Contemporary artists in crisis: John Baldessari
ARTinvestment.RU   22 июля 2020

The artist, who helped us understand postmodernism, and did not know what a pandemic

In previous articles a new column AI we talked about the artists, who headed the ratings of trust art-рынка compiled by ArtTactic for recognized and emerging artists, — Gerhard Richter and Rashid Johnson. Today we go down to the second step of the rating of masters: it is the artist who took such a high position, not only their art, but also a very sad circumstance, of direct relevance to pricing.

John Baldessari (1931-2020), "father of conceptualism", along with Joseph Kosuth and Hans Haacke defined a horizon of conceptual art in America, a pioneer in the study of appropriation in the arts, curator and one of the most influential teachers in modern American art world. Baldessari unfolded his practice at the boundaries of art, studying of strategy the imagery of mass culture through the use of different media: from painting, sculpture and installation to video-арта and n erformance. His work is based on comparison of the elements of painting, photography, video and text, which allows you to create a new context of understanding the familiar graphic forms. One of the main lines of the artist — demonstration of the equivalence of words and images as visual impact.

Baldessari Parents being immigrants in a fairly conservative at the time, California was concerned about the persistent desire of a son to do art. The father, a businessman of Italian origin, did not consider the craft of the artist is a serious and profitable profession. Mother as a compromise offered to John field of the architect, but he went the other way, making the choice in favor of the career teacher. And is very successful.

Baldessari began his career as a painter, but by the mid-1960-х his creative pursuits went beyond traditional painting. In 1970, he made a triumphal act of burning his paintings, created from 1953 to 1966, which later became known as "the cremation Project". According to the author, of the part of ash it baked the cookie part was added to the paint, which was used to create future works. The rest of the ashes were placed in a box, which was exhibited together with a bronze plate with the cookie recipe and the dates of "birth" and "death" destroyed works. The gesture, according to some researchers, was due to practical reasons. Earlier that year the artist received the first invitation to teach at CalArts (California Institute of the arts) and preparing to move. So, Baldessari effectively drew a line under their early works and period students.

Baldessari almost 40 years of his life devoted to teaching — at the California Institute of the arts CalArts in Valencia, California (1970-1988) and the University of California at Los-Анджелесе (1996-2007). Baldessari had a huge success with students. His role in its formation recognized as significant for contemporary art-сцены figures as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, David Salle.

As a representative of conceptualism, Baldessari adhered anticommercial idea of the work. In his "Tips for artists who want to sell" (1966-1968), he ironically writes about what stories and genres can bring to the young artist the most profit. The famous "point" (dots), which in his works replace the faces of the people in the photographs refer to the price tags in stores and gallery labels, marking the sold work.

However, like many other conceptualists of his generation, the artist was widely demanded in the market. He now ranks second in the rating of trust among the recognized artists, and in 2007 came his personal auction record: canvas "Quality material" (1967-1968) was sold for $4 408 000 (the fee the seller) at Christie's in new-Йорке.

In 2013, the Museum of modern art "Garage" exhibition "double" series by the artist, who first presented his work in Russia. The project took place the first meeting Baldessari with the masters of Moscow conceptualism Ilya Kabakov, where artists publicly discussed their work. Record of discussion is available on Youtube.

John Baldessari in facts and figures

According to ArtFacts, on account of Baldessari 281 solo exhibition (including large-scale retrospectives at the Tate Modern in London and MoMA in new-Йорке), 1 132 group and 24 biennales (including Venice Biennale 4, 6 Whitney Biennial and 2 "documenta"). The artist has a number of awards, the most prestigious of them — "Golden lion" Venice Biennale for her contribution to the art (2009) and the national medal of the USA in the arts (2014), awarded to the artist Barack Obama. The main gallery is representing the artist since 1999, — Marian Goodman Gallery.

Like many other contemporary authors, the market of John Baldessari actively began to grow in 2007, it is at this auction season and have the highest capitalization ($9,43 million), and the record price of the artist ($3,90 million, excluding the buyer's Commission). In 2008-м, with the beginning of the recession, the volume of public sales Baldessari decreased by more than 10 times, but in 2009-м recovered to half pre-crisis levels. To repeat the commercial success of 2007, the artist (like most recognized contemporary authors and art-рынку as a whole) failed: second-best season in 2014, showed the volume of auction sales at $7,44 million, and then began to decline. But the number of lots sold, on the contrary, began to grow, primarily due to an authorized lottery products, while the best works of the artist from the outdoor (available for sale) market has been removed. Why, you ask?

the artist's Death, which occurred January 2, 2020, was immediately reflected in its market performance. So, Artprice, the day before the death set, the price index of the artist (a measure of price movements the artist at auction over time) at around 510, a week updated it to 687 — in other words, showed an increase in average prices for the artist's work by 35 %. And it's — after a few days, on the background of the upcoming "Breccia" and other turbulent events that kept many collectors from buying in 2-й half of 2019. For comparison, the S&P500, which I like to compare the performance of the art market decreasedthis week on 4 %.

In 2020 (until 22 July) occurred from 30 sales of works by John Baldessari for a total of $1.59 million, while the unsold was 31.8% of the work, the average cost of works amounted to $53.1 million, and auction record — $320 thousand For comparison: in 2019, the sales volume of the artist was equal to $2,40 million, the average cost was almost twice less — $32 thousand, and the top-работу last year sold for $290 thousand as a whole, according to Artprice, for the entire 2019 the index of the artist grew by 80 %, and a week after the death, recall by 35 % (own calculations AI indicate that by the middle of 2020, despite the crisis, the same indicators increased significantly. — AI.).

table 1. The most successful auction sales of works by John Baldessari, 2000-2020

job Title

auction house, city

the year of the sale

the Price on the hammer, $ million


Quality Material (1967-1968)

Christie's new-Йорк




Commissioned Painting: a Painting By Edgar Transue (1969)

Sotheby's new-Йорк




Painting for Kubler (1966-1968)

Christie's new-Йорк




Kiss, Picnic (1984)

Sotheby's new-Йорк




Hands, Horses (To Agree) (1987)

Phillips de Pury & Company, new-Йорк




Font (1987)

Christie's new-Йорк




Beach Scene, Nuns, Nurse with Choices (1991)

Christie's new-Йорк




The Intersection Series: Person Playing Poker/Beach Scene (2002)

Phillips, new-Йорк




Choosing (a Game for two Players): Carrots (1971)

Sotheby's, London




Voided Person With Guns at Head (Flanked By Confrontations) (1990)

Sotheby's, London



table 2. Sales of works by John Baldessari at auction by category, 2000-2020




Lottery products


Lots sold,











table 3. Price ranges of sold works of John Baldessari at auction, 2000-2020

Price range

<$100 thousand

$100-500 thousand

$0,5–1 million

$1-5 million


$ million










John Baldessari and the confidence indicator

For the first half of 2020, the experts of the art-рынка believe that the market Baldessari will successfully survive the current crisis associated with the pandemic. According to the confidence index, ArtTactic released this may, the artist received 71 points out of a maximum 100, sharing second place with George Condo(Skarstedt gallery) and Sigmar Polke (David Zwirner gallery). More than any other — 86 out of 100 points — recall, scored only Gerhard Richter (Marian Goodman gallery and Gagosian).

John Baldessari also twice included in the ranking of contemporary artists, which the respondents ArtTactic predict a successful future in ten years in 2009, he served 8-ю place with 69 points, and in 2020-м — climbed to fourth, with 70 points, respectively. As you can see, in the long term the market Baldessari seems a little less successful than in the coming year. The reason is quite cynical: a decade after the artist's death will not signal the increased activity of collectors and the increase in the average cost of works.

Review AI: it is known that a supervisor who creates art term or gives the name to the whole direction in art, greatly increases the chance to decorate your track record the Venice Biennale. Similarly the artist, who is the founder of a new style, took place in the Assembly of the great. John Baldessari, available other to explain the phenomenon of conceptualism, will remain in the history of art and in its commercial underside — art-рынке. Nevertheless, the symbolic threshold of $10 million during the life of the artist his works have not overcome, because Baldessari was primarily a philosopher, not a publicist. Usually after the death of a significant author of his work massively released to the public (especially in a closed market; for the regulation of the supply in the auction watch auction houses themselves). The increase in the average cost in the first six months is replaced by "overheating" of the market offers, after which he briefly sags... and a year later-полтора rapidly growing up. How Baldessari — is a very interesting question for all the analysts: the first modern top-художник leaves our world on the eve of the crisis. Add: the crisis in the first six months of which the sales volume of his works already amounted to 63 % of sales the previous, pre-crisis 2019.

However, even given the low level of "entry" on the market works by John Baldessari for the collector, the latter should wait a bit: today, the best works of the artist have not yet brought to market and remain in the status of the ACE in the hole.

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