John Baldessari (b1931) is widely regarded as one of contemporary art’s foremost conceptual artists. Tate Modern presents the most extensive retrospective of his work to date in the UK opening on 13 October 2009.

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty will bring together more than 130 works and examine the principal concerns of this legendary Californian artist. With humour and irony, Baldessari’s work dissects the ideas underlying artistic practice and questions the historically accepted rules of how to make art. Fascinated by language and meaning, he has always been interested in the connection between working in the visual field and working with words.

The combination of film, photography and painting has become one of the key elements in Baldessari’s art. Beginning with his early photo-and-text works from the late 1960s, the exhibition includes his extensive use of found film imagery in the combined photographs of the 1980s, the irregular-shaped and over-painted works of the 1990s, as well as video, and concludes with his most recent works to date.

In the 1960s he notably painted statements derived from contemporary art theory and instructional manuals onto canvas. These early major works from Everything Is Purged …1966-68 to Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell 1966-68 will be included in the show. From the 1970s he marries his humorous pursuit of a new visual language to film. I Will Not Make Anymore Boring Art 1971 sees Baldessari record himself on videotape repeatedly writing the lines over and over again in a notebook for the duration of the tape. This period also begins his experimentation with collage using film stills and his own photos to conceive a series of aligned images. In the Blasted Allegories series from 1978, Baldessari explores the language of associated  images by assembling a literal dictionary of photographs randomly sampled from commercial television.

The exhibition will examine the increasingly elaborate formal structures which Baldessari introduced into his work in later years and which have become a key component to his art. Abandoning the standard rectangular canvas or photographic format, he has produced a series of works combining numerous images to create various unconventional formats.  Bloody Sundae 1987, for instance, forms an inverted T shape on the wall. On top, two men attack a third beside a stack of paintings; on the bottom, a couple lounges on a bed, a breakfast tray between them, all five faces obliterated by Baldessari’s signature circles of colour, increasing the unease.

Baldessari’s production of books and prints will feature in the exhibition as well as lesser-known works and installations. There will also be new installation made specifically for the Tate Modern exhibition.

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty has been organised by Tate Modern in association with Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show is curated by Jessica Morgan, Curator of Contemporary Art at Tate Modern) and Leslie Jones, Associate Curator, Prints and Drawings at LACMA and assisted by Kerryn Greenberg, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition will travel to Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 5 February-25 April 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 20 June-12 September 2010, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 17 October 2010-9 January 2011. The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue with essays by major writers, curators, art historians and former students of John Baldessari.

John Baldessari was born in 1931 in National City, California and studied art at San Diego State College (1949-57). He taught at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA from 1970-1988 and the University of California at Los Angeles from 1996-2007.

His artwork has been featured in more than 200 solo exhibitions and in over 900 group exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe. His projects include artist books, videos, films, billboards and public works. His awards and honours include memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, the California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, the Oscar Kokoschka Prize, the “Spectrum” Internationaler Preis für Fotografie, and the BACA International 2008. He has received honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland, San Diego State University, and Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design. He lives and works in Santa Monica.

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