John Baldessari has been one of my favorite contemporary artists since I saw a retrospective of his work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis sometime in the 90s. Thanks to my brother Howard to introducing me to him (he might have introduced me to Julie London and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 around the same time). Baldessari is seen as the Father of Conceptual Art. He was a teacher and mentor in the Los Angeles art scene in the 60s and 70s and continued doing meaningful work into this century.
If Warhol got us to see ordinary objects (soup cans, Brillo boxes, movie stars) as suitable subjects for high art, then Baldessari took it one step further and got us to see not just what Art is, but what an Artist is. My favorite painting of his is "A PAINTING THAT IS ITS OWN DOCUMENTATION." It's a gray canvas with black block lettering. It says:
A PAINTING THAT IS ITS OWN DOCUMENTATION
JUNE 19, 1968 IDEA CONCEIVED AT 10:25 AM
NATIONAL CITY, CALIF. BY JOHN BALDESSARI
JULY 30, CANVAS BUILT AND PREPARED
JULY 31, TEXT PREPARED AND EDITED
AUGUST 1, PAINTING COMMISSIONED
AUGUST 3, PAINTING COMPLETED
OCTOBER 6, FIRST SHOWING, MOLLY BARNES GALLERY, LOS ANGELES
FOR EACH SUBSEQUENT EXHIBITION OF THIS PAINTING, ADD DATE AND LOCATION BELOW. FOR EXTRA SPACE, USE AN ADDITIONAL CANVAS.
There were five additional canvases in this painting by the time I saw it at the Met Museum here in New York in 2010.
The Met show had many contemporary paintings, including a painting that used old Hollywood film stills. I'm going off my memory here, I'm sure i'm not getting the details right. It had five horizontal panels, the top four showing men lying down - - for instance, maybe the first one had a guy lying in bed reading a book, the second a soldier lying on his stomach taking aim at the enemy, the third a guy sunbathing, and the fourth a man lying on an inflatable raft. The final image, the image on the bottom, was of a man standing up with his arms folded, but the image was rotated so it was horizontal rather than vertical. I laughed my head off when I saw this painting, it was so full of wit and surprise, it toyed with the viewer's expectations in such a clever way.