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John Baldessari spreads a message on L.A. city buses

January 08, 2013|By Jori Finkel
  • "Learn to dream": John Baldessari has made over 12 L.A. Metro buses as part of the Arts Matter campaign by the nonprofit Los Angeles Fund for Public Education
"Learn to dream": John Baldessari has made over 12 L.A. Metro… (Victor Treato )

Bored kids in the back seat of the car aren’t the only ones trying to spot a particular type of vehicle on the road. Contemporary art fans can also play a  game: trying to find the L.A. city buses made over by artist John Baldessari.

Twelve metro buses that go into service this week have been redesigned to look like traditional yellow school buses, with one side bearing Baldessari's saying “Learn to dream” while the other says the phrase in Spanish, “Aprende a soñar.”

Last year, artist Barbara Kruger wrapped buses with questions and slogans such as “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

The point of this project is to “start a conversation about the role of arts education and give artists a platform to address this issue,” says ForYourArt founder Bettina Korek, who produced the work as part of the larger Arts Matter campaign by the nonprofit Los Angeles Fund for Public Education. She had seen Baldessari’s line on one of his artworks a couple of years ago and this summer reached out to the artist about using it. 

Baldessari remembers how, though not exactly when, he first came up with it.

“A very close friend of mine was Sol LeWitt, and he had a rubber stamp he used sometimes to return mail, and it just said" an expletive that served to classify the mail as trash.

"I sort of picked up on that: The first one I made was 'Learn to paint.' I have a whole series: 'Learn to read'; 'I need money too'; 'I suppose so'; 'Learn to think.' So you can see the evolution.”

Also part of the arts awareness campaign, a few dozen billboards and bus stop signs across the city will feature the words “Learn to dream” written in Spanish and English again and again as though a child were meting out his punishment on a classroom blackboard. This piece has a more obvious origin. It’s a riff on one of Baldessari’s most famous artworks, which took its cue from the classroom: his 1971 “I will not make any more boring art.”

The buses will be in service for at least a month, Korek says. She expects to be able to publish or tweet the routes, as she did for Kruger, toward the end of their run.

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