The great conceptual artist finds the animal icons so stupid and fascinating, he has turned them into a vast menagerie, full of cheesy lines from films. We visit his Venice studio – and find icebergs are next
The neighbourhood surrounding John Baldessari‘s studio in Venice is as eclectic as it is incongruous. Sleek, modernist homes sit next to quaint bungalows, while an old hippy with a surfboard tucked under one arm bikes past a Sotheby's real estate sign hanging in front of a million-dollar home. With his laid-back demeanour, lanky 6ft 7in frame, shaggy mop of white hair, and equally white beard, Baldessari might be mistaken for an ageing California surfer himself, instead of the godfather of conceptual art, as he is often called.
For five decades, Baldessari has been challenging audiences to reconsider the nature of art, not with dry, academic works, but with wit, humour and a captivating visual sense. Eschewing one singular style, his output has ranged from text to video, photography to painting, print to sculpture. He is perhaps best known for his juxtapositions of appropriated images and text, though, which create open-ended mysteries for the viewer. “I always compare what I do to the work of a mystery writer,” he once said.