Michael Govan interview with John Baldessari at LACMA

October 6, 2009

Two Thursdays ago we got a chance to sit in on a fascinating interview between Michael Govan, the current Director of LACMA, and John Baldessari, conceptual American artist who probes the irony of contemporary art. The interview took place at LACMA in an auditorium filled with on-lookers.  Govan introduced Baldessari by presenting his work “Pure Beauty” on a large projector. This work started the conversation by delving into Baldessari’s thought process when conceptualizing words and language. The next slide was a picture of Baldessari’s “Wrong”, a photograph of a man with a palm tree behind his head with the word “wrong” under the image. Baldessari explained that most of the images authors or teachers would say were “wrong” he thought were great. He expressed that we, as a people, are obsessed with “how-to” guides, yearning for someone to tell us what is “right”.

Govan pointed that Balessari’s work exploits the “process” of art making. Baldessari explained that he goes to his studio everyday, not for inspiration, but for boredom. He believes that by going to the same space everyday he will eventually become bored and out of boredom comes creativity.

My favorite work that was shown was his photographic California Map Project, an exercise in word and image juxtaposition. Baldessari took a map of California and wherever the letters of the word “California” landed on the map Baldessari physically went to that geographic location and created that specific letter on the ground. When placed together the photographs spelled “California”.

Later in the interview Govan discussed the transformation of the LACMA logo. The current LACMA logo with the lines under the first “L” and last “A” came from Baldessari. Someone in the audience asked Baldessari how long it took him to come up with the idea, and Baldessari responded, “Do you have an hour?

Overall the interview was interesting and enlightening. To hear the artist explain his thought process and intentions was very helpful when discerning the meaning of a work of art.  After hearing him talk we all agreed that Baldessari was clever and funny. Can’t wait to go to another artist interview at LACMA.

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