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One of John Baldessari’s instructions to students
One of John Baldessari’s instructions to students


Dec. 12, 2011

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John Baldessari, whose museum retrospective "Pure Beauty" recently completed a multi-city tour, should get another sort of deja vu from a new show at the CCA Wattis Institute in San Francisco. The exhibition, "John Baldessari: Class Assignments (Optional)," Jan. 19-Mar. 31, 2012, at the school's Logan Galleries, is presenting works by 70 graduate students that are all responses to a series of instructions their sage teacher gave his former students at Cal Arts in San Diego back in 1970, in a now-famous class called “Post Studio Art: Class Assignments (optional).” Baldessari himself is not teaching the class, however.

Back in those "painting is dead" days, Baldessari was focusing on artwork that didn’t require a studio, and so was “post-studio,” and “done in one’s own head,” as he put it. Thus, he developed a lesson plan based not on teaching his students "how to paint," but rather on a series of succinct guidelines, including, “Disguise an object to look like another object,” “Develop a visual code. Give it to another student to crack” and “Imitate Baldessari in actions and speech. Video.”

Baldessari, whose long tenure as a Cal Arts art professor is legendary, became known for employing principles of pedagogy in his artistic practice, exploring themes like rule-breaking, experimentation and problem solving. All of this makes the upcoming project seem more like a collaborative exhibition than a typical student show. The title, “John Baldessari: Class Assignments, (Optional),” makes it a little more confusing, almost implying that it’s an exhibition of the conceptual master’s own works.

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