03/11/2013 09:52 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

John Baldessari Interview: 81-Year-Old Conceptual Artist On His 'Surrealism For The Media Age'... And More Arts News

Conceptual artist John Baldessari recently conducted an interview with NPR, making us love the Santa Claus of contemporary art even more than we already do.

The LA legend touches on the seriously playful sense of humor that characterizes his art making practice. Baldessari is known partly for dot paintings, which distort black-and-white photographs by hiding the characters' faces with bright blots of color. Aside from crafting a hilarious visual punchline, Baldessari directs viewers' attention to the underlying mechanics of the photo.

As he explains to NPR: "I think you really sort of dig beneath the surface and you can see what that photograph is really about, what's going on." By covering up the image we most often recognize and focus on when confronting photography, Baldessari radically expands the possibilities of experiencing and dissecting the image.

In the interview, LACMA director Michael Govan commented on Baldessari's particular brand of art making and the sense of humor it implies: "I would say that John's work possesses something like deep humor," he told NPR. "It's always based on some deep philosophy, consideration, reconsideration, way of seeing. It's never just funny for the sake of being funny."

Baldessari's peculiar sense of humor seems to have charmed the art world en masse; a text-based painting reading "Quality Material- Careful Inspection- Good Craftsmanship- All Combined In An Effort To Give You A Perfect Painting" sold for $4.4 million in 2007.

In other Baldessari news, the 81 year-old artist spoke up this weekend regarding the possibility of a Los Angeles super-museum. Baldessari, a former trustee of MOCA, expressed optimism at the possibility of a partnership with LACMA. "LACMA is an encyclopedic museum, but they are weak when it comes to contemporary art," he told the LA Times. "And this would make their holdings in contemporary art better than the Metropolitan [Museum of Art in New York] in some ways. So that's pretty exciting."


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