Catherine Somze, Zoo Magazine, Winter Issue, no. 61, 2018, pp. 47-52.
Forever Adventurous | An Interview with Jo Baer
[link to issue]
Very few women were accepted into the 1960s Minimalist art movement, but one of those few was Jo Baer, now almost 90 years old and one of the last star witnesses of a decade in New York that changed the face of modern art. Born in Seattle in the year of the Stock Market Crash, the life and work of the painter, who first trained to become a biologist, has been marked by sharp upheavals. Her trajectory almost spans the entire twentieth century, and reads like an adventure book featuring legendary names such as Sol LeWitt, Clement Greenberg and Andy Warhol.
...to read more, click here
Interview October 2016
Jo Baer | Winner Jeanne Oosting Prize for Painting 2016
[link to vimeo]
The Jeanne Oosting Foundation has produced a fantastic video portrait of Jo Baer on the occassion of winning the Jeanne Oosting Prize for Painting 2016. The exhibition will be on display at Museum Arnhem until 15 January 2016.
...to read more about the exhibition, click here
As told to Lauren O'Neill-Butler, September 2014, Artforum
Jo Baer discusses her works in the 31st São Paulo Bienal
Jo Baer, Dusk (Bands and End-Points), 2012, oil on canvas, 87 x 118".
For the 31st São Paulo Bienal, Jo Baer presented “In the Land of the Giants,” 2009–13, a series that debuted at the Stedelijk Museum in 2013. Born in Seattle in 1929, Baer became associated with Minimalism in New York in the 1960s. In 1975—“due to Nixon”—she moved to the greener pastures of the Irish countryside, where she encountered the primary subjects of these works: ancient burial sites and Neolithic stones.
THESE PAINTINGS are inspired by my remembering of the Hurlstone, a large megalith set at a diagonal in a field in County Louth, Ireland, which was interesting to me for the enormous aperture set in it—a hole that, when I first looked south through it, seemed to suggest a path extending over the mountains all the way down to the huge earth-mound cemeteries of New Grange and Knowth. At the time it made me wonder: What have I stumbled on? Is this one of an ancient highway’s crossroads—sight through, and turn here? Only much later, in urban Amsterdam, after recalling and then thinking on this, did I put the hard edge down—set the ruler to the page—and that’s how these paintings began.
The Irish rural landscape had always struck me as odd. The castle I lived in from 1975 to 1982 was built in the twelfth century, and the ruins of a fifteenth-century church as well as part of a school for scribes sat at the top of one of my fields. In my neighborhood, you would also find standing megaliths and tractors in the same field, or a cottage next to a graveyard from 3000 BC—or 4000 BC even, with a horse there, chomping on grass—all of it just blatantly lying around with nobody noticing. I remember a farmer once bragging about one of my fields, “Oh yes, there used to be an earth mound here, but I plowed it away.” I told him that its ghosts must have been causing him a lot of bad luck.
In all, it was pretty remarkable to someone from the outside; in fact it hit me as close to surreal. Here were immense records of time, and as a history junkie, one of my evening pastimes was tracing ley lines on my local ordinance maps, which mark every megalith, ford, graveyard, and tomb. When I really began researching these old stones, I discovered that the Neolithic, mound-building North Atlantic maritime peoples who erected them were unique because they were the first farmers there, and landed in Ireland around 4500 BC. Their forebears had left Jericho around 7000 BC, colonizing as they sailed along the coasts of Iberia and Brittany and on to the British Isles. Two of the earliest court tombs in Ireland are still at their western landing point, sited on either side at the end of the aforementioned path—a ritual track. One finds other epic menhirs and lost henges clasping this line, and they surprised me into a full commitment to the entire Neolithic project.
These paintings are not about memories—mine or time’s—they are more about a variety of temporalities and their related forms. They are really abstract paintings made with images, as I believe that a painting ideally does not represent or illustrate a concept, but, rather—as it’s always been—is about its own very deep structure. I think it’s important that people are able to “read” these paintings like a map with lines that go from here to there.
The viewer will come to understand that I’m a magpie: For decades, I’ve collected photographs of odd things, pictures that seem to go together for me to make a subject. I used to look in second-hand bookstores for images I could use, and then I would trace them on a grid for my paintings. But as soon as I could use computers to grid up—circa 1995—I did. Typically, I compose some images on a field, print it all out in black and white, and then take colored pencils and change things around. I then scan the image back and play with it some more until I get what I think will look and be right. When it goes up onto the much larger surface of the canvas, more changes must be made. In these particular paintings, the process results in a sense of the compression of time and memory and imagery that is obvious: The paintings speak a digital language but the coding isn’t difficult to discern.
Right now I’m turning this series of six paintings into replicas—smaller pigment prints using oversize ink-jet printers and this beautiful Fabriano watercolor paper. The prints will have the feel and a sense of the paintings, if not the impact. Made for smaller exhibition spaces, they will be large enough to stand on their own in a room along with some of their smaller working drawings. Picasso got around an awful lot that way, didn’t he? I think I’m going to do this with all of my image output, at least with those of the past few years. I don’t see why paintings should just sit around in warehouses, never shown. Still, it took me nearly fifty years to get my so-called Minimalist work into the canon, and as this work is pretty much on the edge also, I’m not expecting an immediate popular response. However, perhaps pigment prints traveling about to today’s many available nonmuseum spaces might go some way towards abbreviating the process.
Interview April 2015
Jo Baer - Towards the Land of the Giants - Camden Arts Centre
[link to vimeo: https://vimeo.com/126502730]
An interview with Jo Baer conducted on the occasion of the exhibition Jo Baer: Towards the Land of the Giants. The film is produced by Camden Arts Centre.
... to read more about the exhibition, click here
Maaike Lauwaert, Modern Painters, published: June 11, 2013 [online]
Former "Radical Figuration" Artist Jo Baer on the Mysteries of Ireland
There is a rather typical way that Baer has been introduced in articles and interviews over the last years. Yes, the 83-year-old artist was successful with her Minimalist art and hard-edge abstract paintings in the 1960s. Yes, she moved to a castle in Ireland and then via London on to Amsterdam, and in the ’80s she wrote, “I am no longer an abstract artist,” denouncing a style that had lost its power and become too decorative. Since then she has been known for works combining animals, bodies, objects, and erotic images found in
early cave paintings. But in the end, what Jo Baer is and does are more than these oft-repeated tropes. She comes across as fearless but confides to being very anxious; she knows perfectly well what she does and why she does it but is still looking for the right words to capture it.
Maaike Lauwaert met with Baer at her Amsterdam studio to talk about her two current shows, one at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum through September 1; the other, focused on older works, at Museum Ludwig, in Cologne, Germany, through August 25.
...read more/download entire conversation, click here
Interview May 2013
Jo Baer - Museum Ludwig [online on vimeo]
A film by Ralph Goertz (IKS - Institut für Kunstdokumentation) in Coproduction with the Museum Ludwig Cologne and Dr. Julia Friedrich, filmed with AF 101 / Schneider Cine Cenare / ARRI LWZ (4 min.)
Interview by Avis Berman October 2010 [online]
Oral History interview with Jo Baer
An interview of Jo Baer conducted 2010 Oct. 5, 6, and 7 for the Archives of American Art's Elizabeth Murray Oral History of Women in the Visual Arts project, at Baer's home and studio, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
This interview is part of the (Smithsonian) Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.
As told to Lauren O'Neill-Butler, July 2010, Artforum
Jo Baer discusses her new book
Left: Jo Baer. Right: Cover of Jo Baer’s Broadsides & Belles Lettres: Selected Writings and Interviews 1965–2010(2010).
Jo Baer has been painting since the early 1960s and is known for her inimitable hard-edge abstractions as well as figurative works. Her book Broadsides & Belles Lettres: Selected Writings and Interviews 1965–2010 was published by Roma Publications in the summer of 2010.
I WROTE THESE ESSAYS when I had something to say. But it was always clear that I’m a much better painter. I never thought of myself as a writer. When the opportunity for this book came along a few years ago, I knew exactly what I wanted in it. After everything was Xeroxed and digitized, I worked with Roel Arkesteijn, whom Roma brought on as the editor, to refine it. In the process, I realized that one of the most important things to include was the “dialogues” I made with other artists from 1966–67, especially since these pieces had never been published before.
In 1967, Carl Andre gave me a poem, and I created a graphic analysis of it, which he in turn commented on; Mel Bochner wrote out the entries for existence and nonexistence from Roget’s Thesaurus; Sol LeWitt gave me a plan for his exhibition at Gallery in April of 1967; and so on. These are works I own and, of course, they’re very valuable to me. Most of them began with just sitting around at Max’s Kansas City and having drinks at night. I knew many of the Minimalists, and the Pop artists as well. At the time, I was also taking dance classes. I really admired Trisha Brown; also Yvonne Rainer, whose classes I took because I needed exercise. The picture in the book of me in Yvonne’s Trio A performance is funny: I have this pimp walk, one shoulder down, very aggressive!
While all of this was happening, I was trying to work in the studio and also tending house, taking care of my child, getting the groceries, and such. I remember it was a very busy time. In 1975, when my son went off to college, I moved to Ireland. But after six months there I realized what a truly strange person I am––I don’t do whimsical things, I didn’t intend to live in a castle, but that’s what I found, with fireplaces, no heat, one plug and light socket in every room, and I adored it. I felt very much at home. I still owe the coal man three hundred pounds.
This is my first hardcover book, and after living in Amsterdam for twenty-two years, I’ve noticed that I’ve had to struggle to remain a painter and not try to become a graphic artist. Collaborating on the layout was very interesting. The Dutch are the best graphic designers in the world. My work on the cover, Untitled (White Star), looks totally different; the designer took all the painterly stuff out of it. Happily, it still would never have occurred to me to do something like that. It looks very forceful, nearly sinister. When I was painting it in 1961, I was trying to do something subtle and ambiguous, but this cover is like BAM!
The book and the process of doing it has made me think a lot about control, which I’ve realized is very central to my work. I’ve always asked questions about control and who is controlling whom and so forth. I don’t see how you can be a woman and not have to think about control. I think it’s a very natural subject if you have your wits about you. Some of my drawings allude to brown rats displacing the black rats, or depict horse bridles and saddles. Revisioning the Parthenon, which will be produced as a booklet with the selected writings and interviews, is also about control.
Revisioning the Parthenon is still a work very much in progress. It is now about eighty pages long and explores and illustrates how Athens used the Parthenon as a propaganda machine. It was partially inspired by the first time I saw the Elgin Marbles in London at the British Museum. I was afraid to say this out loud, but I thought they were really fussy and funky, and I didn’t like them. It wasn’t until ten years later that I began to read about what was going on in Athens at the time, and the fact that they were the first institutional slave society in the world—not to mention how they disdained and treated women. It was no wonder I hated those marbles!
Interview with Jo Baer
By Brian Evans White, 2009
For almost thirty-five years, Jo Baer has been an expatriate of the American art world and the Minimalist art movement - leaving behind the irrefutable purist style she shared with art giants like Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, Richard Serra and Frank Stella. Declaring her departure from pure abstraction and the death of modern art in an '83 Art In America article, at 80 years old she lives and paints in Amsterdam. Her paintings explore the semiotic possiblities of symbols and images against the poetics of phenomenology.
Brian White: Your paintings have gone through a great deal of evolution since your break from your minimalist roots. How have you come to arrive at these current paintings, which feel neither overtly figurative nor conceptual?
Jo Baer: I certainly didn't want to do narrative work. I certainly wanted to remain radical, in quotes. I didn't wish to illustrate. I wanted to work with meaning in a more forthright way than abstract art allows you to. The question becomes, how do you do it? It becomes a question of technicalities; you want to say something with an image, but you don't want the image to dominate the space. So you use part of an image, you make it transparant, you make it very small, you make it very large, so large you can hardly recognize it. You leave just enough so that it's recognizable, as you want it to convey meaning and speak with other images. An image withoug dialogue isn't useful these days. I find that's what's wrong with most of the young painters, they paing a single image that doesn't do anything. It just sits there and says, "Gee, I'm a great painter," or "Isn't this pretty," or "That's a real horse," or "That's not a real horse," or "It's an art horse." It's very important to have the images in dialogue.
A conversation between Jo Baer and Ines Doujak, published in Ines Doujak (ed.), Jo Baer, Vienna, Secession, 2008.
I am both an insider and an outsider, and there is nothing more dangerous.
Ein Gespräch zwischen Jo Baer und Ines Doujak, geführt in J. B.`s Studio in Amsterdam im Februar 2008
Ines: Let´s start with a significant story you told me the other day about this Belgian, a professor of philosophy, who was looking at your pictures, complaining: Jo, what have you done to us?
Jo: She could not forgive me for leaving the minimal work to work with images. She said: Oh, we so loved your work, we could stand in front of it and not have to think about anything!
Ines: Why would you bother to make such a change? And why is it perceived as a disruption in your professional career, when you label it as a coherent development and transition?
Jo: People seem to have problems with the difference between abstraction and images. But they seem to forget that even artists like Pollock would go from one to another. Abstract art was always there, you know, really always. But artists do what they want to do: sometimes images are important, and sometimes symbols or abstraction are important. And you don’t have to be a devotee or a purist. I grew up with Picasso and the other Cubists, and wouldn’t dream of touching a portrait or picture of anything. I still feel that way in the sense that I am not an illustrator. I haven’t been telling stories with pictures; I have been making paintings that have images or parts of images, transparencies, all kinds of things of this sort, that are more like essays. You put them together and they are visual texts, as all good paintings are, abstract or otherwise. A critic fromAmsterdamkept going on about: “How could you stop abstract work and go on to figuration?” (I won’t use the word ‘figuration’, if I can help it) I answered something like: ´Listen, it doesn’t matter! I could work with triangles and circles, or pigs, bears, or birds … it’s all the same thing to me, except for what I wish to convey.”
... read more/download entire conversation, click here
Previously unpublished interview with Mark Godfrey at MOCA, LA, California, April 29, 2004
Mark Godfrey: Let’s begin by talking about White Star, the earliest of your works exhibited here.
Jo Baer: It was made in New York in 1961. Hard-edge work was very much on the horizon. I had been through Abstract Expressionism and was looking for something else to do.
MG: Had you moved recently from L.A.?
JB: Yes, I came to New York in 1960.
MG: One of the subjects addressed in this show is the difference or possible connections between the East and West Coasts during that time. Did you feel you were moving to a more serious milieu when you came to New York?
JB: Yes, absolutely.
MG: What was your connection with the art scene in California? Had you seen shows at the Ferus Gallery?
JB: Oh yes, I knew the Ferus group. The story about me riding my Harley Davidson through the Ferus Gallery in pearls and a leather jacket isn’t true, though--unfortunately. I found them to be a tight group, which is putting it politely.
... read more/download the complete interview, click here
Previously published interview from Art in America, May 2003
"The Adventures of Jo Baer" by Judith E. Stein.
Born Josephine Kleinberg in Seattle, Wash., in 1929, Jo Baer attended the University of Washington (1946-49), where she majored in biology. While there, she enrolled in a few art classes. Following a short first marriage and a six-month stint on an Israeli kibbutz, she relocated to New York City (1950-53). Baer resumed coursework in science at the New School for Social Research and its Graduate Faculty in Gestalt Psychology and sat in on a drawing class. Returning to West Coast in 1953, she settled in Los Angeles, marrying television writer Richard Baer. Three years after their son Josh was born in 1955, the couple divorced. In the late 1950s, she taught herself to paint, experimenting with a variety of approaches before electing a reductive, hard-edge style.
In 1960, Jo Baer moved back to New York with hernew husband, painter John Wesley. She began the series that the dealer Richard Bellamy titled the "Koreans" two years later. In 1964, Dan Flavin included her work in the landmark Minimalism show "Eleven Artists" at the Kaymar Galery, and Dan Graham invited her to participate in the opening show of his Daniels Gallery. Her work then encompassed series of large squares, small squares and vertical and horizontal rectangles with fully enclosing borders.In 1966, she painted flanking and stacked diptych and triptych groupings. "Stations of the Spectrum", six paintings with gray grounds, and the "Double Bar" series with gray backgrounds followed over the next two years.
Lecture by Mark Godfrey, February 20, 2003, at DIA Center for the Arts, NYC
PROGRAMATICS, POETICS, PAINTING?
I want to thank Lynne Cooke for inviting me to talk tonight. This invitation came after Lynne introduced a paper I presented on Barnett Newman’s Stations of the Cross. Having seen only a few of Jo Baer’s paintings, I recalled that she made Newman look like Franz Kline. The only direct connection I have since discovered was that Baer called one of her major triptychs Stations of the Spectrum.
When I began research and saw Stations of the Spectrum in a poor illustration, my heart sank a little. Painted in 1967, the year after the exhibition of Newman’s Stations, their title suggests a deliberate attempt to rid painting of the metaphysical content Baer might have mistrusted in Newman. This seemed like the kind of painting that was inevitable by the mid-1960s. Baer gave orthodox Modernist answers to questions around flatness, and deductive composition, while demonstrating a post-Stella attitude to expressionism and facture. There were no gestural marks, but also missing was the jubilant colour that one would find in contemporaneous Stellas.
... read more/download the complete lecture, click here
Boersma, Linda, 'Jo Baer', Bomb Magazine (Fall 1995)53, pp 58-63 [online]
The first time I met Jo Baer was on a hot August day in 1994. Although she had lived in Amsterdam for ten years and we are both a part of the Dutch art world. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her before. Jo Baer is slender, lively, intelligent and has a very sharp tongue. Her critique of the Dutch art world is as large as her critique of compatriots in her native country, America. My first introduction to her work was as an art history student at the University of Amsterdam while reading Arnason’s History of Modern Art which described Baer’s work within the strong tradition of pure geometric abstraction in the 1970s.
However, in 1985 in the pages of Art in America Jo Baer proclaimed that she was no longer an abstract artist. The erroneous story that she had destroyed her minimal work spread after she left the States to start a new painterly career in Europe. As early as 1976, Baer had begun to work on what she calls a “radical figuration”: in which there is no preeminence of image and space. But Jo Baer is still Jo Baer What can be done with abstract, geometric forms can also be done with an amalgam of images from all sorts of cultural spheres and times. Again, on a hot August day, we talked about her long career as a painter, about the importance of being an expatriate and of course, about radical figuration.
... read more [online]
Interview with Thomas McEvilley at Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, on the occasion of the exhibition “Jo Baer: Recent Works,” March 3–April 1, 1993.
Exerpted interview (pp. 140-142, “Broadsides and Belles Lettres,” Jo Baer. 2010).
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Minimalist, abstract paintings of Jo Baer were among the most hypnotic. They were one of the last convincing expressions of the abstract sublime and the Minimalist mode. The blank white triptychs with striping around the edges and on the support suggested the dissolution of all finite things into the infinite, the return of the multicolored light of earthly experience, as through a prism, into the white light of the beyond. The new paintings, like the metaphysical Minimalism of the earlier ones, still seem to posit the picture surface as a kind of cosmic, creative membrane, but now the direction is reversed: the figures that were once submerged into the blank white ground of the sublime are now tentatively re-emerging from it as if on the first morning of a new age dawning after the final dissolution of the last. Echoes of Abstract Expressionism are still present, but now they partake more of the birth-and-protoplasm imagery of Arshile Gorky than of Barnett Newman’s palpable void.
Pale images of buttocks-displaying goddesses from paleolithic cave walls, vegetation motifs from Etruscan tombs, and horses bursting with life from classical Greek friezes slide into one another in close-hued embraces and knit together into a tightly strung surface. These paintings, with their spare and tentative color occasionally clarifying a part of an outline, are still primarily near-white. The figures seem to constitute themselves through condensations of the mist of the sublime. The theme remains that of the first moment, the metaphysical abyss that throws up forms and takes them down again, ad infinitum. The void into which forms dissolved a generation ago now yields them back into the light in a kind of figurative sublime, which seems a counterpart of the abstract sublime lurking on the other side of the prism.
That’s what I came prepared to say. Now I’ll put the screen up, and Jo and I will see what we have to say to each other.
TM: Jo, how are you today?
JB: Old, nervous.
TM: When did you move toEurope?
JB: In 1975, directly after the Whitney show.
TM: The curator of that show, Barbara Haskell, used the term ‘warm Minimalism’ to describe your work. That could mean what I mean when I say that the work has perhaps more to do with Abstract Expressionism than with Minimalism in its feeling, tone and spirituality.
JB: I think it may mean that I was interested in color.
TM: If your early work is Minimalist, I think it could even be called hot Minimalism.
JB: Thank you.
TM: Minimalism made such an effort to be cold. Your work of that period seems to me to have participated very strongly in the tradition of the sublime. It has heat and intensity.JB: I would agree. I never considered myself a purist. I used my hands, I didn’t use tape. Brush strokes are there, although not intrusively. I was interested in materials. I used rulers and quite often a tiny brush, because the liveliness of the line comes from its being hand-drawn. I was interested in the exchange at the edges, at the boundaries. I’m interested in live art, I always was. I find purist art quite dead. Although it’s a possible stance or position, it was never mine.
 Excerpted from Artforum, May 1987, p. 141.