On eve of LACMA survey, John Baldessari talks about his history teaching--and past students flash back too


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When ‘Pure Beauty,’ John Baldessari’s retrospective, opens at the L.A. County Museum of Art on June 27, expect to see several generations of artists on hand for the opening-week events.

For as long as he has been making art in Los Angeles, Baldessari has also been, in a less tangible way, making artists: offering suggestions, encouragement and above all conversation to students eager to follow in his footsteps by living a life of art.


Follow they have, with their own gallery shows, museum shows, teaching gigs and some commercial successes that have at times even surpassed their teacher’s.

Jack Goldstein, James Welling, Barbara Bloom, David Salle, Matt Mullican, Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler, Liz Larner and Meg Cranston are just a few who studied with him at CalArts in the 1970s and ‘80s. Liz Craft, Mungo Thomson, Karl Haendel, Nathan Mabry, Skylar Haskard, Analia Saban and Elliott Hundley studied with him at UCLA, where he was on faculty until 2007.

But Baldessari, a conceptual artist with a droll sense of humility, is the last to take credit for any of their accomplishments. “You never really know where students get their nourishment,” he says.
Nor does he glamorize his decision to teach. “I taught because I needed the money — it wasn’t a vocational choice,” he says. “I was just trying to make it enjoyable for myself, trying to make it as much like art as possible. Maybe that’s why it worked.”

Click here for my Arts & Books story about the artist-teacher. And here for accounts by James Welling, Tony Oursler, Meg Cranston, Elliott Hundley and Analia Saban of the teacher they shared.

You can also read online an ‘assignment’ sheet Baldessari prepared in 1970 for his now-famous post-studio course at CalArts, ‘just in case anyone needed the structure.’

-- Jori Finkel


A 1972 photograph of a CalArts field trip for project called ‘Rolling: Tire.’ From left to right: Dede Bazyk, John Baldessari, Suzanne Kuffler, Matt Mullican and David Trout.

Photograph by James Welling, courtesy Baldessari Studio.