
and Bari Ziperstein
Text: Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
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Reviews Sarah Lucas
at the Hammer Museum
–Yxta Maya Murray

George Herms and Terence Koh
at Morán Morán
–Matt Stromberg

Hannah Hur
at Bel Ami
–Michael Wright

Sebastian Hernandez
at NAVEL
–Julie Weitz

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Alex Israel
at Greene Naftali
–Rosa Tyhurst

Trulee Hall's Untamed Magic Catherine Wagley
Ingredients for a Braver Art Scene Ceci Moss
I Shit on Your Graves Travis Diehl
Interview with Ruby Neri Jonathan Griffin
Carolee Schneemann and the Art of Saying Yes! Chelsea Beck
Exquisite L.A. Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
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Reviews Ry Rocklen
at Honor Fraser
–Cat Kron

Rob Thom
at M+B
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age
of Black Power, 1963-1983
at The Broad
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Anna Sew Hoy & Diedrick Brackens
at Various Small Fires
–Aaron Horst

Julia Haft-Candell & Suzan Frecon
at Parrasch Heijnen
–Jessica Simmons

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Shahryar Nashat
at Swiss Institute
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Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor
Men on Women
Geena Brown
Eyes Without a Voice
Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto
Christina Catherine Martinez
Seven Minute Dream Machine
Jordan Wolfson's (Female figure)
Travis Diehl
Laughing in Private
Vanessa Place's Rape Jokes
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
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Laura Brown
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Patrick Martinez,
Ramiro Gomez, and John Valadez
Claressinka Anderson
Joe Pugliese
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Reviews Outliers and American
Vanguard Art at LACMA
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Sperm Cult
at LAXART
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Kahlil Joseph
at MOCA PDC
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Ingrid Luche
at Ghebaly Gallery
–Lindsay Preston Zappas

Matt Paweski
at Park View / Paul Soto
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Trenton Doyle Hancock
at Shulamit Nazarian
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(L.A. in N.Y.)
Catherine Opie
at Lehmann Maupin
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Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Celeste Dupuy-Spencer and Figurative Religion Catherine Wagley
Lynch in Traffic Travis Diehl
The Remixed Symbology of Nina Chanel Abney Lindsay Preston Zappas
Interview with Kulapat Yantrasast Christie Hayden
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Sandra de la Loza, Gloria Galvez, and Steve Wong
Claressinka Anderson
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Reviews Raúl de Nieves
at Freedman Fitzpatrick
-Aaron Horst

Gertrud Parker
at Parker Gallery
-Ashton Cooper

Robert Yarber
at Nicodim Gallery
-Jonathan Griffin

Nikita Gale
at Commonwealth & Council
-Simone Krug

Lari Pittman
at Regen Projects
-Matt Stromberg

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Eckhaus Latta
at the Whitney Museum
of American Art
-Angella d'Avignon
Letter From the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Letter to the Editor Julie Weitz with Angella d'Avignon
Don't Make
Everything Boring
Catherine Wagley
The Collaborative Art
World of Norm Laich
Matt Stromberg
Oddly Satisfying Art Travis Diehl
Made in L.A. 2018 Reviews Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Jennifer Remenchik
Aaron Horst
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring: Anna Sew Hoy, Guadalupe Rosales, and Shizu Saldamando
Claressinka Anderson
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Reviews It's Snowing in LA
at AA|LA
–Matthew Lax

Fiona Conner
at the MAK Center
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Show 2
at The Gallery @ Michael's
–Simone Krug

Deborah Roberts
at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles
–Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Mimi Lauter
at Blum & Poe
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(L.A. in N.Y.)
Math Bass
at Mary Boone
–Ashton Cooper

(L.A. in N.Y.)
Condo New York
–Laura Brown
Poetic Energies and
Radical Celebrations:
Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Simone Krug
Interior States of the Art Travis Diehl
Perennial Bloom:
Florals in Feminism
and Across L.A.
Angella d'Avignon
The Mess We're In Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Christina Quarles
Ashton Cooper
Object Project
Featuring Suné Woods, Michelle Dizon,
and Yong Soon Min
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos: Jeff McLane
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Reviews Meleko Mokgosi
at The Fowler Museum at UCLA
-Jessica Simmons

Chris Kraus
at Chateau Shatto
- Aaron Horst

Ben Sanders
at Ochi Projects
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iris yirei hsu
at the Women's Center
for Creative Work
- Hana Cohn

Harald Szeemann
at the Getty Research Institute
- Olivian Cha

Ali Prosch
at Bed and Breakfast
- Jennifer Remenchik

Reena Spaulings
at Matthew Marks
- Thomas Duncan
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Museum as Selfie Station Matt Stromberg
Accessible as Humanly as Possible Catherine Wagley
On Laura Owens on Laura Owens Travis Diehl
Interview with Puppies Puppies Jonathan Griffin
Object Project Lindsay Preston Zappas, Jeff McLane
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Reviews Dulce Dientes
at Rainbow in Spanish
- Aaron Horst

Adrián Villas Rojas
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
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Nevine Mahmoud
at M+B
- Angella D'Avignon

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960- 1985
at the Hammer Museum
- Thomas Duncan

Hannah Greely and William T. Wiley
at Parker Gallery
- Keith J. Varadi

David Hockney
at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.A. in N.Y.)
- Ashton Cooper

Edgar Arceneaux
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (L.A. in S.F.)
- Hana Cohn
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Barely Living with Art:
The Labor of Domestic
Spaces in Los Angeles
Eli Diner
She Wanted Adventure:
Dwan, Butler, Mizuno, Copley
Catherine Wagley
The Languages of
All-Women Exhibitions
Lindsay Preston Zappas
L.A. Povera Travis Diehl
On Eclipses:
When Language
and Photography Fail
Jessica Simmons
Interview with
Hamza Walker
Julie Wietz
Reviews Cheyenne Julien
at Smart Objects

Paul Mpagi Sepuya
at team bungalow

Ravi Jackson
at Richard Telles

Tactility of Line
at Elevator Mondays

Trigger: Gender as a Tool as a Weapon
at the New Museum
(L.A. in N.Y.)
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Object Project
Featuring: Rosha Yaghmai,
Dianna Molzan, and Patrick Jackson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McLane
Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA
Reviews
Regen Projects
Ibid Gallery
One National Gay & Lesbian Archives and MOCA PDC
The Mistake Room
Luis De Jesus Gallery
the University Art Gallery at CSULB
the Autry Museum
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
Reconstituting Group Material
Travis Diehl
The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Object Project
Featuring: Rebecca Morris,
Linda Stark, Alex Olson
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Photos by Jeff McClane
Reviews Mark Bradford
at the Venice Biennale

Broken Language
at Shulamit Nazarian

Artists of Color
at the Underground Museum

Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
at Del Vaz Projects

Home
at LACMA

Analia Saban at
Sprueth Magers
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
@richardhawkins01 Thomas Duncan
Support Structures:
Alice Könitz and LAMOA
Catherine Wagley
Interview with
Penny Slinger
Eliza Swann
Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Letter to the Editor
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Reviews Alessandro Pessoli
at Marc Foxx

Jennie Jieun Lee
at The Pit

Trisha Baga
at 356 Mission

Jimmie Durham
at The Hammer

Parallel City
at Ms. Barbers

Jason Rhodes
at Hauser & Wirth
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Generous
Structures
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
Evaluating the
"Human Condition"
Jessica Simmons
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Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Creature
at The Broad

Sam Pulitzer & Peter Wachtler
at House of Gaga // Reena Spaulings Fine Art

Karl Haendel
at Susanne Vielmetter

Wolfgang Tillmans
at Regen Projects

Ma
at Chateau Shatto

The Rat Bastard Protective Association
at the Landing
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Kenneth Tam
's Basement
Travis Diehl
The Female
Cool School
Catherine Wagley
The Rise
of the L.A.
Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
at LACMA
Jessica Simmons
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Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews
Made in L.A. 2016
at The Hammer Museum

Doug Aitken
at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

Mertzbau
at Tif Sigfrids

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Mark A. Rodruigez
at Park View

The Weeping Line
Organized by Alter Space
at Four Six One Nine
(S.F. in L.A.)
Letter form the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Non-Fiction
at The Underground Museum
Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
at REDCAT
Travis Diehl
Ed Boreal Speaks Benjamin Lord
Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
at the MAK Center
Jonathan Griffin
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Exquisite L.A.
Featuring:
Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
Intro by Claressinka Anderson
Portraits by Joe Pugliese
Reviews Revolution in the Making
at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel

Carl Cheng
at Cherry and Martin

Joan Snyder
at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery

Elanor Antin
at Diane Rosenstein

Performing the Grid
at Ben Maltz Gallery
at Otis College of Art & Design

Laura Owens
at The Wattis Institute
(L.A. in S.F.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Moon, laub, and Love Catherine Wagley
Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Reconsidering
Marva Marrow's
Inside the L.A. Artist
Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater:
Diana Thater
at LACMA
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
Marva Marrow Photographs
Lita Albuquerque
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Interiors and Interiority:
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Char Jansen
Reviews L.A. Art Fairs

Material Art Fair, Mexico City

Rain Room
at LACMA

Evan Holloway
at David Kordansky Gallery

Histories of a Vanishing Present: A Prologue
at The Mistake Room

Carter Mull
at fused space
(L.A. in S.F.)

Awol Erizku
at FLAG Art Foundation
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
and the Word:
F.B.I.
at Arturo Bandini
Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota:
Faith Wilding
at The Armory Center
for the Arts
and LOUDHAILER
Benjamin Lord
A Conversation
with Amalia Ulman
Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
Buy the Issue In Our Online Shop
Share Your Piece
of the Puzzle
Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
Erik Frydenborg
Reviews Honeydew
at Michael Thibault

Fred Tomaselli
at California State University, Fullerton

Trisha Donnelly
at Matthew Marks Gallery

Bradford Kessler
at ASHES/ASHES
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
Molly Larkey
Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings:
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
Layers of Leimert Park Catherine Wagley
Junkspace Junk Food:
Parker Ito
at Kaldi, Smart Objects,
White Cube, and
Château Shatto
Evan Moffitt
Melrose Hustle Keith Vaughn
Reviews Mary Ried Kelley
at The Hammer Museum

Tongues Untied
at MOCA Pacific Design Center

No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)
Snap Reviews Martin Basher at Anat Ebgi
Body Parts I-V at ASHES ASHES
Eve Fowler at Mier Gallery
Matt Siegle at Park View
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Max Maslansky Photographs
Monica Majoli
at the Tom of Finland Foundation
White Lee, Black Lee:
William Pope.L’s "Reenactor"
Travis Diehl
Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
Letter from the Editor Lindsay Preston Zappas
MEAT PHYSICS/
Metaphysical L.A.
Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
L.A. in the 1990s
Anthony Pearson
A Dialogue in Two
Synchronous Atmospheres
Erik Morse
with Alexandra Grant
SOGTFO
at François Ghebaly
Jonathan Griffin
#studio #visit
with #devin #kenny
@barnettcohen
Mateo Tannatt
Photographs
Jibade-Khalil Huffman
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Slow View:
Discussion on One Work
Anna Breininger
with Julian Rogers
Reviews Pierre Huyghe
at LACMA

Mernet Larsen
at Various Small Fires

John Currin
at Gagosian, Beverly Hills

Pat O'Niell
at Cherry and Martin

A New Rhythm
at Park View

Unwatchable Scenes and
Other Unreliable Images...
at Public Fiction

Charles Gaines
at The Hammer Museum

Henry Taylor
at Blum & Poe/ Untitled
(L.A. in N.Y.)
Distribution
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A+D Museum
Artbook @ Hauser & Wirth
Baert Gallery
Central Park
Cirrus Gallery
Château Shatto
Elevator Mondays
The Geffen Contemporary 
at MOCA
OOF Books @ Warehouse
François Ghebaly
ICA LA
JOAN
LACA
LADIES' ROOM
The Mistake Room
MOCA Grand Avenue
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Murmurs
Nicodim Gallery
Night Gallery
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The Box
Vielmetter Los Angeles
Wilding Cran Gallery
Boyle Heights/ Chinatown
A.G. Geiger
Bel Ami
Charlie James
Good Luck Gallery
Human Resources
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Eastside
ESXLA
Folding Days @ Eightfold Coffee
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Women's Center for Creative Work
Westside
18th Street Arts
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Mid-City
1301 PE
As-Is Gallery
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Chimento Contemporary
Commonwealth & Council
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Hammer Museum
Hunter Shaw Fine Art
Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Lowell Ryan Projects
ltd Los Angeles
Ochi Projects
Park View / Paul Soto
Praz-Delavallade
the Landing
Shoot the Lobster
SPRÜTH MAGERS
The Underground Museum
USC Fisher Museum of Art
Visitor Welcome Center
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The LODGE
Various Small Fires
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@gasdotgallery
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Et al. (San Francisco, CA)
Ever Gold [Projects] (San Francisco, CA)
fused space (San Francisco, CA)
Interface Gallery (Oakland, CA)
Jessica Silverman (San Francisco, CA)
Left Field (Los Osos, CA)
McNally Jackson (New York, NY)
Minnesota Street Projects (San Francisco, CA)
San Diego Art Institute (San Diego, CA)
Santa Barbara City College (Santa Barbara, CA)
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (Skowhegan, ME)
Ulises (Philadelphia, PA)
Verge Center for the Arts (Sacramento, CA)
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Whitney Museum Shop (New York, NY)
Wolfman Books (Oakland, CA)
Libraries/ Collections
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Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Research Library (Los Angeles, CA)
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Marpha Foundation (Marpha, Nepal)
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Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Emerging Leaders of Arts (Santa Barbara, CA)
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University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
University of San Diego (San Diego, CA)
USC Fisher Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN)
Whitney Museum of American Art, Frances Mulhall Achilles Library (New York, NY)
Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Episode 17: Remembering John Baldessari

Remembering John Baldessari: artist, friend, teacher, and mentor — Hear from Leslie Jones, Meg Cranston, Fay Ray, Amanda McGough & Norm Laich on reflections on the life & legacy of the celebrated Los Angeles artist 

This special episode of the Carla podcast is dedicated to remembering John Baldessari, who passed away on January 2nd at the age of 88, leaving behind a massive void in the L.A. art community and beyond.

You’ll hear from five people who knew John—former assistants, students, friends, and colleagues—as they reflect on not only his artistic contributions, but his impact as a dedicated teacher, friend, and mentor. 

Thanks to LACMA, you’ll also hear from Baldessari himself via an interview taped during his 2010 retrospective, Pure Beauty.

John Baldessari lived a life that was indivisible from his practice as an artist and exhibited great care for his community of students and peers. He conducted his practice with generosity, humor, and deep curiosity that will be long remembered by those who had the pleasure to work with and know him, as well as by the countless who have been impacted by the work of the celebrated artist.

The Carla podcast is produced by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles and Lindsay Preston Zappas, edited by Jenna Kagel, and engineered by PJ Shahamat. Our theme music is by Joel P West. Other music in this episode included tracks by Ibeke Shakedown, Lobo Loco, Ari Di Niro, Scott Holmes, and Joel P West. Thank you to LACMA, Amanda McGough, Meg Cranston, Leslie Jones, Norm Laich, and Fay Ray.


Episode Transcript:

Intro

Hello and welcome to the Carla podcast. My name is Lindsay Preston Zappas and I am the founder and editor in chief of Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles. Carla is a quarterly art magazine, online art journal and podcasts committed to being an active source for critical dialogue surrounding L.A.’s art community. In this episode, we remember an art world legend, John Baldessari. Baldessari passed away on January 2nd, 2020 at the age of 88 leaving behind a massive void in the L.A. art community. 

Beyond just his contribution as an artist, he was also a wonderful and dedicated teacher, friend and mentor. As an artist, he constantly pushed the boundaries of conceptual art, paving the way for so many Arctic movements that would follow and always with a certain air of California cool. 

In this episode, I’ve asked some of the folks who knew him and his work best to join me in remembering John Baldessari. You’ll hear from his former studio assistants, Fay Ray and Amanda McGough, his former student, friend, and collaborator, Meg Cranston, his fabrication assistant Norm Laich and from LACMA curator, Leslie Jones, who co curated his 2010 retrospective Pure Beauty. You’ll also hear from Baldessari himself from an interview he did with Leslie during that retrospective, Thanks to LACMA. 

Each of my guests speak to a different facet of John, but they all share common ground about who he was. John Baldessari was singularly unique, generous, funny, curious, and wholly dedicated to his life as an artist. This is a packed episode, so stay with us. 

Ads

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Sprüth Magers, with galleries in Berlin, London, and Los Angeles, has featured the best in international contemporary art for over thirty-five years. Located across Wilshire Boulevard from LACMA, the Los Angeles space opened in 2016 with an exhibition by one of the city’s greatest—John Baldessari. Sprüth Magers is now honored to present the artist’s final painting series, The Space Between, opening soon. Follow @spruethmagers and spruethmagers.com for details.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

We’re all familiar with John Baldessari’s work, but the genesis of his career starts with where he grew up. National City, California, a town just east of San Diego.

He went to High School and college there, and taught at preschools, and community colleges before being a founding faculty member at UCSD in 1968.  Just two years later, he moved to LA to be a founding faculty again, this time at CalArts. From there, he became an integral part of the LA art community. 

He landed in Venice where he set up a studio. And he never left. Venice is where he kept his studio, his home, and his “home away from home.” More on that in a minute.

But rather than diving into his life chronologically, I want to honor Baldessari by first looking at how he worked, through the people that worked with him and for him. 

His habits, his structure, his attitude, and work ethic were all big components of his success. He kept his eye on the long game throughout his career. Amanda McGew has been John’s studio assistant for 10 years. She told me that he very much treated his studio like a regular 9-5 job: 

Amanda McGough

He went to work every single day when we kept very typical studio hours Tuesday through Friday. But he was in there on Monday. He was in there on the weekends. He was out at shows, out at parties, you know, doing his work. Yeah, he was a workaholic, too. You know, we can’t take that away from him. That was just in his personality. Yeah, he was possessed in addicted, but he was really productive during those working hours. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

I asked Amanda what drove John’s work ethic.

Amanda McGough

I think it was a genuine curiosity. It’s something that truly did possess him. It’s almost like being like an athlete, because I am an athlete. You’re like addicted. It goes beyond your body. You still want to play. You still have the drive. Um, and I think that he had that as an artist and as a thinker and a teacher and a mentor. There was always new territory to scrutinize.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

When LAMA curator, Leslie Jones, was working on the 2010 retrospective Pure Beauty. She had the pleasure of visiting his Venice studio often, and she even had the chance to observe John in his natural element. Here’s Leslie.

Leslie Jones

Oh, yeah, that was his life. I mean, he had a family, too, But art was definitely his life. And his studio assistants, all the people who work for for him, I’m sure they would say, considered themselves family. Everyone getting together for lunch…you know, there was a real community feeling. With John as the patriarch, of course. There was always a feeling of conviviality while also seriousness about getting things done.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

John was very structured with his time. I spoke with Meg Cranston, a former student and collaborator and a close friend of John’s, and she said that in almost 40 years of friendship with him, he was never late.

Meg Cranston

He was always prompt. I do not recall a time when he was ever late, and I recall only one time when he canceled for dinner and he was, I think it was an emergency room.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

He set boundaries for his work, and he kept plugging away.

Meg Cranston

Because John was always interested in maximizing the use of his time, for practical reasons. He was a teacher and he had a family and he was trying to make it as an artist and all of these things they had to be really, really efficient. So he woke up very early in the morning. He worked for five hours before any staff came, and then he went home and watched his TV and read his books. I do think he was happy living alone and working like that. That’s not an unusual artist personality.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

to John Art was life and life was art. And so he sometimes lamented about the things that he was missing out on. Here’s Meg again.

Meg Cranston

Towards the end of his life, he started saying, “You know what Meg..you know what I forgot to do?” And I said, “What’s that John?” He said, “Get a life…you know, like, well, maybe go on like vacations, Maybe like have, uh, you know, Christmas parties.”

Lindsay Preston Zappas

But he accommodated

Meg Cranston

Towards the end of his life he built his vacation home, which was about a mile from his house and about a mile from the studio. Those were the wages of being a successful artist. You don’t get a life.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

So he built his life in his own way. With art always at the center, John was a full on consumer of art. He wanted to learn everything there was to know about the subject. Artist and sign painter Normal Laich worked for John over the years, hand painting the text that often appears in some of his work. I asked Norm about John’s ravenous pursuit of art information.

Norm Laich

His desk and tables just piled with what everybody would be sending him. Everybody’s sending books and magazines. He had a librarian working there, and that was just a job in itself, keeping track of all the information coming into his studio. I think he just wanted to keep up with everything that’s going on. He was, you know, like 100% into this art-making company or whatever you wanna call it. He was into it all the way.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

The artist Fay Ray worked for John for two years before leaving the studio to pursue her own career as an artist, and she said that when she worked for him, she was often tasked with uploading the latest art apps to John’s phone. I asked Fay about John’s appetite for new art information. 

Fay Ray

Every media channel connected to him is populated with art stuff. So his phone was texts and every single art app. He always wanted, like the new program, the new set up, the new TV thing, the new streaming thing, the new phone thing. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Amanda explained how his hunger for information also fed his desire to create. 

Amanda McGough

To a large degree, you could say that he was working with, like, poetics of information, you know, in every level whether that was listening to Beethoven or pulling some Picabia books off the shelf and sorting through those, and pairing them with the Bible or something. You know, he was really just throwing things together. I just got the sense that you could have just have, like, a scrap of something on the ground and that could be useful to him. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

He was also going to art shows on the weekends, and often John would go with Meg, his friend and collaborator, Meg Cranston.

Meg Cranston

I think John pretty much every Saturday of his life he spent looking at art, and he saw it as just a task… part of being an artist, that he had to go out and see what the competition was doing. And that’s the way he phrased it. He had unbelievable energy for that. John would spend, I don’t know, maybe three minutes in a show. You know, because he had seen a lot of shows and he could get it pretty fast. He believed that art should should address the audience. It should be available to the audience. I mean, of course, he was very sophisticated. You had understood that art could be complex language in all that sort of stuff, but he just didn’t care for it.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

That idea that art should really be accessible to an audience. That’s one that John really stressed. And in the 2010 LACMA interview with Leslie Jones, John expanded on that idea.

John Baldessari

I think art is about communication or a conversation with the viewer, and I credit the viewer as being pretty smart. I don’t think you have to spell everything out. You can allude to something and they can fill in the blanks. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Here’s Amanda, his long time studio assistant, again.

Amanda McGough

He truly understood the art making happens on the side of reception of like, the reception. And so in that sense, it had to be available to an audience on certain levels. I think that, like a lot of artists, I think he was making art for other artists. But he was smart and understood that there were more people, too. I think he wasn’t interested in, like your mom’s perspective, but maybe wanted her to enjoy it, too. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas (talking to Amanda)

Yeah, yeah, because so much of his work is about art like it’s about looking and seeing and making, but then also can have it another meaning, and that’s really hard to do: to be on one hand this inside joke, and then on another hand being totally open and accessible without without, like, making anyone feel like an idiot for not getting it right, right? 

Amanda McGough

Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, um, he was really good at respecting his art and his ideas, but also just tapping into the masses and making attractive imagery that is hard to deny.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Fay had worked for John for a couple of years and recalled something that John told her during a studio visit where he was looking at her work. He said

Fay Ray

Take your audience with you. Take your audience with you. Its part of your job as an artist. As a showing artist, take your audience with you. If you, you know, are speaking one language one show, don’t start being another language next show. You know, like your job is not to run willy nilly with materials and concepts with every opportunity to exhibit that you get. You have a duty to your audience, the people that support you and like your work, to bring them with you into the next body of work or the next piece that you show. Like they deserve to find something familiar in it that they appreciated from the last thing. And it’s my job as an artist to look at my work and include that in my thoughts when I’m thinking about what I’m gonna show next. If you look at John’s catalogue de raisonne, he holds everybody’s hand from piece to piece, and it is beautiful. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Norm echoed that John really had his audience in mind when he was creating his work.

Norm Laich

He was aware of making work That isn’t just for rich people. Getting the work out there is getting people to see it. Yeah, not just a few people, but a lot of people. Andy Warhol is a big example of that. Salvador Dali, Picasso…all these guys, they’re like the only people of the American public know of as artists. One of the reasons is because all that they produced so much stuff: good and bad.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Meg told me that she didn’t really understand this aspect of John’s work until she started doing stand up comedy.

Meg Cranston

With comedy, there’s only one rule: relate to the audience. And then I thought, OK, that’s John. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

A lot of his ability to relate to the audience came through his subject matter, using things that would speak more broadly to a bigger  audience, and not just to an art one. The “media of the realm” as he called it. 

Most of his work started with movie stills, which he would shuffle and rearrange with found text, limiting his own hand. Meg explained that his process was always fairly simple: 

Meg Cranston

His whole studio practice was..let’s see… a red wax pencil, a scissor, tape, and a box of push pins. Oh, and then, of course, all this the stills and all that that he collected. But he could really make art (even though he got more and more and better and better studios over the years, this never really changed). He made all of his work pretty much from—it wasn’t a kitchen table—but about that size.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Much of the way that John’s practice evolved was in response to the omnipresent Abstract Expressionist movement that came before him. Here’s John himself explaining the shift from painting into found imagery.

John Baldessari

I guess my era was kind of third or fourth generation Abstract expressionism, and you started to hear this complaint (your prob still hear it): “my kid could do that.” Smearing paint around, and that kind of thing. So I thought, ok what if I used the language of the realm? People look at magazines and books and so on. What if i just did that? Just text and photo and make it art by putting it on canvas. And that would be a signal that it’s not a book or a newspaper. So I literally divorced myself from the making. The whole idea of the artist’s touch, I just got rid of that.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

When John was still in National City, he was using an anonymous sign painter to paint the text into his work. And then he found Norm when he moved to L. A. John avoided his own hand by bringing in Norms.

Norm Laich

And I think that goes with this philosophy of just using the best means necessary to do a piece, which was kind of a conceptual art idea. You have this idea, but it’s not necessarily having to do a painting every time. A lot of times with all the different art out there, there’s like people reacting about what came before, the idea you’re talking about was the reaction against Abstract Expressionism, which was so heavily loaded with inner spirituality and the psyche of the artist. So this idea of having someone else do the work—this kind of anonymous person that’s just a sign painter from National City…we didn’t we even know what his name was. That went into that idea of taking that out of the hands of the artist and making it more anonymous.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

But there was more to it than just taking away his hand.

Norm Laich

It also has aspects of minimalism to what you see is what you get. It’s just a canvas with imagery on it. It’s not some, you know, precious Sistine Chapel of Art. In the early seventies, there was a reaction against art museums, being kind of like a temple of art. There is too much spirituality. We didn’t, you know, we didn’t like religion that much to be making art to be on pedestals and with beautiful lighting. And, you know, we’re into, you know, like The Who and like smashing guitars and stuff. So, this thing about the impersonal strategy comes from that, I think, because he says he couldn’t see the value of why one is better than another. You’re just shapes around a rectangle, and you got 100 of them. You put him up against the wall. Is like, Well, why is one better than another?

Lindsay Preston Zappas (talking to Norm)

So then his work shifts, and with each image and text, there’s like a concrete difference, a concrete message, a concrete kind of emotion that each one brings.

Norm Laich

Yeah, but it’s more about the real world than the highfalutin spiritual world. It’s more about, you know, driving down the street, just sticking the camera at the window. And just taking whatever image comes in and not being so judgmental.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

And in the real world, people remembered John’s art. But it wasn’t just his art that left a lasting impression. Meg explained that John was often baffled that people would remember the things he said to them, treating them almost like mantras or lessons she called them Johnisms. Here’s Meg.

Meg Cranston

one of my favorite Johnism is: “anything worth doing is worth doing badly”… I love it. It’s so liberating. Yeah, because of course, you never have enough time. You never have enough money. But if you have a good idea, it’s worth doing badly. He also very much admired Sol LeWitt, and he would us his quote about how to work as an artist: “Make a plan. Work to completion.” He was very hard disciplined. John certainly had that discipline. He would have a plan. Usually he’d make about 15 versions on the idea and then go to the next one. He loved when he had a really dumb idea. Those were his favorites. This is not a Johnism, but he liked this quote by Lichtenstein: “If people didn’t do stupid things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.”

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Many of John’s lessons were taught by example, and Fay Ray soaked them all up. 

Fay Ray

When I worked for him, I was a sponge. I was so thirsty. I was so hungry. I was so in need of a third year of grad school. And, I knew there was a lot to learn from him. And you would be a dodo if you worked there, and you didn’t see all the lessons before you to take in and make a part of your artistic life. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

One listen was particularly interesting to Fay, who left working at John’s studio to pursue her own art career. She said that John went often talk about artists not wanting to have day jobs as a really recent phenomenon. 

Fay Ray

He said that everybody expected to be a plumber or an electrician during his day. And, you know, the gallery art world stuff was nights and weekends stuff. Yeah, for a lot of these major, major artists, you know? Um, yeah, because art is not special. We are not holy, artists are not holy, and art is not special.

Lindsay Preston Zappas (talking to Fay)

(Laughs) You’re not special. 

Fay Ray. 

You’re not special. I am not special. I’m not. I just haven’t stopped. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

John modeled the behavior that Fay would later take on board in her own practice as an artist. He showed her that it was okay to think through making and to get out of your own head in the process. 

Fay Ray

I don’t know if he did this consciously, but this is one of the things that changed in my practice after I was working for him: I stopped trying to make the perfect work of art. I just tried to make as many as I possibly fucking could. Determining whether or not it was good was not my job. Like my job is to make it. Somebody else can determine its value. I have my own relationship to it, and I needed to do a certain thing for me. But after that and when it’s like in the public eye, I mean, it’s out of my hands. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

One thing that every person I spoke to for this episode brought up is that John Baldessari had a sense of humor. 

Like in his work Goodbye to the Boats from 1972 where we see John photographed waving at anonymous sailboats from the shore, or the piece titled God Nose which is a relief sculpture of a large nose surrounded by clouds. These works may have been funny, but similar to all of John’s work, they have a deeply serious subtext, and they used humor pointedly. Amanda explains that that was very intentional. 

Amanda McGough

He’s one of the only artists I feel comfortable having a conversation with where I could say something like, “you know, you can’t take this too seriously. We’re just making art.” But by that he understood that I meant, you know, there’s something inconsequential to art, but at the same time, it’s everything. And I think that when it came to humor, he felt the same way. He was joking, but it meant everything. I mean, there were just so many moments of levity during those 10 years that I got to be around him. He made room for humor, and it was part of the culture of making art for him. It was also a very serious atmosphere at the same time. But always this back and forth. He’s the ultimate Gemeni, you know, just two things at the same time. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Around the same time that John was waving at boats from the shore, in New York, Joseph Kosuth was grouping a chair, a text definition of a chair, and a photograph of a chair together, and calling it conceptual art– this is of course the famous work, One and Three Chairs from 1965. 

And even though this work uses sculpture, photography, and text — all things that John was using, the tone was very different. New York conceptualists looked over to the west, and to John…well, I’ll let him speak for himself… 

John Baldessari

Well, New York was not very friendly. Let’s put it that way. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

In one work from 1972 called Baldessari Sings Lewitt, directly confronting this tension, Baldessari sits at a desk and sings each of Sol LeWitt’s 35 sentences on conceptual art (that had been published in Artforum in 1967. At the beginning of the video, John looks at the camera and says this is a tribute to LeWitt. For too long, he says, these sentences have been hidden in exhibition catalogues, and perhaps if he sings them, they might reach a larger public. He says this so deadpan as to sound naively sincere. This is how Baldessari does humor.

John Baldessari

I got my ways of getting back.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Leslie framed John’s humor a little differently. 

Leslie Jones

He’s often talked about is the funny conceptual artist. Yeah, conceptual art with humor. And I

think he struggled with that because for him, humor just meant laughs. And his work was not just laughs. It was so much more than that. It was just the way he saw the world. And I think, especially at the moment, like in the late sixties, early seventies, what conceptual art was really being defined by Joseph Kosuth and Sol LeWitt. They were very sensitive to that. There was a sense that conceptual art had to be very serious and John’s work was serious. But, you know, he made you laugh.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

He made you laugh, but always with this underbelly of a really poignant truth. But on the other hand, sometimes the guy just loved a good old dirty joke. Though that didn’t always pan out as Norm once learned

Norm Laich

The first time I worked for him in a studio I knew he liked jokes. Everybody knows, he likes to tell jokes, and he likes to hear jokes. So the first time I worked for him at the studio, I thought I should tell the joke. So I was in the studio and it was just him sitting in the back, smoking a cigar or something. And he had two women that were like his assistants, and they were kind of working in the office in the back, and they could see me in here. What’s going on? So I told this joke. I said the punch line and there was dead silence and the women were just sitting there and he was just sitting there and then he said: “I’m the one that tells the jokes around here.”

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Amanda remembers his humor fondly.

Amanda McGough

Yeah, this guy just had zingers for days. “Why do gorillas have such big nostrils? Because they have huge fingers.”

Lindsay Preston Zappas

But again, John’s goofiness was in complete juxtaposition to seriousness. 

Amanda McGough

The last thing you want to do is, like disturb John Baldessari from thinking,  or, you know, from like, a genius moment. And I’d walk up and he say hi, and then do like a pull my finger joke or something like that, and it just really broke the ice. And he was just a goofy, goofy man.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Leslie told me that John’s jokes would just come out of nowhere, and it would be like getting hit by a truck. Here’s a joke that came up during Leslie’s interview with John at LACMA:

Leslie Jones (in LACMA interview with John)

You’ve been described as the father of conceptual art, the father of appropriation art. The father of postmodernism..

John Baldessari

I slept around a lot didn’t I? (laughs) 

Leslie Jones (in LACMA interview with John)

You took my line. (laughter from audience)

Lindsay Preston Zappas

We’re gonna take a short break, but we’ll be back in a moment with more on the artist John Baldessari and his legacy.

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Lindsay Preston Zappas

While John Baldessari was busy creating work that would give him the moniker “the father of conceptual art,” he was also teaching. 

He started teaching at preschools, high schools and community colleges around National City until he got a call out of the blue from Paul Brock, the art department chair at UCSD, the University of California San Diego.

John Baldessari

He called me out of the blue, and he said, “I’ll give you a studio, more money..” and I said of course! And that literally changed my life. I really believe if I hadn’t gotten that call, I’d still be teaching high school down in National City, and have a family…and painting on the weekends. That changed my life. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

From UC San Diego, John went on to be one of the founding faculty at CalArts, and later taught at UCLA. I asked Meg Cranston, who started as John’s student before becoming a friend and collaborator, what it was like to have this rule-breaking conceptualist as a teacher. 

Meg Cranston

I liked him as a teacher immediately because he reminded me (the way you spoke, his approach) to the really open minded, philosophic thinkers that I’d studied with, and John mostly just ask questions. Um, he wasn’t so much of a teacher that gave direction. He didn’t really like to give direction. His teaching strategy was more to… I guess you could say give permission, although that’s kind of corny, but more to give you courage that it would be okay to do that. One of his things that he would say he thought the best teacher was invisible. So he thought his course was running really well if the students were engaged and he could have just walked out of the room.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Meg talked about how John would always be pushing her to do more. If she was gonna make two works, he would say, Why not 100?

Meg Cranston

You know, he thought everything was a good ideas is long as he did it.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

But John also came from a time when teaching was really seen as a dead end for an artist. Meg told me about another lesson that John taught her.

Meg Cranston

For John’s generation, being a teacher was a failure. You know, artists in New York, like they disappear for a couple of days and they wouldn’t know where they were, but they were teaching. So I asked John why he was a teacher for so long. And he said, “for the money.” I think that’s a really good answer

Lindsay Preston Zappas

To me that goes back to John’s work ethic, that he treated art like any other vocation. And he did what he had to do to get by. Here’s Fay. 

Fay Ray

I mean, he was your cheerleader. Bigger, small. It didn’t matter. He was such an equalizer. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

And if John showed up to one of your openings to be a cheerleader, his presence would not go unnoticed. Here’s Norm.

Norm Laich

That made a big difference when you would show up to someone show support their work. Because he stood out so much he couldn’t miss him. He was like MBA sized.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Oh, yeah. Did I mention that John was six foot seven? No matter his height, though, John was always supportive. Amanda worked with him for many years and saw this time and time again.

Amanda McGough

that it was important to him that he understood we were going to work and hoping, you know, create his vision, but that we’re going home and making our own as well. It was very, very, very important for him. It was, yeah, he was selfless in that way. I felt that he was genuinely interested in what I was making, and I think that that’s really hard. It’s hard to be interested, you know.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

In 2018, John (and Meg) curated an exhibition for Norm. The show, “This Brush for Hire: Norm Laich & Many Other Artists”, opened at the ICA, and featured a shocking selection of work by other artists that Norm had worked on over the years (including works by Alexis Smith, Mike Kelley, and Lawrence Weiner). Here’s Norm:

Norm Laich

I have worked for a lot of different artists, and sometimes I gotta be, you know, a little bit leery to talk about my stuff so much because I’m actually supposed to be working on their stuff. So basically it has to be the artist who initiates, and ask about my own work. Eventually he did, you know, and he actually bought some of my work. Then, you know, eventually it led to him, you know, asking me if I’d be interested in having a show somewhere and that he would help give it to me. And that’s what led to the ICA show.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

The spirit of generosity was really a sign post throughout John’s life. He was very generous with other artists and Fay recognized that as well. 

Fay Ray

I think he knew he had. He had plenty and he didn’t need to hold anything like he didn’t need…A lot of opportunity just organically flowed into the studio, and he was very eager to share it. You got extra? Give it to somebody else, like, pass it around. The art world is a bountiful place. It really, truly is. We’re all trying to make work and show it and bring it to an audience and keep doing that and hopefully, in some way, turn it into a job. And why not be generous along the way? That’s like the handle I’m grabbing on to now that John is gone. I’m just gonna grab on to generosity. You know, like if my like little lizard brain starts being like “No!” or my squirrel brain starts being like, “I got to keep that nut”, I gotta give it away. Divvy it up. Give it up. It’s fine. Like it’s fine. Share it with them. It’s just just share, share, share. Just include, just invite..

Lindsay Preston Zappas

In talking about it, you could really hear the impact that John’s generosity had on Fay. 

Fay Ray

So many of us don’t realize that there are so many more opportunities than their artists. We think the opportunities are so rare and so like competitive, precious and competitive. Like that, we have to climb over the corpses of our peers to get them or something like that. And it was very important to me to have someone like him remind me that that’s not the way it is and that if you just like don’t start making work, you’ll be fine. Yeah, you’ll be fine. You have to be big in your spirit. You can be small, but that’s not how John was. He was just a big spirited. He had just like a big wide spirit. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Before moving up to Los Angeles, John was largely making paintings and a pretty abstract expressionist style until he publicly swore them off. In 1970 he held a sort of vigil for all the paintings that he had made from 1953 to 1966 allowing friends to have one last look and then with some friends and students, he hauled the paintings to a crematorium, incinerated the canvases, and placed them in a dedicated urn that was shaped like a book. With this work titled Cremation Project, he renounced painting. And there he began his shift towards more conceptual work. I talked to Leslie about this Cremation piece since it seemed like a really significant turning point

Leslie Jones

Well, I mean, clearly, it was a bold and the declaritive act to burn his complete painting production. He kept the cremains right, and he was very specific that the works were cremated. This was a body of work. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas (talking to Leslie)

Oh my gosh. So biblical too. It’s like a body. I don’t know…

Leslie Jones

Yeah, and, you know, he had an urn for the ashes. So there was a respectful destruction. He put in an announcement in the local paper there in National City, saying this cremation is going to happen at this certain time. And he did that because he wanted to make sure he followed through on it. He likened it to telling people, when you’re going on a diet.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

John described the cremation as a thing he just **had to do. IT wasn’t really an artwork at first. The decision to do ot was much more practical. John was working in an old movie theatre at the time, and had filled up the whole space with paintings. He says he wasn’t selling much at all at the time (maybe his mother and law had a piece), and if it continued like this, he was going to be inundated with paintings. Still, there was definitely  intentionality behind the project, Here’s John:

John Baldessari

I got to the idea of the cremation because In some sense, and I do believe this, that your work is you. Joined at the hip. We do talk about a body of work. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Being in National City, John started shopping around for mortuaries that would work with him on the project.  

John Baldessari

not an easy job. You get some weird looks. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

He finally found someone that would do it (John says he probably needed the extra work)

John Baldessari

And it got even more macabre when he said we’d have to do it at night. Fine with me, and even better, the guy that did the cremation had gone to art school. And then, that was it. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

John had an urn for the ashes made in the form of a book, and later that book was included in a art show. 

John Baldessari

And all of a sudden it got to the status of art, but I didn’t plan it as art, no.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

And with this, he started working with photography and video as a primary medium. In some of those early photographic works, he was looking at a photography manual and breaking rules like composition or rule of thirds, and purposefully tweaking them to make his own “wrong” composition. In a piece from 1967 called Wrong, we see John Baldessari, standing in front of a suburban house, with a palm tree coming directly out of his head. Still though, this piece is on a stretched canvas, signalling the language of painting. 

John Baldessari

One of the things that always bothered me, and that’s why I do hybrid work that are neither fish nor fowl, you know, I paint on photographs so it’s neither one or the other. But I started to notice at group shows, like the whitney biennial that photography was ghettoized. It would always be in the back room somehow. And i thought, what’s the difference? A photograph is just silver deposit on paper, and painting is paint on canvas, what’s the difference. It’s not two materials, why should it be two disciplines?

Leslie Jones

He was trying to remove his aesthetic from the work. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

That’s Leslie again. 

Leslie Jones

But what’s interesting to me is that although it’s not John’s hand, when you look at those sign paintings today, I admire the craft and the technique and the fact that he continued to engage Norm Laich and other sign painters to do these works. Like there’s this one great multi-panel painting, The Painting That is its Own Documentation. Yes, right that will continue forever to require a sign painter to update the piece. Because every time it’s exhibited the venue and the dates of the exhibition need to be added to the work. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Back to Norm.

Norm Laich

The Painting That is its Own Documentation. That’s become one of his most famous pieces. When I worked on it, that piece was sure just starting out. I did the first one that was at MOCA. He made it the idea, but it had to gestate for quite a while before it started catching on. And then a lot of museums started showing the work, and that would make the piece grow. But the thing about it was it was it was kind of subversive because it’s a piece that keeps growing and eventually that piece could take over a whole museum, because every time it gets bigger. And when they fill up a panel they have to make another panel. It just keeps growing, Yeah, One time I mentioned to him, I said, It’s like a like a weed out of control. He looked at me like..Uhoh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

As John began to use photography more and more, his work often involves the figure, and he would reduce the figure down to their most essential parts. And this is where those infamous dot paintings come in, where those big red dots would replace a figure’s head. A lot of John’s work would include noses and ears, but you seldom see eyes or lips. Why?

John Baldessari

Eyes and lips have been really done by Magritte and the Surrealists, but for some reason, ears and noses haven’t been done as much. So i thought, well? There’s a lot of work to be done there. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Back to Leslie. 

Leslie Jones

And he was very funny talking about his choice to do noses. And, um, here’s the neglected features, those very awkward appendages or the ones he was drawn to. I think that’s again his strategy of getting people to look twice. And the question what we do prioritise, you know, by looking at what we don’t. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Whether it was breaking the rules of a photo manual, waving a boats from the shore, painting noses, or singing the rules of conceptual art John constantly evolved.

A lot of artists make work their whole lives — some artists make money doing it, and some don’t. But, for John, Fay said, he just always had to be working. 

Fay Ray 

John, throughout his life has had to be hot like, three or four times and then go into complete obscurity again and then come back and be hot again. Like a bunch of times! We’re all so lucky to get one time, but that’s what it takes to have a long career. And you only do that if you like, don’t burn bridges and don’t treat people like shit, and keep a long game perspective and keep making work. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Even when he had moments of success, John really never let it get to his head. He just continued to keep his head down, be passionate about art and continue to make it. Fay related this attitude of making to the idea of the artist persona, which John never really bought into preferring instead a much more straight laced work ethic. 

Fay Ray

I can totally see how an artist can think, oh, if I seem more mystical…if I seem less approachable.. or more ethereal, and less terrestrial, that’s going to give me more attraction. John, I think, resisted that. He was really a matter of fact. Like, very like Bologna Sandwich. Like a plus B equals C. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

I asked all of my guests on this episode about the void that John’s passing has left for them personally, but also for the greater L.A. community and the art world at large. Back to Fay. 

Fay Ray

When I learned that he died, I thought, is the art world over? It was so essential to him, and he seemed so essential to it that, like, he was very important cog in it. Very important, like wheel or a cog, and if you take away, how does it all run the same way without a Baldessari? I just don’t know. I mean of course it still exists, but it doesn’t exist the same way. It is changed. It’s so changed. So. there’s no elder out there looking out for, you know, all of us orphans and outcasts that, you know, haven’t been swept up into the upper echelons of the art world? That, you know he’s gonna make you feel connected and important, even though you feel so unseen and irrelevant? What? That is so important. Never was there more on art soldier than John Baldessari. Like he, he pledged allegiance to the art world every single day and everything he did. Yeah, he’s a saint. He is an art world saint. He’s an art world soldier. He’s both. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

For Leslie, she felt that John will leave undeniable mark on art history. and the production of art going forward. 

Leslie Jones

Well, he’s a reference point, you know, for postmodernism, right? In a way. I mean, it’s a big, broad term, and one he probably hates—sorry, John. But, uh, you know, it does condense a lot into one word, and he somehow touches on all the complexities of what that term means. So kind of end of an era, question mark? We’ve lost a reference point, but he is now the perpetual reference point. You know, anyone who’s gonna be working with mass imagery or has a conceptual approach that incorporates humor and irony. There’s so much. He’s a Touchstone for so many aspects of contemporary art. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

Amanda spoke to how John’s departure will affect her personally while also deeply impacting

the larger art community. 

Amanda McGough

I think John’s one of those artists where where you don’t necessarily separate the artist from the artwork. You really do think about the two subjects. Which is not to say that the art doesn’t stand on its own, but he was such a presence. Even if you didn’t know him intimately, you got a sense of his personality and attitude toward making, and so I think that that will maintain itself. But I guess, just on a personal level, I don’t think there are going to be many more artists like him or people like him. And I will really miss that back and forth, the kind of intellectual report that we had. He was an 88 year old man who had, like, the spirit of someone in their thirties, and he will be deeply, deeply missed by those who really knew him. But he has affected so many people that it’s impossible for that to not carry on whether it’s through teaching or art making, I mean my days, they’re gonna be a little less funny. You know, I will miss hearing his voice.. his deep, deep, no baritone voice. I will miss just having this towering figure in my life every day.

Lindsay Preston Zappas

And finally, here’s Meg.

Meg Cranston

I mean, I will miss him. A great deal is very, very difficult to find a friend. It was difficult for both John tonight to have a lot of friends. 

I’ve been thinking, How would John react to this idea that there’s this? There’s a void, just big loss. I don’t know, he might say, “Well, that’s so L.A. There’s only one guy?” What the fuck? (laughs) That’s coming from his era remember, from the L. A. where there was very little going on. I think his analysis would be “Well, you know, L.A. ought to have more famous artists, so nobody feels it.” I think he would be thinking, “If I were New York artist, would be like this?” I’m sure he would be saying, “This is a little too much.” He wasn’t that modest, but I think this would all make him a little uncomfortable. 

Lindsay Preston Zappas

And with that, and perhaps this is a little too much, John Baldessari will be truly remembered for his work, his mark, his generosity, his spirit, and for his humor. Thank you John, for all that you’ve left behind for me, for LA, and for the world, for all of us.

Outro

The Carla podcast is produced by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, and me, Lindsay Preston Zappas, edited by Jenna Kagel and engineered by PJ Shahamat. Thank you again to my guests Amanda McGough, Meg Cranston, Leslie Jones, Norm Laich, and Fay Ray for sharing your memories with us. 

Our theme music is by Joel P West. Other music in this episode included tracks by Ibeke Shakedown, Lobo Loco, Ari Di Niro, Scott Holmes, and Joel P West. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes, or share it with a friend. 

A couple updates: since our recent print issue of Carla is meant to be in circulation at the moment, and our distributing galleries are currently closed, we are offering the issue for free during these gallery closures (you just pay shipping). Check it out at shop.contemporaryartreview.la, and use the offer code COMMUNITY to get that discount at check out. 

We are also adapting, and our next issue of Carla, so it will come in a digital PDF format, that will include three new articles and a gallery viewing room for exhibitions that were affected by the closures. Stay tuned for more special coverage. And make sure to follow on instagram to get the latest updates on how we are evolving our coverage @contemporaryartreview.la.

And just a note: We are strong and we are creative! And we’ll continue to be strong and creative as we adapt and grow through these experiences. We are grateful for you all and hope we can push for connection during these isolating times. Thank you for being part of our community. And thank you so much for listening. Stay safe! And we’ll see you next time.