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Tom Waits talks up artist John Baldessari in six-minute video

May 21, 2012|By Jamie Wetherbe

The life, height and dozens of dots of John Baldessari are the subject of a six-minute video, aptly titled, "A Brief History of John Baldessari," which has been newly posted online.

The video, narrated by singer Tom Waits (apparently at Baldessari's request, "he's got a great voice," the artist deadpans in the video), was commissioned by Los Angeles County Museum of Art for its  "Art + Film Gala" last year honoring Baldessari and Clint Eastwood.

The short, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman ("Catfish"), first premiered at this year’s SXSW and is well on its way to viral status, thanks to a tweet from “Glee's” Dianna Agron.

Waits darts between facts from Baldessari's life, like a verbal Wikipedia article, in his trademark growl. A mash-up of Baldessari's creations -- films, sculptures, paintings, photographs, billboards, credit cards and an iPhone app -- are paired with details of the artist's day, such as his push pins, coffee machine and Wi-Fi password.

The white-bearded Baldessari, who stands at 6 feet, 7 inches, was born in the not-so-artsy National City, Calif. (Waits' hometown), 15 minutes from the Mexico border, and he carries nothing in his pockets. "Not a thing," he says.

A twice-mentioned highlight is how Baldessari burned all of his works from 1953 to 1966 in 1970 and keeps the ashes in a book-shaped bronze urn.

But the repetition -- which also involves Waits' continual use of Baldessari's full name and a galloping recitation of the artist's declaration "I will not make any more boring art" -- builds to a grand concluding crescendo.

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