Be the first to vote…
jcappetta's picture


Baldessari’s first proposal for the installation was a recreation of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 20,000 pound bronze doors from the Florence baptistry, but updated with scenes of normal 21st century life.

As you can see, the finished piece is nothing like Ghiberti’s masterpiece other than that it is also a door. Stuck in the boondocks of his hometown just outside of San Diego, Baldessari began his career as an art professor, so he took a special interest in elevating the student with this installation. The title READ/WRITE/THINK/DREAM actually came from rubber stamps that he made during his teaching days. He used the stamps to critique students’ work, but originally they said things like “LEARN TO READ!” or “LEARN TO WRITE!” He’s getting soft in his old age.

Soft, but no less strange. The library is a natural habitat for most of the motifs in this piece: students, books, pencils, primary colors. But the palm trees? Baldessari explained that the palm is an emblem of ‘dat SoCal lifestyle, he also said “I like it because it’s so dumb looking.” Kind of a silly way to approach art, but it’s Baldessari’s favorite method. Early in his career he took self portraits directly in front of trees after a beginners-guide-to-photography warned that doing so would make it look like the tree was growing out of his head – ugly is beautiful, especially when trees are involved.

Baldessari initially declined to take this commission because as he put it, “I don’t do sculpture.” But the collection’s patron and Mary Beebe, the collection director, paid him a visit and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Namely that they’d give him money and didn’t care really what he did as long as he tried his best. Like all the participation awards you got in rec soccer, except it also pays rent and buys groceries!

The result is that most UCSD students in the 21st century (all of them hopefully) have walked through a John Baldessari piece and probably just wondered why the doors had colors on them.



  1. Polvoledo, Elisabetta. January 22, 2016. “Replicas of Ghiberti’s Doors to Be Unveiled in Florence.” The New York Times: Arts Beat. Accessed October 18, 2017. https://artsbeat.b
  2. “READ/WRITE/THINK/DREAM; an installation by John Baldessari.” Produced by John Menier and Marci Bretts. La Jolla: UCSD-TV, 2001. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://stu
  3. Timberg, Scott. September 19, 2002. “James DeSilva, 83: Funded Sculpture Collection at UC San Diego.” Los Angeles Times, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017.