Museum Exhibitions

Jo Baer: Space, position, and light

Jo Baer, installation view, Dia Beacon, Beacon, New York, 2022. © Jo Baer. Photos: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York

Contributed by David Carrier / Five smallish early Jo Baer paintings are on display in one white- walled gallery at DIA Beacon in her exhibition there since 2022. The show is both tantalizing and exasperating. In the 1970s, Baer became famous as a minimalist painter. Then she left New York, published a manifesto in 1983 proclaiming “I am no longer an abstract artist,” and changed her style completely. DIA publicity compares her to Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, and Sol LeWitt. That seems valid, in which case she may deserve more intensive attention than the institution – which has allotted abundant space for Richard Chamberlain, Mario Metz, and Lawrence Weiner – has afforded her here. Even so, it remains intuitively clear that her paintings are elegant and deeply informed explorations of space, position, and light.

Jo Baer, Untitled (Double Bar Diptych—Green and Red), 1968. © Jo Baer.

On the left wall are Untitled and Untitled (Korean 11). They feature white expanses and narrow, colored frames, such that when viewed up close dazzling surfaces seem to emerge from dark borders. In the latter piece,shapes at the top edges seem to hold the white surfaces in place. According to the wall label, these shapes serve to balance our natural tendency to look towards the bottom of the picture. On the right wall are two paintings with gray rather than white surfaces. The first extends just beyond the painted frame. The second is a diptych. Stand close and you see one part with your left eye, the other with the right. The frames are perhaps Baer’s equivalent to the metal fasteners used in Robert Ryman’s paintings (some of which are in the adjacent gallery): devices that fix the picture in space. An earlier and more oblique precedent might be Georges Seurat’s pointillist frames, which also bring out surface colors.

Jo Baer, Untitled (Korean 11), 1962. © Jo Baer.
Jo Baer, Untitled, 1968. © Jo Baer.
Jo Baer, V. Staminodeus, 1974. © Jo Baer.

Cooped up in one of the smallest DIA Beacon galleries, this very small selection of Baer’s paintings is likely to frustrate visitors who aren’t familiar with her body of work and doesn’t flesh out her distinctive talent for abstraction. One painting – V. Staminodeus – merely seems incongruous. I would welcome richer contextual guidance on how to understand her minimalist work, and on what happened when she returned to figuration. You need only walk to the nearby exhibitions of Ryman’s and Gerhard Richter’s work to see how expansive and informative DIA curators can be. Beacon has great natural light, and its austere spaces are ideal for paintings like Baer’s. Perhaps these attributes will be more generously exploited in DIA’s next examination of work that is, as DIA recognizes, indisputably deserving.

Jo Baer,” DIA Beacon, 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY. Through September 4, 2023.

About the author: David Carrier is a former professor at Carnegie Mellon University and Princeton University; Getty Scholar; and Clark Fellow. He has lectured in China, Europe, India, Japan, New Zealand, and North America. He has published catalogue essays for many museums and art criticism for Apollo, artcritical, Artforum, Artus, and Burlington Magazine. He has also been a guest editor for The Brooklyn Rail and is a regular contributor to Two Coats of Paint.

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