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John Baldessari

An Artist is Not Merely the Slavish Announcer


On View

Floor 6

Collection Galleries


John Baldessari (1931-)


An Artist is Not Merely the Slavish Announcer




Photographic emulsion, varnish, and gesso on canvas


Overall: 59 1/8 × 45 × 7/8 in. (150.2 × 114.3 × 2.2 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and gift of an anonymous donor

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For The Artist Is Not Merely the Slavish Announcer, John Baldessari commissioned a commercial sign painter to hand-letter a hackneyed statement taken from an art textbook. Above it, he printed a photograph of an ordinary suburban parking lot. The uppercase, sans serif lettering style presents the clichéd message of the text with a deadpan sense of factuality. Likewise, the photograph presents the banal scene as if it were a piece of forensic evidence. Even the work’s odd dimensions reflect the circumstantial: 59” x 45” is the size of the door of the van used to transport the work.

The combination of text and image raises narrative and allusive possibilities even while cancelling them out. Are we to look at the image for evidence that the photographer has not “slavishly announced” facts, but has created a carefully considered composition? Or do the text and image simply represent a random, meaningless juxtaposition? Baldessari has distanced himself as much as possible from making artistic decisions that would elicit clearly defined meanings. As he has said, “Seeing selectively means you screen out a lot of interesting things.” His works are open, and encourage, in his own words, “conceptual leaps people can make from one bit of information to another.”

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