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The American artist John Baldessari created conceptual art that asks questions about what art is, how it is made and what it looks like. Combining imagery from pop culture with linguistic explorations, his work challenged artistic norms and limits throughout his entire career. This exhibition of around thirty pieces, is the first extensive presentation of his work in Sweden.

For over five decades, John Baldessari (1931–2020) explored the relationship between text and image and what emerges when the two are brought together. His conceptual artworks often have an underlying streak of humour and irony. The exhibition spans Baldessari’s entire career and shows the breadth of his artistic practice: you will encounter paintings, photographs, the moving images and the traces of performative acts.

John Baldessari, I Am Making Art, 1971 © The Estate of John Baldessari. Courtesy the Estate of John Baldessari and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)



Throughout his artistic career, Baldessari was interested in the nature of art, how it is made and what it looks like. Language and text became fundamental tools for him, as well as many other artists, who in the 1960s emphasised the idea behind an artwork rather than its aesthetic qualities. In the video piece ”I Am Making Art” (1971), which is also included in this exhibition, Baldessari moves stiffly in front of the camera, constantly repeating the statement “I am making art” with a different emphasis on the words every time – a nod at conceptual art and the notion that all actions can be art.

In many of John Baldessari’s artworks the actual selection process is a central theme. Among the works presented in the exhibition, there are examples of how Baldessari entrusts the choice or decision to someone else or chance, or how he sets up playful rules that limit the choices that shape the artworks.

Criticism aimed at conceptual art for just “pointing at things” inspired Baldessari to create the series ”Commissioned Paintings” (1969). He asked a friend to point at interesting objects, had the pointing process photographed and commissioned an amateur painter to copy the photographs. Under the paintings, a sign painter was asked to write “A painting by” followed by the painter’s name. These ”Commissioned Paintings” bear no traces of Baldessari himself and can be read as a comment on Abstract Expressionism’s conception of the artwork as a direct expression of the artist’s emotional life and genius.

John Baldessari, Commissioned Painting: A Painting by William Bowne, 1969 © The Estate of John Baldessari. Courtesy the Estate of John Baldessari and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
John Baldessari, Christmas (With Double Boy on Crutches), 1991 © The Estate of John Baldessari. Courtesy the Estate of John Baldessari and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.



Baldessari realised early on that a photographic image or different types of text could express his artistic intentions better than a painting. In his practice, he often brought together art-historical elements and popular culture to create unexpected juxtapositions. Hollywood and discarded black-and-white stills from film productions were a constant source of material. Later he started obscuring individual faces on photographs behind coloured dots, making the figures anonymous and allowing the gaze to be drawn to other parts of the image.


Installation view ”John Baldessari”, Moderna Museet, 2020 © The Estate of John Baldessari. Photo: Åsa Lundén/Moderna Museet



Baldessari was born in National City, California, a town located fifteen minutes from the border to Mexico. His parents were both immigrants to the USA – his mother from Denmark and his father from Austria. Since his first exhibition in the 1960s, John Baldessari has had over two hundred solo exhibitions and has participated in over a thousand group shows and despite maintaining that “you can’t teach art”, he supported himself with teaching jobs for long periods of time. In 1970 he was invited to teach at the art school CalArts outside Los Angeles. As a teacher, Baldessari came to influence several generations of artists, such as former students Mike Kelley, David Salle and Tony Oursler.

Read more about John Baldessari: Biography John Baldessari

Curator: Matilda Olof-Ors

Gallery name: Moderna Museet

Address: Exercisplan 4, Stockholm

Opening hours: Tue, Fri 10:00 - 20:00, Wed-Thu 10:00 - 18:00, Sat-Sun 11:00 - 18:00

Open: 21.03.2020 - 25.10.2020