Lance Esplund takes a withering look at the John Baldessari retrospective that has now found it’s way from from London to Los Angeles. Esplund acknowledges Baldessari’s choice, in the early sixties, to destroy all of his early work in a conceptual piece called “Cremation Project.” Jettisoning his past work, Baldessari was able to move beyond the studio to a kind of work that can be simply done in the artist’s head:
Which of course raises the question of conceptual art and conceptual artists in general: Why do they bother? Why do conceptual artists continue to employ finite resources and materials, not to mention occupy valuable space in museums, when, unlike other artists, the conceptual artist has an infinite amount of perfectly adequate space available to make and exhibit art in his or her head? Of course the answer is that Mr. Baldessari’s antiart stance, through which he spurns the art establishment, is just that—a pose, a ruse. He craves the recognition of the very institutions he so self- consciously rejects.
Opening “Pure Beauty” is a handful of Mr. Baldessari’s surviving paintings from the ’60s (the ones, sadly, that got away). Once you have seen these pictures it is easy to understand why the artist decided to burn, rather than keep them. Cremation was the right—if not the ethical—choice. He should have stopped there.
Much Less than Meets the Eye (Wall Street Journal)