John Baldessari, a gentle giant of Conceptual art whose irreverent questions about the nature of art brought him international acclaim and shaped a generation of younger artists, has died. He was 88.
Baldessari’s death on Saturday night was confirmed by his foundation and with Margo Leavin, his former Los Angeles art dealer.
A mild-mannered leader who spoke softly but carried a big stick of human insight and droll wit, the 6-foot-7-inch artist towered over most of his students at CalArts, UCLA and UC San Diego as he did over an art movement that valued ideas more than objects. His height enticed writers to describe him in physical terms, including “a cross between Walt Whitman and a redwood tree” (the Christian Science Monitor). But Baldessari was a thinker who called himself “a hybrid between a formalist and a moralist.”
Inspired by the spirit of Marcel Duchamp, who overturned traditional definitions of art in the early 20th century, and by L.A. artist Edward Ruscha’s imaginative combinations of pictures and words, Baldessari explored language and mass media culture in text-and-image paintings and photo compositions derived from film stills, magazines and other sources.
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