The Passing of an Icon: Remembering Conceptual Artist John Baldessari

Anyone that has visited Geisel Library in the past 19 years has been witness to the work of John Baldessari, the iconic conceptual artist responsible for READ/WRITE/THINK/DREAM (RWTD), the installation at the Library’s front entrance. Sadly, Baldessari passed on January 2 at the age of 88. He leaves behind a legacy of work that has served to inspire numerous aspiring and established artist alike for more than six decades.

Commissioned to contribute to UC San Diego’s well-known Stuart Collection in 1994, Baldessari was adamant about students being at the forefront of his piece, which was installed at Geisel Library in 2001. As an influential teacher at UC San Diego, the California Institute of the Arts, and UCLA, Baldessari was familiar with the student experience, which transcended through his work on several occasions.

After the concept had been established, a UC San Diego graduate student was brought on to take photographs of several of her peers, which Baldessari ultimately handpicked for inclusion in RWTD. The students are standing atop a row of stacked books (chosen by our librarians) like caryatids holding up the building. The original clear glass doors were replaced with primary-colored glass—perhaps a nod to primary research—which create secondary colors as they overlap.

As patrons enter the foyer, they are greeted by images of four seated students and eucalyptus wooden benches designed by a UC San Diego visual arts MFA student. The large-scale photo murals included on the interior depict a classic San Diego scene, a seascape with palm trees in the foreground, on the east wall. On the west wall are instruments of study and research—pens, pencils, and markers.

Next time you visit Geisel Library, we hope that you’ll take a moment to appreciate Baldessari’s artwork, which warmly welcomes hundreds of thousands of patrons each year and like so many of his other pieces, was inspired by elements of teaching and learning. If you would like to hear Baldessari speak more about RWTD, please watch this video.

Photo credit: Alexander Gallardo/Los Angeles Times