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The Thing Quarterly: Issue 22

Godfather of conceptual art, John Baldessari reimagines the pillowcase

by Nara Shin in Culture on 10 February 2014

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John Baldessari, the prolific visual artist and living legend hailing from southern California, has left nary a medium untouched—painting, photography, printmaking, video, sculpture, installation and more—in his quest to find beauty, drama and art in the ordinary. Dubbed the "godfather of conceptual art" and famous for being "that" guy who cremated his works from 1953 to 1966, Baldessari is a somewhat of an anomaly in today's contemporary art scene. In a time when major artists have become their own luxury brand, Baldessari focuses on pushing the boundaries of conceptual art—done with a rare sense of humor—and instilling provocative thoughts in his students, with fame and fortune (his text painting “Quality Material" sold for $4.4 million at Christie's in 2007) just being bonus points.

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And at 82 years old, Baldessari has just become the official contributor for the newest issue of The Thing Quarterly, the object-based periodical that commissions four different creatives each year to conceive of an idea and "publish" it on a usable item, whether it be a shower curtain by writer Dave Eggers or a conceptual wall clock by visual artist Tauba Auerbach.

True to form, Baldessari ventures into a new medium (100% cotton sateen pillowcases) and silkscreens a black-and-white image from his collection of Hollywood film stills on each one, using environmentally friendly, water-based ink. The pillowcase shows an unidentifiable woman clutching a pillow, made even more elusive by breaking up the image into horizontal bands. They are produced in San Francisco, with support from Levi's Made & Crafted, Turk & Taylor and New Factory Friend.

For those in need of a reminder of Baldessari's works and influence, watch "A Brief History of John Baldessari," which packs the artist's life into a short yet highly entertaining video narrated by Tom Waits—and frankly, has us wishing that the directors could do the same for other artists. Then check out our Q&A with the man himself, whose answers emitted a laugh and made us reconsider our questions—surprisingly enough, it's similar to how one might react to a work of his in a gallery or museum.

Since the pillowcase is being released the week of Valentine's Day, do you have any recommendations of films that particularly changed the way you thought about love?

Any films or music with the word "pillow" in the title.

As someone who has determined to "not make any more boring art," do you think you've kept your promise?

I guess if any one that has the pillow case can snooze, I haven't.

What makes a pillowcase a potential canvas for art?

More threads per inch.

We know you're tall. You know you're tall. Do you have a special bed for sleeping?

Refer to previous question.

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As a digital publication, we're interested in how the lines between art and technology have become blurred, especially in the past few decades. Has the internet greatly changed the way you create artwork? For example, would you collect found photographs one at a time and create your own digital archive of film stills?

I have no single source for imagery, I have many sources.

While you're an artist with an eternal legacy, it seems like you're currently quite a hot topic. Do you feel you're having a resurgence and if so, why do you think this is happening?

Terms like "eternal legacy" and "hot topic" help. The only thing better would be if you ran them both together.

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The latest issue of The Thing Quarterly includes two pillowcases by John Baldessari and is available online for $90; a yearly subscription of four issues is $240. Keep an eye out as the next three issues will be conceived by visual artist David Korty, Rodarte's Kate and Laura Mulleavy and artist and graphic designer Brian Roettinger—but of course, what they come up with will be a complete surprise.

Pillowcase images courtesy of Michael O'Neal, portrait image courtesy of the artist

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