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John Baldessari Talks Fashion and Beyond

For an artist in his eighth decade, he sure hasn’t lost his edge.

John Baldessari

John Baldessari

Photo By Jim McHugh

For an artist in his eighth decade, John Baldessari sure hasn’t lost his edge.


Through a twofer with Dasha Zhukova, he has reimagined an Inez + Vinoodh shot of Adriana Lima for an upcoming Garage magazine cover, and his first exhibition in Russia bows Sept. 21 at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. Look for him at the New York Public Library in October, talking about the two recently published volumes of his writings, “More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari.” In 10 days, he will jet off to Germany for the opening of his show “Storyboard (In 4 Parts)” at Sprüth Magers Berlin. From there, he will wing it to Russia for the debut of a solo exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Culture, which will be followed by museum-going in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Eager as he is to visit Russia for the first time, Baldessari said two weeks on the road is one week too long.


Once back in his studio in California, he will have more than unfinished work waiting. His friend Frank Gehry is designing a second home for him; a project is in the works with Visionaire, and a retrospective of his art is being planned for next year at Frankfurt’s Städel Museum. During a phone interview Thursday, Baldessari said with a laugh, “I’ve probably had more retrospectives than any other living artist.”


When one of those, “John Baldessari: Pure Beauty,” was on at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010, the artist got to know Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy. “We’ve become good friends. We first met at The Met in New York. They just showed up and said, ‘You are our favorite artist.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s good.’”


The trio has since collaborated on a magazine cover, and Baldessari said he hopes to work with the Mulleavys again. A few years ago he dreamt up “The Giacometti Variations,” nine sculptures for the Prada Foundation. More recently, Baldessari sat down with Cecilia Dean to map out a special project for Visionaire that he is excited to get going with once he returns from Moscow. This will be a repeat performance for Baldessari, who moonlighted as a guest curator for the magazine in 2010.


Here, the artist talks about his projects and more.


WWD: How did you connect with Dasha Zhukova at Garage?
John Baldessari:
One of her advisers, Hans Ulrich Obrist, suggested a show to the curator Kate Fowle. I knew her from the Independent Curators International in New York. At a certain point, Dasha asked me to design a cover…they sent me a photograph of a Latin American model in cutoff shorts and a halter top.

WWD: Do you have more ideas than you can keep up with?
JB:
I have a pretty fertile mind. Doing work takes time. You don’t just churn it out. I guess you can, but I don’t. I have to think about what I’m doing. I reject more than I accept. I tend to work well with deadlines. I don’t try to load up my plate too much. I say “no” a lot. I worry a lot about the influence of big money in art. Art is getting bigger and bigger and more expensive because people are putting money behind it. It’s kind of a closed system. I don’t think art should be about how much it costs to make.

WWD: What do you think people who can’t afford it should get from art?
JB:
They should be moved by it. It should make them think, or even have some sort of epiphany that changes their minds. If it’s just a stock certificate, they should just put the stock certificate in a frame on a wall.

WWD: Do you think fashion is artistic?
JB:
Of course. You know when people dress themselves in the morning or whenever they get up — they are literally making a composition with the fabrics they chose and what goes with what. They are making a work of art. Some people don’t care. They will wear anything. But if you’re thinking about it, you’re making art.

WWD: Why are you so prolific?
JB:
Because I have no social life. No, I’m a workaholic. That’s what I do. I like that [doing all these projects] gets me to think about things I would not otherwise think about. I’ve done T-shirts, a skateboard, pillowcases, tote bags — I have a beach towel now.

WWD: Do you ever take any time off?
JB:
I am conscientious. I want to stand behind what I do. I think I’ve had three vacations in my life. I tried. On the weekend, I may be sitting on my porch with my dog watching people walk by.

WWD: That doesn’t sound like much of a break.
JB:
You will like this: I am building a second house 15 minutes away from my studio. I am going to use it as a place where I can escape. A lot of people travel to get away. They go over the pond or to New York or the Hamptons. I will say to them, “Yeah, but you waste a lot of time getting there.” This new house will be overlooking a golf course so I can watch people hitting balls with sticks. Frank Gehry is a friend. He’s doing it for me. He doesn’t really do houses, so it really is an act of friendship. I met him back in the Seventies, probably at some sort of art show. It was before anyone knew who I was or who he was. He is building his own house right now in the Pacific Palisades. We’re still in the planning stage for my house. It’s sort of a dialogue that goes back and forth. He works with his son Sam. One of my assistants was wondering what the style of the house will look like. I said, “Well, it’s not going to be Cape Cod.”

WWD: What have you seen recently that really grabbed you visually?
JB: Robert Irwin’s installation at the Whitney. It’s a piece he did in the Seventies in the same space [“Scrim veil—Black rectangle—Natural light”]. That just blew me away. That really restored my faith in art. I thought, “Wow! This is what art should be. You should feel like this.” It was purely perceptual. You just feel that everything is perfect.


WWD: How did you connect with Dasha Zhukova at Garage?
John Baldessari:
[Garage Center of Contemporary Culture international advisor] Hans Ulrich Obrist suggested a show to the [chief] curator Kate Fowle. I knew her from the Independent Curators International in New York.

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