PRINT April 2020


John Baldessari, The Spectator is Compelled . . ., 1966–68, photographic emulsion and acrylic on canvas, 59 × 45". © Estate of John Baldessari.

JOHN BALDESSARI and I were friends for thirty-six years. Do friendships have a purpose? If so, ours was to do things that were fun and made for a halfway decent story after. Here are a few:

John was the first person I knew who had GPS in his car. Because neither of us had any sense of direction, we rarely drove outside of Santa Monica at night. But with the new GPS, we tried going to a party at Ed and Danna Ruscha’s on the other side of town. We thought we followed the directions but got lost anyway. Baffled and defeated, we pulled over to the side of the road. John looked at me and said, “Maybe they moved.”

When my father died, John telephoned me. He said, “I thought I ought to call you, because there’s no death emoji.” He howled with laughter, and I loved it.

When we switched to taking Ubers and sitting in the back seat, John liked staring out the window, which would put him in a philosophical cast of mind. During a ride downtown, he said to me, “I’ve been thinking I should get a life.” As he explained it, having a life was the opposite of what he did, which he described as “just busting my ass making art.”

A life meant doing things like going on trips for leisure or maybe having a vacation house. Anyone who knew John knows he always did what he said he was going to do, so of course he built himself a vacation house. It’s only a mile from his studio and his regular house, and to my knowledge, all he ever did there was sleep, watch movies, and work. But still, he did it. He got a life. 

Meg Cranston is an artist and the Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles.