Of all the influential artists you've never heard of, John Baldessari is, if not the most influential, at least the tallest. Famous for putting dots on people's faces, the 80-year-old native of National City, Calif. stands at a whopping 6 feet, 7 inches. He's so tall he needs peepholes specially made for him, as one was, for the door to his studio. He's so tall, he has tallness-related thoughts about other tall people, like Clint Eastwood. Outside of his height, there are other interesting things to know about Baldessari. That his WiFi password is 123456789B, for instance, or that he's the kind of famous person who'd share his WiFi password with everyone.
Go ahead -- take a look. It's in a video posted right there on YouTube, or more conveniently, at the bottom of this article. It's part of "A Brief History Of John Baldessari," a roller coaster of a documentary commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a gala honoring Baldessari and -- earlier shout-out to be explained -- Clint Eastwood. It might also function as a coming out party for one of the country's oldest and most legendary conceptual artists.
The film, which debuted at the South By Southwest festival earlier this year, went up for public YouTube consumption this week. Written by Gabriel Nussbaum, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman ("Catfish"), and narrated by crooner and fellow National City alum Tom Waits, the documentary is driven purely by facts. Not just any old facts, but a careful selection of informative, evocative, strange facts, so watching feels like reading a Wikipedia entry curated by poets.
In between Waits' winky narration of said facts are shots of a seated Baldessari in his California studio, deadpanning bits that fit with whatever Waits just said or is about to say. The story merits a gifted teller, and Waits is that. His intonation, the editing, Baldessari's profound and funny one-liners -- all of it gives the film an appeal broader than the range of people who'd probably expect to like it. Case in point: so far the majority of YouTube commenters seem to have gotten there by way of a tweet from "Glee"s Dianna Agron, whose fans don't exactly coincide with Baldessari's. Yes, they are bemused, but not because the documentary isn't fun once you're there. Quoth one of them: "And this is why I love Dianna. Always introducing me to new things :)"
WATCH "A Brief History Of John Baldessari":