Museum of Contemporary Art hosts ‘Prince of Prints’ exhibit


By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

John Baldessari, native son of National City, has been called “arguably America’s most influential conceptual artist.” He is certainly National City’s best-known art product, and at age 80 is still in demand all over the world.

In the past year or so, he’s had shows in Sydney, Milan, London, Berlin, New York and Los Angeles, where he lives. Starting Feb. 5, his work will be featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla in “A Print Retrospective from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation.” On display will be more than 100 pieces selected from the array of lithographs, etchings, photogravures, aquatints and silkscreens Baldessari created between 1973 and 2010.

The exhibit, originally shown in San Francisco in 2009 and now traveling around the country, is the largest offering of Baldessari’s graphic work ever assembled. It is part of the massive holdings of Jordan Schnitzer, an Oregon businessman/philanthropist whose collections comprise more than 5,000 prints by Baldessari, Frank Stella, Jim Dine, James Rosenquist and other major contemporary artists. His donations to the University of Oregon’s Art Museum have been so significant that the museum was renamed for him in 2005.

Baldessari is no stranger to MCASD. In fact, his first exhibition, in 1960, was at the “Art Center in La Jolla,” now known as MCASD-LJ. His last solo show there was in 1997, but a number of his works remain in the museum’s permanent collection.

Though he started out as a painter, best known for his provocative “word pieces,” he burned all his paintings in 1970. As part of his “Cremation Project,” the ashes were placed in an urn, with each painting’s birth and death date listed on a commemorative plaque.

Since then, his projects have included artist’s books, videos, films, billboards, public works, and of course, prints, often embellished with colorful cutouts and altered photographs. His signature style in all media is witty and experimental, and he continues to expand the field of printmaking in his own unique ways.

“Though John is primarily identified as a conceptual artist, he was one of the first to take photography as a 
serious medium in the 1970s, and his use of photography and text combine naturally in printmaking,” said MCASD Director Hugh Davies. “And printmaking, like photography, is a very democratic medium, which he likes, because he can make multiple examples, so more than one person can own a piece.”

Also on display will be a sampling of Baldessari’s works from the museum’s collection, including two of his early word paintings. But the main attraction is the Print Retrospective, which Davies called one of the most exciting traveling shows around today.

“Jordan Schnitzer is a very passionate and generous collector who focuses on prints and really cares about the artists and cherishes their work,” he said. “Aside from, possibly, John himself, he’s THE collector of Baldessari prints, so we’re very proud to have the exhibit here.”

If you go

What: A Print Retrospective from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation

When: Feb. 5-May 13

Members’ Opening: 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla, 700 Prospect St.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday; to 
7 p.m. third Thursdays; closed Wednesdays

Admission: $5-$10, free 5-7 p.m. third Thursdays, and to members

(858) 454-3541