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MOONLIGHTING

The art of phone messages

January 27, 2008|Lynne Heffley

Call the Santa Monica Museum of Art during off-hours and you'll be greeted with this message:

"Hello, this is John Baldessari. You have reached the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Sorry we missed your call, but please stay on the line for pertinent information. Thank you so much for your call."

Yes, that's the John Baldessari, the Los Angeles-based conceptual art pioneer.

"Because we're a museum of ideas," says Elsa Longhauser, executive director of the small Santa Monica institution, "to have a generic voice on the answering machine is kind of antithetical to the spirit of what we do. We wanted to greet our visitors with an automated voice that would be meaningful and fun.

"John Baldessari is one of the most important and influential voices in contemporary art, so I asked him if he would be our telephone voice to mark the beginning of our 20th anniversary year, and he was delighted and said yes."

"I thought it was a splendid idea," Baldessari says. "I don't know why anybody hasn't thought of it before. Maybe somebody has, I don't know.

"But maybe I should have said, for more information about this name, press 2," he says, laughing.

The plan is to continue to record different artists' voices over time, Longhauser notes.

"Baldessari is the first, and it's pretty great to have him, so we'll keep that voice for quite a long time, and then we'll continue the adventure."

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-- Lynne Heffley

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