Baer’s oeuvre spans a journey and critical dialogue from abstract expressionism to minimalism to her current style rooted in metaphorical imagery – what she terms radical figuration.
“All of the so-called abstract artists always have a tissue of meaning. I always did certainly. . . . I meant layers. I meant boundaries. I meant very specific things always” – Jo Baer, 1987
A journey through painting
The début of Jo Baer in the fifties was with abstract-expressionist work. Between 1960 and 1975, Baer made paintings which referred to Minimal Art. In these she aimed for a perfect balance between space and representation. She created series of rectangular or square paintings, often triptychs with a central white or grey plane and narrow black or coloured stripes on the edges. At the height of her fame Baer also turned away from abstract art and started to examine figurative representation as a possible way to connect social reality and illusion in painting.
In this exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum the ways Baer’s art travels through movements, divisions and arguments in the art of the past century are clearly visible. Put simply at one point she changed her mind and was bold enough to change the directions of a successful career in consequence. She has always written and published polemical statements for example her now famous article in Art In America called “I am no longer an Abstract Artist”.
Here she forecast the purely formal and selfreferential dead end into which modernist painting was to direct itself. Baer condemned the growing preoccupation with the purely formal properties of painting over broader intellectual concerns of the artists and their need to communicate in the world. As she herself explained “to enhance discourse is to paint and draw in fragment, which is an open adventure: it is having painting talk (as opposed to having painting talk about parts of others’ paintings).”
This solo exhibition spans a period of fifty years and places well known abstract works from Baer’s oeuvre such as Untitled (Black Star) (1960-1961) or Vertical Flanking Diptych (Yellow Ochre) (1966 -1974) alongside work based on what she calls radical figuration. It spans the period from the 1970’s right up to her most recent completed Memorial to the Art World Body (Nevermore) (2009). This is the first showing of this most recent painting, which incorporates elements of what she calls an alternative self-portrait. In this new painting she incorporates images of herself by other artists (including John Wesley and Bruce Robbins), which she suggests in the act of repainting them she may be “stealing back”.