The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 17: ASSASSINATION: Patrick Pardo, Research Editor of the John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonne

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John Baldessari: Everything Is Purged…, 1966-1968, acrylic on canvas, 68 by 56 inches. Sonnabend Collection, New York. Copyright 2009 John Baldessari.
Screenshot of “John Baldessari Catalogue Raisonne” website using Screengrab!. Courtesy of Patrick Pardo.

For me, the catalogue raisonne has been always a piece of postmodern artwork in its own existence. After all, such books are not designed to be read from front to back like most novels except for Julio Cortazar‘s masterpiece “Hopscotch.” The catalogue raisonne encourages the viewer to skip around, to check out various periods of an artist’s career without losing rational sense. Also the footnotes and annotations add to the rather fun yet academic nature of such wonderful encyclopedias for an overview of an artist’s evolution.

Patrick Pardo is the research editor for the upcoming catalogue raisonne of American conceptual artist John Baldessari. Conceptual artists are delighted because Baldessari was one of the fathers of conceptual art and this catalogue raisonne is a postmodern piece of artwork about a postmodern artist, which makes this endeavor a doubly postmodern task. Pardo has been collating all of the exact information about each unique work within Baldessari’s career starting with information even about the early paintings which got burned in a ritualistic conceptual artwork the artist executed in a public burning. THE ART ASSASSIN is glad to present to the readership information about this herculean project in progress.

If you have any questions about the forthcoming catalogue raisonne for John Baldessari, feel free to contact Mr. Pardo at (310) 450-3400 or at

So here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:

qi peng: What are the current challenges for the development of this multiple volume series of books to document nearly all of the artist’s work? What accounted for the decision not to include prints, artist’s books, multiples, films, and videos from the final product?

Patrick Pardo: Developing an artist’s catalogue raisonné involves reconstructing the history of that artist’s career, following the birth and trajectory of individual works. It’s a kind of storybook. The ongoing challenge is researching and compiling the pertinent information for the individual works in the catalogue: the exhibition and publication history, provenance, and any notes or writings made by artist about these works or series of works.

Hudson Hills is publishing the John Baldessari Prints Catalogue Raisonné, and while we will list all of Baldessari’s artist’s books and film and video work in the catalogue, these will not be given individual catalogue entries. Our focus is on Baldessari’s unique works.

qi peng: Approximately how many works will be listed within the catalogue raisonne?

Patrick Pardo: Baldessari’s total oeuvre of unique works is close to 2,500, and he is still very busy and productive. The Baldessari Catalogue Raisonné is projected to be three to four separate volumes. Vol. 1, which we are presently working on, begins with the artist’s work from the mid-1950s and goes through the late 1970s. We anticipate the first volume will be published in 2011.

qi peng: Baldessari’s seminal Cremation Project in 1970 amounted to a burning of his paintings that he was unable to sell, thus symbolizing a fresh start into the artist’s entrance into conceptual art projects. How will the catalogue reflect that break in style and intent? What are the problems or solutions inherent in figuring out the paintings that were burned and thus non-existent today?

Patrick Pardo: Baldessari’s “Cremation Project” was obviously a breakthrough, and remains one of his best-known works. For that work and a related piece, “Corpus Wafers” (in which he made cookies from the ashes of the cremated works), we intend to list the paintings that were destroyed in the crematorium; these would have been paintings made between May 1953 and March 1966 that were in his possession as of July 24, 1970, the date he cremated the works. Baldessari kept slides and photographs of many of these paintings, and some works from this period survived, as he had sold or given paintings to friends and family prior to the cremation date. So, we will show images and include titles, dates, and historical data to the extent that we can. And we can consult the artist for additional facts and information.

qi peng: Considering that catalogue raisonnes have been mostly an academic endeavor that has been inaccessible to the general public, will there be both an online and print version of these books? What things will be done to broaden the appeal of getting people interested in studying Baldessari’s output?

Patrick Pardo: While it’s true that catalogues raisonnés are scholarly in nature, there’s no reason that they can’t appeal to a general audience. However, because of the scale of these catalogues, they are often costly to produce, and so it’s not easy to offer them cheaply. Our goal has always been to create a printed physical reference book that is easy to use and that foregrounds the artist’s work. My feeling is that Baldessari’s work already has wide appeal. Since 1957 he has been in over 950 solo and group exhibitions. He has been greatly influential as a teacher, at both California Institute of the Arts, and, later, at UCLA. Additionally, he began showing in Europe in 1969, and has shown there extensively to this day. So the catalogue will have a diverse, built-in audience, but it will definitely not be an impulse buy.

qi peng: Do you plan to include any interviews with Baldessari himself? If so, what is the methodology for formulating the questions and then editing it to a proper format for the final presentation? How do interviews provide an insight into the nature of how the artist’s style developed over time?

Patrick Pardo: We may include an interview in one or more of the volumes. Personally I enjoy reading interviews because they can shed light on aspects of an artist’s philosophy or thought process that ordinarily you don’t have access to, or that is not visible in the work itself. Also, to hear in an artist or writer’s own words how he or she contextualizes his or her career or influences is always interesting.

qi peng: What are the difficult aspects of trying to hunt down the owners of the “missing works?” What are some reasons that private collectors may not want the public to know that they own a particular Baldessari? If a certain work cannot be found within a certain time frame, what will be done regarding that piece? What is the future of Baldessari’s production of artwork in the context of the “missing works?”

Patrick Pardo: Tracking down provenance is essential to the catalogue. The Catalogue Raisonné Web site ( has a form for collectors that can be filled out and submitted online. The site is secure and anonymous. If, for whatever reason, a collector doesn’t want to be identified in the catalogue, we will just put “Private collection” for a particular entry. We also have on the site a list of “Missing Works,” works that we’ve lost sight of; eventually we will add images of those works, but for now we just have the titles of the works, and hopefully if people own or know of those works, they can contact us.

qi peng: Before we embark on the last question, thanks very much for your time. Is there anything else that you wish to share with the readers here and fans of Baldessari’s artwork?

Patrick Pardo: Later this year, in October, Baldessari will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London. The show will travel to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and, finally, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A complete biography as well as more information about the artist can be found on his Web site,

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 1:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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