John Baldessari is a hard man to categorize, which is appropriate, as he abhors categorization. The artist has been widely regarded as a conceptual artist, but the work he has produced in his lifetime has created a world all of its own, with the only rule being to always break the rules. With a career spanning close to 60 years, the California native created some of the most influential work of the 20th century, then burnt it, then created some more, always reinventing – and teaching – what it means to be an artist.
NeueJournal: You’ve famously defied being categorized. What do you think is the danger in encasing people into labeled boxes?
John Baldessari: It gives you a limited view of that artist’s work.
NJ: A motif in art throughout history has been using sadness as inspiration, but you’ve spoken about the creative power in anger. How does using different emotions as catalysts alter your pieces?
JB: I’m sure how I feel on a day I’m working on a work affects the way it comes out.
NJ: “The Giacometti Variations” has become of your most instantly recognizable and lauded collection. By collaborating with the Prada Foundation you inadvertently invited a new audience to experience your work. Was this intentional?
JB: I was invited by Miuccia Prada to do the project. I had never done sculpture before so it was a challenge.
NJ: Many artists have cited the Cremation Project as a poignant precedent for the exploration of deconstruction as a means of creation. What do you think separates using burning as an effective tool from using it as a gratuitous way to shock?
JB: When I did the project it was the only effective way for me to stop painting.
NJ: Some of your work is quite humorous, but you’ve often said you’re not purposely trying to be funny, rather, that you have a well-developed sense of the absurd. What is the value of absurdity in life and work?
JB: I think if one doesn’t consider life absurd, they don’t understand life.
NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? What is the trait you most deplore in others?
NJ: What has been your greatest mistake?
JB: Not meeting Marilyn Monroe.
NJ: What has been your biggest accomplishment?
JB: Being able to support myself financially.
NJ: When and where were you happiest?
JB: In the 1950’s with my college girlfriend.
Photography: Max Farago for NeueJournal