In the ranks of major Los Angeles artists, few can deny the primacy of John Baldessari. Since the 1960s, the California native has captivated the art world with an ever-evolving ouvre beginning with some of the first conceptual artworks, and moving into found and appropriated images and juxtapositions that evoke every emotion imaginable. Classicists have mocked, but collectors such as Eli Broad and Stuart and Judy Spence have shown their approval with their checkbooks.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the new career retrospective John Baldessari: Pure Beauty at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is practically a requirement for any art aficionado. Though first staged at London’s Tate Gallery, the extensive exhibition, with more than 150 works, is now in its proper home until September 12. Baldessari famously cremated many of his early paintings in a 1970 event, but the exhibit nevertheless reaches back from 1962 to the present (yes, Baldessari is still working in his Venice l’atelier, and a brand new piece is included)—a fact that makes Baldessari one of the few prominent 60s-era artists still active.
Baldessari’s work is never easily digested. Though frequently playful, or even comic, it goes beyond the question of “what is art?” to examine “what is perception?” “what is meaning?” certainly “what is beauty?” and perhaps even “who decides?” This isn’t a collection to be breezed through on the way to brunch, but works to be witnessed, absorbed, contemplated, discussed. If you’re afraid your brain has been turned off by too many Summer blockbusters and sunny days, this is the place to go to recharge your intellectual batteries.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is located at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, 323.857.6000