Jo Baer

Long-term view, Dia Beacon

Overview

This exhibition marks the first presentation of Jo Baer’s work at Dia since the vital 2002 survey Jo Baer: The Minimalist Years, 1960–1975 at Dia Center for the Arts in Chelsea. Following several recent acquisitions, this display of her early paintings traces the artist’s progressive experiments with color, form, and visual framing in the 1960s and ’70s. Interrogating both the medium of painting and the canvas itself, Baer’s work from this period complicates notions of the pictorial field and the painted object. This exhibition at Dia Beacon includes work from Baer’s Korean, Single Paintings, Double Bar, and Radiator series and showcases her inquiries into the relationships between boundaries and contours as well as centers and peripheries—concerns paramount to her practice. 

Jo Baer is curated by Jordan Carter, curator at Dia, with Theodora Bocanegra Lang, curatorial assistant, and with special thanks to Megan Holly Witko, former manager of exhibitions. 

Dia Beacon Interactive Floorplan

The work of painter Jo Baer, a leading figure of Minimalism, is central to discussions on art and objecthood that began in the 1960s. The six paintings on view include works from her Korean, Single Paintings, Double Bar, and Radiator series, all made between 1960 and 1975. This focused presentation examines Baer’s radical inquiries into relations of boundary and contour as well as center and periphery—concerns paramount to the artist in this era of her practice.

Baer majored in biology at the University of Washington in Seattle and did graduate work in visual psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York before she came to focus, as of the 1950s, on painting. Ideas of visual perception are crucial to her work, as well as questions of the physicality of the painted object. While many of her artistic peers in the ’60s and ’70s, notably Donald Judd and Robert Morris, considered painting to be outdated and limiting, Baer argued that abstract painting could operate beyond illusionism. She pursued her practice as a systematic, serial reconsideration of the medium.

Most of the works on view demonstrate Baer’s primary style in these decades: large-scale canvases with painted borders framing blank space. Paint is smoothly applied in vertical strokes over the entire surface, emphasizing its flatness. Remarkably, she painted the borders without the aid of a guide such as masking tape, to maintain the visible presence of her hand. The canvas’s edges are foregrounded relative to its interior expanse, drawing attention to the periphery of the physical object, in contrast to the emphasis of traditional painting on the center of the image.

Baer's paintings often show nesting rectangles—for instance, Untitled (1968). Some include intricate details tucked into their corners, such as her Korean series, named after the art dealer Richard Bellamy’s comment that Baer’s work was so original that it was as unknown as Korean art. Untitled (Korean 11) (1962) is a square white canvas with a thick black frame accented with light-blue details and a surrounding white edge. The blue embellishments add visual weight to the upper corners, a technique Baer said she used to “equalize the surface” and match the eye’s perception of the “naturally weighted” bottom.

Baer’s stacked diptych Untitled (1968) demonstrates her experimentation with iterative mirroring: painted frames mark the outer boundaries of the canvases; at the same time, these outlines are at the center of the work, doubling where the canvases line up. Untitled (Double Bar Diptych—Green and Red) (1968) employs duality differently, in two side-by-side gray canvases with black bars at their vertical edges; the green details of one canvas are reflected in red on the other.

V. Staminodeus (1974) is installed near to the floor and extends into the gallery. The work is part of Baer’s Radiator series, titled to relate the depth of each canvas to that of a domestic fixture. The painted edges of V. Staminodeus continue past the work’s face and onto its sides, emphasizing its three-dimensionality. Within the series, the titles of individual works are inspired by the nomenclature of biology. Each begins with V or H, indicating a vertical or horizontal orientation, followed by a Latin name—the genus Staminodeus, in this case, includes members of the weevil family.

In 1975 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York held a retrospective of Baer’s work. That same year, the artist moved from New York to Ireland. She subsequently shifted her painting practice away from abstraction and toward what she terms “radical figuration.” Baer’s 1983 essay “I am no longer an abstract artist” provocatively declares: “Modern avant-garde art died in the seventh decade of the twentieth century.” 

—Theodora Bocanegra Lang

  1. V. Staminodeus, 1974
    Oil on canvas
    Dia Art Foundation
  2. Untitled, 1964–72
    Oil on canvas
    Promised gift of Susan and Larry Marx
  3. Untitled (Korean 11), 1962
    Oil on canvas
    Dia Art Foundation
  4. Untitled, 1968
    Oil on canvas
    Collection of Arne Glimcher
  5. Untitled, 1968
    Oil on canvas
    Dia Art Foundation
  6. Untitled (Double Bar Diptych—Green and Red), 1968
    Oil on canvas
    Dia Art Foundation

Jo Baer was born in 1929 in Seattle. She studied biology at the University of Washington from 1946 to 1949 and undertook graduate work in psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York. Over a career of more than six decades since, Baer has developed multiple bodies of work as a painter, starting with her pared-down, nonobjective works of the 1960s and early ’70s. Her paintings were included in key early exhibitions of Minimalist art in the ’60s, and she had her first solo show at the Fischbach Gallery in New York in 1966. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York held a midcareer retrospective of Baer’s work in 1975. She then abruptly turned away from pure abstraction toward modes of painting involving text, symbols, and figuration. Also in 1975, she relocated to Ireland. Since 1983 Baer has lived and worked in Amsterdam, where the Stedelijk Museum presented a major retrospective in 1999. 

Artist

Jo Baer

(1929)

Jo Baer was born in Seattle in 1929. She lives and works in Amsterdam.

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