This summer the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present a retrospective of John Baldessari’s prints at the Legion of Honor. Over 100 prints are included in the exhibition that spans the four decades of Baldessari’s post-painting period, 1970s to the present. The collection of prints is on loan from the Portland, Oregon-based collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, which has among its vast print holdings a nearly complete archive of Baldessari’s printed work.
In 1970, Baldessari abandoned painting to work exclusively with photography and text to make his art more accessible. He was later identified with the Conceptual Art movement for his use of appropriated photographic images and text, to which he added colorful cutout shapes to create unique collage-based arrangements. He continued to employ photography in the 1980s, particularly movie stills, which he shaped, altered, framed, and rearranged without text in order to trigger new meanings.
John Baldessari, born 1931 in National City, California, has been teaching art and making art since the 1950s after receiving his BA and MA from San Diego State College (now San Diego State University). He taught at California Institute of the Arts from its founding in 1970 to 1988, and has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, since 1996. He lives in Los Angeles and is often credited with helping to make that city an internationally recognized center of contemporary art. In 1997 Baldessari received the California Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, followed in 2005 by the Lifetime Achievement Award from Americans for the Arts. As part of the 53rd International Venice Biennale 2009 in June, Baldessari will be awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement.
Baldessari began making prints in the early 1970s and continues to produce editions today. He has worked internationally with premier publishers including Arion Press of San Francisco, Brook Alexander Editions of New York, Cirrus Editions of Los Angeles, Crown Point Press of San Francisco, Edition Jacob Samuel of Santa Monica, Gemini G.E.L. of Los Angeles, Mixografia of Los Angeles, Multiples, Inc. of New York, and Peter Blum Editions of New York. In the 1990s Baldessari began working with Mixografia Workshop to create three-dimensional prints utilizing their unique process of printing from metal molds. Baldessari’s interest in dimensionality has carried over to recent editions from Gemini, including the Person with Guitar series and the print series Noses & Ears, Etc. in which screen-printed images are constructed in three layers. A 2007 publication from Gemini is God Nose, a cast aluminum piece that is designed to hang from the ceiling. God Nose and prints from the Person with Guitar series and the Noses & Ears, Etc. series are included in the exhibition along with Baldessari’s contribution to the 2008 Artists for Obama portfolio, published by Gemini.
John Baldessari: A Print Retrospective from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation has been organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. The exhibition complements the publication of The Prints of John Baldessari: A Catalogue Raisonne 1971–2007 by Sharon Coplan Hurowitz and Wendy Weitman (Hudson Hills Press LLC, April 2009), and the exhibition John Baldessari: Pure Beauty opening at the Tate Modern in October 2009.
Visiting the Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor displays a collection of over 4,000 years of ancient and European art and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a Beaux-Arts style building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.
(Images: John Baldessari, Stonehenge (with Two Persons) Blue, 2005, Mixographia print on handmade paper & Person with Guitar (Red), 2004, five color screenprint on Sintra board with hand painting; Courtesy John Baldessari and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)