John Baldessari, Portrait: (Self) #1 as Control + 11 Alterations by Retouching and Airbrushing, 1974.
A major exhibition devoted to the mercurial conceptual work of John Baldessari is currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here, on the occasion of that retrospective, the master painter David Salle puts some probing questions to Baldessari, his friend and former teacher.
I have always felt a deeply humanistic undertone in your work, despite its use of irony and obliqueness. But I am hard pressed to account for why I feel it and sometimes think it’s because I have known you for a long time. Where do you think it resides?
Is a Conceptual artist different from any other kind of artist?
A lot of ink has been spilled about art as the new religion, with the museum as its church. Do you agree with that view? Do you crave a spiritual dimension to art, or are you a pure materialist? Conceptualism is closest to: a) rationalism, b) romanticism, or c) symbolism? Where do you place yourself on that scale? (Hint: Romanticism insists on the primacy of the individual.)
Here’s a fan question: How did you come up with the idea of singing LeWitt? I understand the desire to tweak the seriousness of Conceptual art, but how did you arrive at the idea of the singing? And did you rehearse?
What’s the one thing an artist must never do? And, apart from questions like these, what is your definition of a bad art idea?
Harold Brodkey once said that people don’t like to be outshone—they’ll kill you if it bothers them enough. How have you managed to avoid this in your work?
John Baldessari, Noses & Ears, Etc.: Blood, Fist, and Head (with Nose and Ear), 2006.