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Jo Baer – Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Jo Baer Broadsides & Belles Lettres Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010 Edited by Roel Arkesteijn

Roma Publications

Table of Contents 7 9

94 94

Dialogue with Edward Kienholz, 1967 Carl Andre: a letter to Jo Baer, 1967

Introduction by Roel Arkesteijn Biography

Minimalist Painter, 1960-1975 13 26 36 36 38 39 39 40 41 42 44 49 50 50 50 51 52 53 54 64 70 70 70 72 75 76 76

The Adventures of Jo Baer. Interview by Judith E. Stein, 2003 Jo Baer interviewed by Mark Godfrey, 2004 Letter to Jasper Johns, 1965 Letter to Marilyn Fischbach and Donald Droll, 1966 On the Function, Place, Conditions of Museums, 1966 Statement for Dan Graham, 1966 Horizontal Rectangle: Bright Green, 1966-1968 Letter to Michael Fried, 1967 Letter to Robert Morris, 1967 Letter to the editor, Artforum, 1967 Edward Kienholz: A Sentimental Journeyman, 1968 Primary Light Group, Dark, 1969 Stations of the Spectrum Letter to Thomas Messer, 1970 Letter to the editor, Artforum, 1969 On Seeing Letter to the editor, The New York Times, 1970 Art and Politics, 1970 Art & Vision: Mach Bands, 1970 The Eye is Not a Camera Unused Statement. American Woman Artist, 1971 On Painting, 1971 Fluorescent Light Orchid Culture: A New Approach Fluorescent Light Orchid Culture: Advantages and Disadvantages Letter to Jim Monte, 1972 Cadmos’ Thicket, 1998 Traditional and Radical Painter. Excerpt from an interview with Serge Guilbaut and Michael Sgan-Cohen, 1974

99 100 102 105


Radical Attitudes to the Gallery, 1977-1996 Ireland. Part 1, 1977 Ireland. Part 2. Never mind, 1977 To and Fro and Back and Forth. Jo Baer and Seamus Coleman in dialogue, 1977 Collaborations with Bruce Robbins, 1979 Beyond the Pale, 1982 I am no longer an abstract artist, 1983 Castello, 1984 Jo Baer interviewed by Barbara Flynn, 1987 Red, White and Blue Gelding Falling to its Right (Double-Cross Britannicus/Hibernicus), 1988 Tis Ill Pudling in the Cockatrice Den (La-Bas), 1989 The Rod Reversed (Mixing Memory and Desire), 1990 Jo Baer interviewed by Thomas McEvilley, 1993 Four Drawings, 1993 Jo Baer interviewed by Linda Boersma, 1995 The Diptych, 1997-1998 Letter to a Young Artist, 2006 I am both an insider and an outsider, and there is nothing more dangerous. An interview by Ines Doujak, 2008 A telephone interview by Brian Evans White, 2009


Exhibitions and Bibliography

109 109 111 113 117 127 129 137 140 143 157 162 163 163

Dialogues with Artists, 1966-1967 85 86 86 88 89 91 93

Dialogues with artists, 1966-1967 Letter to Dan Flavin, 1966 A Double Trade (with Sol LeWitt), 1966-1967 Robert Smithson: A small test for Jo Baer, 1966 Appearance. A dialogue with Dan Graham, 1966 A Painter Interviews a Sculptor (on Painting). Donald Judd interviewed by Jo Baer, 1966-1967 Mel Bochner. A Proposition, 1966


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Radical Figuration, 1975-2010

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

“I am both an insider and an outsider, and there is nothing more dangerous,” Jo Baer stated in a recent interview with Ines Doujak.1 This statement typifies the contrary, uncompromising, and equally self-conscious and self-critical course that Baer took during her long career as an artist. Her path is marked by fractures, unexpected turns, and extremes that meet. Baer’s decision to become an artist meant an end to a scientific career in tneurological psychology – and, ultimately, the end of her stint as a wife. After having worked in an Abstract Expressionist idiom at the end of the 1950s, she swapped the West Coast for New York in 1960. Here she produced her first mature works. Her paintings and drawings from the early 1960s form a striking link between the almost unbridgeabable worlds of Pop Art and Minimal Art. Married to Pop artist John Wesley at the time, she began using elemental forms, to make paintings and drawings that featured provocative themes like boots and sexual symbols, combining high and low. Soon, figuration disappeared completely from her canvases, and her non-objective paintings linked her to artists who have become primarily associated with historical Minimal Art including, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre and Robert Smithson. In her paintings from this period she concentrated on various formal aspects of painting, such as the optical (interdependent) effects of color; light and shadow; the organization of visual elements on a surface; the painting as a volume in space; and the problem of the border: the moment in which the painting meets the world surrounding it. As one of the rare painters and few women within Minimal Art, Baer firmly defended the relevance of painting amid a group of artists who saw this discipline as hopelessly passé. In 1975, the year she achieved fame with a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York, Baer decided to end her career as a Minimal Artist. She immigrated to Ireland and later to Amsterdam to develop a fundamentally different visual idiom: a “radical figuration” which attempted to link together social topics and structure and illusion in painting. Her paintings from1975-1985 refer to the earliest images humans created of themselves: in cave paintings and Paleolithic artifacts. Her later image-based paintings have been described as an “Ars combinatoria”: as in maps, she brings visual material and texts from the most diverse times and cultures together without striving for spatial illusion. In 1983, Baer justified her decisions and settled scores with some of her closest colleagues from the period in a famous article titled “I am no longer an abstract artist.” This break with her earlier work and her move to Europe meant that Baer catapulted herself from a hard-won place in the mainstream to the sidelines. Although included in the collections of the major Dutch museums, her figurative work is under-

recognized, particularly in the United States where the high esteem for her minimalist work remains undiminished. A constant in Baer’s erratic career is her defense of the importance and urgency of painting in times when its relevance was repeatedly debated. “Her entire life testifies to the search for what painting is, or should be today in terms of both technique and content,” Marianne Brouwer concludes.2 Visual, literary, and scientific investigation form an integral part of Baer’s practice as a visual artist. Her writings can be summed up as an arena for research, polemics, and the legitimization of her artistic choices. The texts in Broadsides & Belles Lettres reflect Baer’s omnivorous interests and her wide reading. Baer not only discusses her own artistic work and the work of others: she writes exhibition reviews and carries on arguments with fellow artists and critics. Her subjects range from the mixed joys of life in rural Ireland, the contemporary relevance of the Classical Parthenon’s propoganda- machine art for modern society, Mach bands along with other optical phenomena, and the etymological, philosophical, and ancient mythological sources that have been of such great importance to her work. Baer’s texts are thus indispensable for those who want to delve further into her visual production. Not only do they offer insight into her artistic motives and the development of her work, they also provide an intimate picture of some turbulent episodes in post-war art history. Her wordplay, the decisiveness of her analyses, her penchant for irony and provocation, and the acuteness of her vision make reading the texts and interviews an overwhelming experience. We are proud to have the opportunity to publish this volume. Jo Baer herself took the initiative for this collection with the support of her Amsterdam gallerist Paul Andriesse, and she made an initial selection of texts. The American art critic Sarah McFadden, a former assistant editor of the journal Art in America, organized the digitaliization and editing of the texts. At a later stage, Andriesse approached Roger Willems of Roma Publications as a possible designer and publisher of the book. Willems was immediately enthusiastic and invited me to be editor. At that time, Mc Fadden had finished her contributions and the artist had selected the bulk of her texts. After numerous meetings with the artist in Amsterdam, I worked further on annotating, editing, and ordering the texts, as well as supplementing missing texts and images. Now, in its final state, the publication features over fifty texts. Broadsides & Belles Lettres contains the great majority of Baer’s writings and a large selection of her most important and substantial interviews. The texts in this book are mostly arranged in chronological order; a few exceptions have been made, however, in cases where it would improve the coherence of the material. For instance, as a means of introduction, the relatively recent excellent interviews that Judith E. Stein and Mark Godfrey conducted with Baer


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Introduction by Roel Arkesteijn

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

regarding her minimalist period are placed at the beginning of the chapter that concerns this episode in her artistic career. Similarly, a few later texts that refer to specific works are placed with texts from the years these art works were made. In this way, the publication largely follows Baer’s work in chronological order. The dialogues Baer conducted with fellow artists in 1966 and 1967,which, can be considered to be a project in itself, get their own separate chapter. Her extensive, unpublished piece Revisioning the Parthenon, would have taken up a significant part of this publication – a book within a book. In order to keep Broadsides & Belles Lettres balanced, the decision was made to publish this piece separately. This collection of Baer’s writings was initially planned to be a book of texts. Since much of her work is still not widely known, and since there has not been a fully encompassing publication of her work except for a catalogue from her exhibition in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in 1999, the decision was made to also include substantial space for images. I would first like to thank Jo Baer for her inexhaustible faith and perseverance in the art of painting, her temperament, humor, and confidence. I am grateful to Sarah McFadden, Paul Andriesse and Noor Mertens for their contributions to the first phase of preparing this publication. It is a great pleasure to work with the small but sharp production team of the equally precise and efficient translators/proofreaders Kate and Nora Delaney, and the always captivating Roger Willems in the ideal double role of designer and publisher. This book would not have been possible without financial support from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture in Amsterdam; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York; the Paul Andriesse Gallery and Roma Publications in Amsterdam. Notes 1. See pp. 167-169 of this publication. 2. Marianne Brouwer, ‘Schilderkunst, koningin van de illusie’, in: Marja Bloem (ed.), Jo Baer: Paintings 1960-1998, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1999, pp. 28-33.


August 7, 1929



Born as Josephine Gail Kleinberg in Seattle, Washington. Attends the University of Washington, Seattle. Majors in biology and takes first-year painting and drawing art courses.


Marries Gerard L. Hanauer, Seattle.


Works during spring and summer on Kibbutz Kabri in Nahariya, Israel. Moves to New York City.




December 1955 1957

Attends the New School for Social Research, New York City, studies with the Graduate Faculty in Gestalt Psychology. Marries the television writer Richard Baer. Moves to Los Angeles.


Starts living with artist John Wesley in California.


Adopts a reductive, hard-edge painting style. Returns to New York City in June. Marries John Wesley, first in Mexico and then again in New York.


Summer: begins her first mature series of work. Meets Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd.


Executes graph-paper paintings and drawings, as well as Korean Paintings.


Makes series of paintings in various formats: large squares, small squares, vertical rectangles and horizontal rectangles with fully enclosing borders. Takes part in her first shows: Eleven Artists, organized by Dan Flavin at the Kaymar Gallery in New York, and in the inaugural exhibition of the John Daniels Gallery, run by Dan Graham.

Dialogues with other artists.


Stations of the Spectrum: six paintings with gray backgrounds.


Double Bar Series with gray backgrounds. Lives with the artist Robert Lobe, her companion for the next seven years.


Wraparound paintings on gray backgrounds. Begins experimenting with diagonal and curved forms. Receives grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Birth of son, Joshua. Begins experimenting with various Abstract Expressionist idioms. Work characterized by strong light-dark contrasts. Associates peripherally with the Walter Hopps-Edward Kienholz-run Ferus Gallery.

Creates diptych and triptych paintings in several formats and hanging configurations: horizontals flanking, verticals flanking, squares flanking and horizontals stacked and verticals stacked. First oneperson show held at the Fischbach Gallery, New York. She shows eleven paintings. Later she adds one painting more to each of the four kinds in the series. Participates in Lawrence Alloway’s Systemic Painting show in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.


Teaches at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Publishes an article on “Mach Bands”, a perceptual edge phenomenon, in Aspen magazine.

Jo Baer, New York, 1975


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

jo baer

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres


Wraparound paintings on white backgrounds. Completes first painting incorporating diagonal curved forms. Joins the American Orchid Society and publishes two articles on the subject of orchids. Uses botanical Latin in painting titles.


Double Bar Series on white backgrounds.


Publication of Cadmos’ Thicket, an inkless intaglio hand-colored with oil, published by Brooke Alexander Editions, New York.


Publication of Cardinations, a portfolio of nine screenprints, published by Brooke Alexander.


Retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Moves to Ireland and lives in the twelfth-century Norman Smarmore Castle, near Ardee, Co. Louth, a legendary pre-historic site of a battle between Cuchulhan and Ferdia. Continues to develop the changes in the formal content of her work started in New York, painting in a quasi-figurative manner – which she then described as ‘radical figuration’ – where there is no pre-eminence of image or space.



Solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, which travels to Edinburgh, Dublin and Eindhoven. Starts working with the British artist Bruce Robbins with whom she will continue to collaborate until 1984.


Moves to London in the summer.


Duet show with Bruce Robbins at the Riverside Studios, London. Writes “I am no longer an abstract artist”: a polemical article for Art in America, describing the morbidity of abstraction and its avant-garde along with some prescriptions for the development of a radical figuration to replace it.


Moves to Amsterdam, where she continues to live and paint in a way she refers to as ‘radical figuration’.


Solo exhibition Paintings from the Past Decade 19751985 at the Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, where she shows only her “imagist paintings”.


Presents In Godes minna mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the minan willon imo ce scadhen werhen. Pro Deo amur an Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit, a self-published catalogue containing reproductions of recent paintings accompanied by three of her own texts.


Publishes the artist’s book Four Drawings, with texts by herself and Bruce Robbins, on the occasion of a solo exhibition at the Moore College of Art, Philadelphia. Solo exhibition Palimpsests. A Selection of Drawings and Paintings 1963-1993 at Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo.


Works on a series of three diptychs, based on the writings of poets Eugenio Montale, Dylan Thomas and Wilfred Owen. In 1997 she writes a short essay on the diptych.


Starts writing Revisioning the Parthenon: a book of essays and drawings extending conventional interpretations of the ancient Greek monument’s frieze, metopes, architecture and sculpture. The book is intended as an augmenting re-appraisal of the Parthenon as a vehicle to examine classical Greece.


Career survey exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.


Large retrospective of Baer’s Minimalist paintings at Dia Center for the Arts, New York.


Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in February. Amphora Frieze, a silkscreen produced at Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, New Brunswick, New Jersey, published by Brooke Alexander Editions, New York.


Solo exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.


Works on several paintings based, among many things, on mapping prehistoric stones that – like passage-graves, can be found in various places in the Irish landscape. Central to the undertaking is a huge, pierced megalith, the “Hurlestone,” “flung by a giant” into one of her castle-demesne’s adjacent fields. These paintings bring together visual elements from different periods in her artistic career.


Minimalist Painter 1960-1975

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

First published as ‘The Adventures of Jo Baer’ in: Art in America 91 (May 2003) 5, pp. 104-111, 157. The self-portraits which Baer refers to are: Altar of the Egos (2002) and Memorial (2009).

Every artist has to make work and manage a career, which are two quite different things. Yes, apparently I have always been an artist’s artist. When I had a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1975, Tom Armstrong told me that I broke all attendance records on free-admission night, when students and the really interested people come, but that nobody bought the catalogue. In other words, I have the best audience in the world, which is other artists, and I’ve always ranked very highly with them, but I don’t do well in the market. It’s a great compliment, in fact. Perhaps one of the privileges of being under-known is that when someone does bring your work back to a wider audience, as the Dia Center has done now with an exhibition of your work from the 1960s and ’70s, it conveys new meanings and confounds the forces that strive to simplify art history. Well, I’ll disappear again – being female, especially – but I’ll come back every fifteen years, because my work lasts. Let’s talk about disappearing. Your career was at its height when you left the US to live abroad in 1975. What went into your decision to leave? I didn’t like the pressures of New York. People want you to keep doing exactly what you’ve already done, because it makes money. Once you’ve got a trademark, you’re recognizable, and they want you to stay that way. So I knew the best thing to do was to get out. I just assumed that, since I’d had a lot of exposure, my good dealers, Dick Bellamy and Klaus Kertess, would be able to sell my work. Well, Klaus sold a couple things, and Bellamy sold nothing. So within a few years, I was stuck with no money. This has been one of the problems – out of sight, and out of mind. So it was to take some of the pressure off that you moved abroad? I wanted to develop a new kind of work, with images, and I knew I could not do that here. Also, the people who were working with images at that time were dumbing down very fast. So I wanted to see what I really thought, from a distance. It wasn’t meant to be career suicide, it just turned out that way. I started being left out of the big international shows. You were included in Documenta IV in 1968. And I’ve never been in a Documenta since. Initially Kaspar König was going to include a reprise of my 1966 debut at Fischbach in the

big German survey Westkunst (Rheinhallen der Kölner Messe, Cologne) in 1981, but he changed his mind. I’m told he felt that I was “no longer committed to that work.” The art community saw me as a turncoat. What about the US political situation at the time? Did that play a part in your leaving? Yes, I left in 1975. Three years before, when Nixon was elected by a landslide, I remember saying to the woman next to me at the polling place, “I’d leave this country if I knew where to go.” This was before Watergate, but you could tell that the situation was total nutter. And the woman said, “Well, in Ireland you don’t have to pay taxes, if you’re an artist.” I thought, “What a good idea!” I came home and said, “I think I’ll move to Ireland.” It took me a couple of years to get it all together. My son Josh said, “You don’t know anyone there. You can’t do that.” So I called up Clem Greenberg, because I knew he’d done some shows there, and I asked him to give me some names. I bought myself a ticket that included a car and hotel vouchers. I went and looked around the country, and I adored it. I think I was six months in Ireland in this castle all by myself before it dawned on me what a totally bizarre thing I had done. Let’s talk about some of the work in the Dia show, in particular the painting called Black Star (1960-1961), which has two red stars in it, and the small untitled collage on paper from 1960 that has a constellation on a black ground. To me, the star was a geometric form, like a square. But unlike a square, which is more abstract, the star has a figurative or symbolic potential. Yes, but I actually was not thinking of that. The painting has little red stars because it needed something red there. And the image of the constellation? I was thinking of star charts – the idea that if you draw a line connecting the stars, it becomes something. If you don’t draw that line, they’re just a bunch of dots. In other words, there’s chaos, but if you see the constellation – in this case, Leo, which is my birth sign – there’s order, too. I did another of those collages, of Sagittarius, for Jack [Wesley], but then I dropped it. It wouldn’t turn into a painting, and I look for paintings in drawings. The Dia show also includes a group of graph-paper paintings, as well as drawings on the grid from 1962-1963. It was interesting to me that you transferred the grid from the drawing onto the painting. I was doing Pop art; I was living at the time with a Pop artist. Jack was inventing Pop art, concurrently with Lichtenstein and other people. We didn’t know Lichtenstein’s work. Jack was working in 13

Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

The Adventures of Jo Baer. Interview by Judith E. Stein, 2003

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

the post office and painting his post office badge. He was painting images of George Washington and Paul Revere, so I decided to paint a drawing. Was it a drawing or a painting? That was the question I was addressing in it. It just so happened that I had a pad of Laban notation paper at hand. Jack had read a New Yorker article about Rudolf von Laban’s system of analyzing and recording dance movement and had signed up for a class in it. Like music notation, Laban uses a staff, albeit a vertical one. Besides, I liked the colors, the pale green grid color behind the several rows of blue-purple verticals. I should also mention the impact Jasper Johns had on me about that time – his flags, his coat hangers, his bronze beer cans, the fact that flat things were painted flat. I found that absolutely remarkable. Anyway, those graph paintings and the drawings that went with them were shown three years after they were made, in my first show, in the back at Fischbach, in February 1966. I built a little shelf, lined it with black felt and put it next to the stairs. There were eight drawings and four paintings. I was doing this work at night, after the kid was in bed – painting these lines. That leads me to ask you about “facture” and the role of the hand in the creation of these paintings. I do believe in the hand. It’s not that the hand is so great; it’s that the hand gives you an unevenness that is much more alive than any mechanical thing. I’m not a purist. When I look closely, I can certainly see traces of your work process, especially in Vertical Flanking Diptych Green (1966-1974), where you have two identical panels. You have one boundary that may have been taped, but the other one is very much looser. Yes, I used a little brush for that. There are marks of tape there, but not for the reason that tape is normally used. Over time, white paint turns dark, if it’s normal white paint. So I was using an acrylic medium that was compatible with oil, one I developed with the conservator at the Guggenheim Museum. We built it up in layers, and you could get about three of them. It bonded very quickly, so the more you had, the faster it dried. You couldn’t get your brush strokes out, so I would do three coats and then varnish. And then three more, just to build up a really nice, dense white field. And in the process, if any of the white acrylic got on the black, it would leach the oil out, so there would be spots. Every time I used the tape, the paint built up as a ridge. Then I took a small paintbrush and went over that buildup by hand. It has a halolike effect. The painting needed that. The white, when it’s lit, develops a glare, and it expands beyond its boundaries, like a bit of a halo, lending light to the next color. At the same time, the color band is also next

to black, and something different thing happens there. You get a contrast effect, which is called the “negative of the second derivative.” That means that the black side – this is retinal, not strictly physical – will be much blacker, and the light side will be much lighter. So you’re getting light into this color line from the white and the black; the colors themselves, if you isolate them, are actually quite muddy and pale. But here they fluoresce, and in diverse ways depending on whether the painting is vertical or horizontal. I had to use different kinds of color for each of these kinds of situations. Also size makes a big difference. It’s very subtle. What led you to some of your color choices? Sometimes I see it as a Northwest Indian palette – like the black, red, green and beige or sand color in Black Star. I used that combination long before I was an artist; I tried to decorate an apartment in it back when I lived in Seattle. I like the color of sand, that beigey color, and then the dark green and bright red and the black: these are the Kwakiutl totem-pole colors that I grew up with. So is that the Seattle in you? Yes, I would say so. There are several of your sculptural, radiator-shaped paintings in the Dia show, works with names like H. Arcuata (1971). Where do these names come from? I happened to find a book of botanical Latin, which is the language used to name plants when they are discovered. And there are all kinds of protocols. It isn’t normal Latin; it’s botanical Latin. And I had fun going through the adjectives, which describe the habits of a plant, for example, so I used that system to name paintings. For example, “V” stands for verticalis, vertical, and “H” for horizontalis, horizontal. V. Staminodious (1974) is a very sensual image. When you look at the gray surface, there’s a series of circles underneath the top layer of paint. Well, there something didn’t work, and I painted over it. I never knew ahead of time what would happen with those paintings, because they have elements that continue around the corners of the stretchers, which is the real reason I was doing them. What happens if you extend the line around the corner? What happens is, there’s a shadow there, so you can lighten the shadowed area and make it come back attached to the frontal plane so that it flows; in other words, it’s sleight of hand. But meanwhile, the form is doing something else. Corners are very tricky. I’ve said before that I don’t think these Radiator wraparound paintings (1970-1974) are my best work. But I’m pleased that I did them. At the time, Richard Serra asked me, after he saw them, “How does it feel to do revolutionary work?”


You often talk about the nature of perception, especially with regard to the edges of a painting. In your earliest work in the Dia show, the edge is a compositional factor on the front plane. But as you went on, your notion of the edge expanded and turned the corner to the side plane of the stretched canvas. What was your thinking process? There’s the Black Star painting, which has red stars, then I took the colors into white, black and pale blue in White Star (1960-1961). Like the format of the subsequent Korean paintings, Black Star was heavy at the top and had borders. I tricked it out with the little hanging stars in the corners. Later, as I was putting the Koreans together, I was thinking of them as portraits, but not of people. I had been reading Beckett’s The Unnamable, where he talks about osmosis through membranes, and I suddenly decided to construct these paintings as if the blue line were a membrane or a slit back to the sky, between the black outside and the light inside. I was trying to work with totally negative factors, like white, black and sky – all negative elements in a painting. I also wanted to stay away from landscape, so I wasn’t using horizontal brushwork. Vertical strokes make a wall. I was composing in many dimensions. I tried to keep a flat surface that was still, where you could peek through a “slit.” I had to play with the depth of the canvas and at the same time keep it flat. Of course, the top of a painting is different than the bottom. The bottom is naturally weighted, as the eye reads it, so to equalize the surface you weight the top and throw away the bottom. De Kooning did that; every first-class abstract artist does this. Bad artists start at the bottom and build up, so that the top of the painting disappears into the distance. It’s weakest at the top, especially the upper left. These are Western perceptual qualities. I didn’t see any reason to put anything in the middle; white would do. I understood this blank, white area as light. Later on, I used a darker light, a pale gray, tuned just to the point where it’s still perceived as light, before it becomes gray, before it materializes. And the edges are boundaries. Each one affects the others, and the distances from side to side and from top to bottom will actually change their quality and function as you look at them. If you don’t set it up right, that white space can go blank and fall apart on you, but I don’t let it. It has to do with the colors I’ve used, the formats and so on. These are things you play with; if the color’s wrong, or the proportions are wrong, you change them until the painting works. In some of my early paintings, I had to change a lot. In the very first set of symmetrical abstract works there are three large panels (owned by the Museum of Modern Art) that I put together as a triptych, out of the twelve paintings in the series. Originally, the set had four different colors, red, blue, green and yellow, with three colors

in each format (large and small squares, verticals and horizontals). And I actually had painted the outside, “framing” edges black, and it didn’t work. What to do? The black caused the edges to dissolve, so that the paintings just turned into slabs, and so, to counteract this, I had to put white paint around the black outside edge. That did it, but I didn’t know that from the outset, so the triptych in the Modern has black under there. It’ll show through one of these days, even though I put on several coats of white. That whole series of paintings has black around the edges. Mistake, mistake. I didn’t know, but I found out as I was working. And I discovered that the white had to both creep around onto the front edge and also curve inwards on the inner corners. I have to use this entasis, because if you let the edges go straight, the frontal plane of the painting will shoot out at the corners. I was mostly interested in something that sat there, like phenomenology, a there-ness. I did work with Gestalt psychology, but I wasn’t interested in the slightest in it. I was interested in something that’s there. I mean, you’re not going to argue with the monumentality of something. Like you. Yes, everything’s a self-portrait – or not. Isn’t that how all artists work? What about the gentle colors that you used in the experimental Radiator paintings? You’ve intimated to me that you borrowed some colors from Jack. Jack’s a natural painter. Once in a while, he made a color that I liked and I just took some. Oh, you literally stole! I thought you were talking figuratively. Jack ended up using pink and blue, format colors. I have no problems with color, although most people can’t use certain colors, or they hate certain colors, etc. I’m not like that. I can use any color any way I want, and I have some favorites. At what point did you start working figuratively? Let’s call it “image work,” because I think that “figurative” may imply narrative, which I don’t want. I started my first image painting, The Old Year, in New York City but finished it in Ireland. Many of these paintings and drawings have highly charged sexual imagery. Yes, I was using images from cave painting; I could never make up anything like that. I looked at Paleolithic sculptures that are obviously vulvae – the maker just didn’t bother with the rest of the body. These fertility objects interest me: they can be frogs or fish or penises. They’re marvelous. I’ve also used the image of a beautiful little horse, over 20,000 years old. Sometimes I superimposed its back end with Paleolithic cunt sticks.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Richard used to phone me up in the middle of the night and scream at me. We used to argue about philosophy. Richard was a Wittgenstein person, and I liked Alfred North Whitehead and his ideas of elegance and built-in esthetics.

Let’s talk about your early life in Seattle. My mother, Hortense Kalisher Kleinberg, was an artist who did drawings for Vogue. Her mother sold insurance and supported the family in the first decade of the 20th century. I come from a long line of liberated women.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

What was high school like for you in Seattle? I went to a public high school my first year and I hated it. I hadn’t grown yet. Everybody had tits, and I was this little runty thing with a great big nose and big feet. I was very fast and very ugly and actually very well liked, because I was funny. I remember trying to get my mother to buy me a bra when I started developing breasts. She had me in undershirts still. And I wore little dresses with little felt appliqués. I started having migraines every day, so I got my mother to switch me to a girls’ school, Helen Bush School for Girls. It was very chic. It had a uniform, and I was very happy with it. I skipped my senior year in high school in 1946 to enroll in the University of Washington, because all the boys were coming home from the war and going to college. I thought I’d go where the grownup boys were. Your family had deep roots in the West. My grandfather and great grandfather on my father’s side were grain brokers and big land owners, ranchers over three states – Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. My grandfather owned something like 30 farms. They were German Jews who had emigrated in the 1840s and had fought in the Civil War. My mother’s people were from Chicago and then went to Oregon, and my father’s people were from Washington State and Oregon. The grandmother who sold insurance was born in Eugene when it was part of the Oregon Territory. So you grew up in a fairly privileged situation. Very high society, so to speak, almost gentile high society. My girlfriends all belonged to tennis clubs, which I couldn’t join – no Jews allowed. In the school clubs, I was vice-president of everything. Ever since fifth grade, I have always been voted vice-president of every organization I come near. And the reason, I finally figured out, is that it’s an honorary office that keeps disruptive people like me in the group, instead of outside. At the University of Washington, I was in a sorority. I really didn’t like the way they treated me or anybody else. They were such snobs; they blackballed anyone they didn’t like. I was horrified by this. I remember coming into the university library with my boyfriend, and the whole sorority house was picketing something to do with university sorority politics, and I was expected to join them. But I didn’t. I walked through the picket line and then quit. What did you study in college? I took some art classes, but, when I was going to show my work, my mother got very upset. She was highly competitive and rivalrous and

said, “I’m going to go talk to your professors. They have no business encouraging you, making you think you have talent.” She wanted me to be a medical illustrator. She’d been in the fashion world in New York, and she knew what that was like. She did not want me doing anything like that. When I was about 11 or so, she enrolled me in an art school. But instead of getting to do landscapes and figures like the other students, I was put in another room and made to draw crabs or lobsters that she brought in for me to render. My mother had told them that I was going to be a medical illustrator, because there was a lot of money in it, and we were starting me early. In college I took various science courses, and I discovered that, except for chemistry, I was good at all of them. I dropped art when my mother attacked me, and I didn’t pick it up again until I lived in New York years later. Tell me more about your mother. Well, you could talk her into anything. She was a great big woman, much bigger than me. She ran for Congress as a Republican and lost. [laughs] She picketed the waterfront, was called a Communist and thrown into jail because she disapproved of the Japanese buying scrap metal in the ’30s. She kept fluoride out of the Washington State water supply and religion out of the Washington State school system. So she was a freethinker. Yes, but not about me and art. So you majored in biology and graduated? No, I ran away in my junior year and got married. How old were you? Twenty. “I’m getting out of here,” is what I thought, but then the marriage didn’t work. My husband went to New York and began to work for a brokerage, and I ran away from home. I went out to the university, got a job as a waitress, found a room. I really would not stay with my family anymore. In 1950 you went to work on a kibbutz in Israel for six months and then moved to New York. Yes, and I again lived with my husband, even though we were divorced. He thought that away from the families, the marriage might work. But it didn’t. And at this point, you resumed your education. Yes, at the New School graduate faculty, from 1950 to 1953. They were letting me finish my last year of undergraduate studies, and I also was going on to graduate work. But I didn’t finish that, either. I ran away again. I’m still six months short of a Master’s degree – I’m missing a statistics credit. The class met on Saturday mornings; I


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 Untitled (Black Star), 1960-1961 oil on canvas, 183 x 183 cm / 72.1 x 72.1 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Untitled (White Star), 1960-1961 oil on canvas, 183 x 183 cm / 72.1 x 72.1 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 left: Korean, 1963 oil on canvas, 183 x 183 cm / 72.1 x 72.1 inch collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Right: Korean, 1962 oil on canvas, 183 x 183 cm / 72.1 x 72.1 inch private collection


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Untitled, 1963 oil on canvas, 91.4 x 91.4 cm / 36 x 36 inch collection Marilyn Fischbach


At that time, did you frequent the galleries on 10th Street? Not really. I was living on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. I remember going up to the Museum of Modern Art for lunch, but I really had nothing to do with the art world. My friends were mainly philosophers and literary people. I knew people like Norman Mailer and his mates Dan Wolf and Ed Fancher, who was a psychologist. The three of them were in the early stages of founding the Village Voice. I knew the Cedar Bar thing existed; I used to pass by there, but I didn’t participate in it. Other friends were the philosopher Howard Bennett, who used to walk his Afghan hound around the neighborhood, and the mathematician Stefan van Beinem, who taught cosmology at Columbia University. His mother had been a member of the Communist Party and had known Rosa Luxemburg. What brought you back to the West Coast? I had stopped school and was on unemployment insurance. Living in New York was getting to me. I didn’t know any “grownups” – you know, bourgeois property-owners. Someone offered me a ride to LA. I had a rich aunt and uncle there, with a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, next to Gene Autry’s, I think, complete with Angus cattle and horses. But my uncle wanted me to get a job at a brokerage and to tell no one that I was divorced. I lasted about two weeks. My parents sent me a plane ticket home to Seattle. And I lasted there about two weeks. My parents made me go out with boys I used to know when I was in university, those who hadn’t married and were really the leftovers. I just couldn’t stand it. So they gave me my youngest brother’s little Chevy coupe, and a credit card for one month’s gasoline, and I took off once more for Los Angeles to live on my own. I started looking for jobs in the movies, because I thought I’d be an editor or a director. And Hollywood was everything they say it is. You’d go for an interview, and the guy would unzip his fly and say, “On your knees” before you could say, “Hello, my name is.” These are true things. I had about six months of hanging out at Schwab’s Pharmacy before I met my second husband, Dick Baer, who was the nephew of television mogul General David Sarnoff. He was working as an assistant director for a television series starring William Bendix called The Life of Riley. Dick took to me instantly and fed me steak and shrimp cocktails. We were married in the Beverly Hills

Hotel. Tony Bennett sang at my wedding. I used to go backstage and meet such people as Frank Sinatra, and I had a Japanese house boy. So you were a Beverly Hills matron. Yes, I was, and I took to being very perverse about it. I’d go to Elizabeth Arden with unshaved legs or armpits, for facials and haircuts and what not, being very bad. Hat, gloves, naked legs and everything unshaved. I really couldn’t stand being in Beverly Hills. During your short marriage, you bought two paintings by Jan Müller from the Hansa Gallery in 1956, when you went back to New York to show off your infant son Josh to your in-laws. Yes, yes. After Dick and I divorced, a few years later, I sold the big Müller through the art dealer Paul Kantor. I was with Paul then, and we had the same divorce attorney. Paul had me take the money and invest it in Occidental Petroleum – a very good choice. Later, I sold that stock to move to New York with Jack Wesley. And how did you meet Jack? In Venice, most likely, or maybe at an opening at the Ferus Gallery. You weren’t tied into the art world during those early days in New York, but were you involved with the art scene in LA? Yes, I got to know the dealers, because I lived with Paul. I went to all these openings with him, which did not endear me to the other artists. I was just beginning to work in the studio. Edward Kienholz built me a studio out of a garage and put in a skylight for me in a duplex house that I rented. He taught me to make stretcher bars. He was supporting himself by doing construction at that time? Yes. In fact, he and I went into business together, because I had alimony money. What was the nature of the business? He would call me up and say, “I need a hundred dollars or two hundred dollars,” and he would buy something. Then he would sell it and give me my money back, plus 50 percent or whatever. This business thing of ours went on for quite a while, until I left LA in 1960. What might he buy? Cars, stoves, pianos – you name it. He was hustling, and I was his money. He also became partners with my mother, who used to go into all kinds of businesses. She would go to Salvation Army sales and auctions, and she would buy these old Mission oak tables and take the turned legs and have them drilled to make giant, expensive lamps, which she sold to doctors’ offices and places like that. So she and Edward would buy tables; he took the tops, and she took the legs.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

mean, come on. I was working days in an interior design studio and going to school at night. The New School was great, extremely sophisticated, and I was hanging out with philosophers and cosmologists. My economics professor had been the minister of finance in the Weimar Republic, and he had me writing on Keynes deficit financing. I got an A-plus. I was a bluestocking. I sat in on a New School art class taught by the well-known Ecuadorian painter Camilo Egas. I used to slip in and do life drawing when they had models.

You arrived in New York with a group of abstract paintings. On the strength of that work, you got yourself a few appointments with galleries. But you’ve showed me a photo of yourself on the telephone, in the process of canceling those appointments. Why did you do that? I didn’t think the paintings were good enough. I had about 10 6-foot paintings, all in different kinds of colors, and the two star paintings, which I did after the others. They were painterly hard-edged, which was just coming into style then, before Minimalism, so I was on time. I had thrown out Abstract Expressionism, because I thought there was nothing left to do in it; the second and third generations were already picking over the bones. Even so, I found painting the hard-edged stuff not much fun to do – ”idiot work,” we called it. I ended up doing it on sawhorses, much of it, rather than on the wall, just knowing what I needed and getting it done. But I didn’t think they were good enough to show. Jo Baer with her Harley Davidson 65cc in front of the garage that Edward Kienholz turned into a studio for her, circa 1959

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Who else did you know in LA? Chico [Walter] Hopps from the Ferus Gallery. I didn’t show there, though; I wasn’t showable. You had been turned off by Abstract Expressionism when you were in New York in the early ’50s, but back in LA, you decided to try it. There was a traveling show of all the Abstract Expressionists. I sat in front of a Gorky and copied it. I adored Motherwell, but I didn’t like Guston or Joan Mitchell. I found Kline kind of nice. I liked the more formal things. And Rothko, of course; he was an influence to me. Essentially, when I first started to paint, I saw that he had figured out a format way of working, and I liked the idea of a format. Newman, I never could see, although later on I saw some of the early zips that I liked. The minute they got big, though, I found them grandiose.

Your next body of work, begun in 1962, was the Koreans, as Dick Bellamy called them several years later, when he was your dealer. Yes, Dick called them that because, in his poetic reasoning, they were unknown paintings, and no one knew about Korean art either. I did 16 of them originally. I was meeting all these people and trying to show them work. Ivan Karp [at the Castelli Gallery] told me that it was the most aggressive work he’d ever seen; he couldn’t imagine anyone buying it. That was a gender-directed remark. I never even thought of it that way. I just thought the work was too original.

What was your work like then? I tried everything. I did my own Rothkos, my own de Koonings, my own Motherwells. I was imitating the different styles, one after another, painting with house brooms. Before that, I had been playing with figuration, trying different approaches, learning to paint at the age of 29, having been a scientist and an intellectual prior to that. So I learned very fast, within a year. And then you made another transition from the West Coast to the East Coast, coming back to New York with Jack. Yes, but by then I understood the art world. I knew what dealers were. I knew what critics were. You’d had your apprenticeship. Yes, in LA, which was a good place to have it.

Four Feet Square, 1958 oil on canvas, 122 x 122 cm / 48.1 x 48.1 inch collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam


Within two years of the Kaymar show, you had your first solo show at Fischbach, early in 1966. What led up to that? Although Barbara Rose hadn’t mentioned me in her influential “ABC Art” article about Minimalism, she did include a photograph of one of my paintings. Donald Droll of the Fischbach Gallery saw it and called up to say he found it very interesting. That’s how I got the show there. Were museums acquiring your work at that time? Bill Agee liked me and liked the work, and when he was at MoMA he bought a painting for them out of Lawrence Alloway’s Systemic Painting show at the Guggenheim. Diane Waldman acquired one of my paintings for the Guggenheim out of Virginia Dwan’s 10 show. At that time, my paintings were selling for $500 or $700. Systemic Painting, Serial Art [at Finch College] – I was in these shows, but the titles didn’t apply to my work. As Minimalism quickened as a critical concept, three-dimensional objects were increasingly more highly valued than painting. You, Stella, and Mangold were the painters associated with Minimalism. But it wasn’t the painters who were getting the attention; it was the objectmakers. Yes, but as I often pointed out, eventually in print, the ideas behind Minimalism came originally from the painters. And many Minimalist sculptors were failed painters, as I also pointed out, quite rudely, of course. But I’d seen the early Judds and early LeWitts – the paintings – and, judging on that basis, I thought that these guys were probably better off being sculptors. That’s how I saw it. Speaking of being rude... It’s the only way to be, if you’re female. You don’t get anywhere otherwise.

You decided to speak up, and you wrote that letter to Artforum . I got sick of being told that I wasn’t radical when I knew very well that the ideas behind Minimalism had been worked out by Stella and by people like me. And these “object-makers” were Johnnycome-latelys. Just because you can bump into sculpture doesn’t make it that much better; actually, I think it makes it that much worse. An object takes up space, and the idea is no longer clear. So sculpture is a brute force – big fucking deal. I really began to get angry, especially after I was left out of such shows as Kynaston McShine’s Primary Structures (1966) and Cool Art – 1967 at the Aldwich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut. No painters were in these shows, because we weren’t considered radical enough. My breakup with Judd and Flavin came about because of a review that Judd wrote about Kenneth Noland’s target paintings. He said that Noland was the best painter working today, but, since Noland’s work wasn’t that good, it proved that painting was dead. Not long after I read this, Flavin and Sonja and Judd and Julie were at my house one day throwing a football around. For some reason, this subject of the death of painting came up, and I said to Judd something like “Your logic is crap. You can’t say Noland is the best painter, but he’s not very good, so painting is finished. That’s ridiculous, Mr. Falsum Propositum.” I knew the right words to say at the time. And he said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You have no right to speak to me this way, blah blah blah. I’m leaving.” He got very angry with me, because I was laughing at him. And as he was leaving, he turned around and said, “Flavin, are you coming?” And Flavin was standing there with the football and looking at Jack and me, and he just put the football down. “Sorry,” he said to me, and he and Sonja went. Out the door, that was that. So this was before you wrote to Artforum. Can you fill me in on what else led up to that letter? Two articles in the summer 1967 issue of Artforum stoked my fire. One was a critique of Minimalism by Michael Fried in which he misread Judd. For all my differences with Judd, I found his objects original. Fried also didn’t understand how a painter could use shape and size as crucial factors with no illusionary spatial reference, as I did. I sent Fried a personal letter on these points, not for publication; I wanted to enter into a dialogue. He wrote back immediately saying that he ought to write a real response but didn’t have time at the moment. That was the last I heard from him. The other article was Robert Morris’s Notes on Sculpture, in which he refers to the “antique” art of painting. That sent me into rant mode. So I wrote Bob a letter describing my work – we knew each other vaguely through Dick Bellamy – and he never answered. But I began to get very clear about what I thought, and what I was doing, and what was going on.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

In 1964, you had your New York debut when Dan Flavin invited you to participate in the pivotal Eleven Artists show at the Kaymar Gallery. How did that come about? I knew the Judds through Mario Irisarry, a Filipino artist who lived next door to them on 19th Street. Jack and I were still on Park Avenue South, although we soon moved a couple buildings over from the Judds. I had met Mario in Washington Square Park in 1962. You know, you take the kid to the park, and he plays; you sit there on the bench, you know how mothers do. I think Mario picked me up and said he had this crazy friend who did only red boxes or red paintings. This was Judd. So Mario and his wife Helen invited me and Jack to dinner and took us to the building next door to introduce us to Judd and his work. Later, through Judd, we met Flavin and went out to Brooklyn to see him and his wife. Dan liked my work very much and gave me some of his pieces and drawings.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

The very act of writing clarified your thinking. Yes. When I didn’t get an answer from either Fried or Morris, I decided to write to the “Letters” section of Artforum. Not an article, because I didn’t believe in being paid for it. But I wanted to rebut Morris’s designation of painting as “antique,” as well as Judd’s earlier arguments to that effect from his 1965 Specific Objects essay. So I wrote my letter, and Philip Leider printed it. Apparently he got a lot of shit from Leo Castelli and other people for running it. Even Bellamy said to me, “Who the hell do you think you are, attacking Robert Morris?” At the time, I was friendly with Dan Graham; I was teaching him a lot about perception. He had been interested in doing an article on my work for Artforum, but when he went to Leider, for whom he had written other things, and said he wanted to publish a piece on me, Leider said, “No. She’s not going to be in this magazine. No more. Not reviewed. Nothing.” Dan came out of that meeting and called me from a public phone, hysterical. He couldn’t believe that somebody would do such a thing. Artforum’s editorial policy had just been explicitly set up against me and his article. I said, “Hang on,” and I called Clem Greenberg and told him what had just happened. Greenberg told me he’d get back to me; Leider and he played poker together. When Greenberg called me back, he said, “Oh, there’s been a mistake. Somebody has mis-worded things.” “Oh,” I said, “I’m so glad that it was just a misunderstanding.” Did Graham ever get to publish that piece? Dan was so shocked that he dropped it. But in 1972 he asked me to do the cover and write a long related article on perception for Aspen Magazine. When did you get to know Greenberg? He phoned me up after I wrote the Artforum letter. Suddenly I had all these laid-back painters telling me how pleased they were that somebody had finally spoken up. But I also lost friends. After the letter came out, I remember being at a party at the Smithsons’. Everybody in the place was totally hostile to me, so I picked up an unloaded derringer, a little collector’s item, and played around with it, pointing it at people and saying, “Bang. Bang.” Mel Bochner came over to my place and returned books and magazines he had borrowed saying, “I can’t speak with you anymore.” These things really happened! It was absolutely incredible. But there I was, off with Greenberg and his gang – but not for long, and not happily. You were ambivalent about Greenberg’s embrace. You mentioned earlier that you saw the work he’d been championing as too European; you didn’t put yourself in that camp. Exactly. Also, I really didn’t like having to give him work as “presents.” His artists were always very grateful to him, so they gave him work. I thought it was totally corrupt. Greenberg was a brilliant

writer, a brilliant critic, and slimy as hell. I remember a conversation he and I had about color. Clem said, “Jo, you know this is all very well,” by which he meant that he couldn’t promote my work if it was all white and gray. Too stark. “Why don’t you use pink or some other color?” he said. And I said, “Because Ken Noland already does that. You don’t need me doing it.” By which I meant that he had misunderstood what I was doing anyway. I wasn’t a Color Field painter. I was working with degrees of light, and he wasn’t paying attention to that. My telling tales got back to him. I was supposed to apologize, but I didn’t. You must have been marginalized, or felt that way. No, I didn’t feel that way. I was marginalized, and I didn’t even notice. I didn’t care. I just wanted to pay the rent. I’ve never been jealous of these big-name male artists who compete with each other over who has the biggest Cadillac. I felt I had a shot at being a major artist, and there were very few women in that position, so I felt I had to be very responsible. Reputations, how much money you get and all that shit, just did not interest me. I knew that I was asking for trouble by not keeping quiet, but I felt that speaking out was the correct thing to do. And of course I paid for it. I’ve never been bitter about it, though. I did what I felt was right. Did you know some of the women artists who had a presence in the ’60s – Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse, Lee Bontecou, Helen Frankenthaler, Ann Truitt? I knew Eva and had met Agnes, but I didn’t know any of the other women; we were in different worlds. Joan Mitchell lived in Paris, and Grace Hartigan had just disappeared as far as I knew. I did meet Chryssa. And Marisol, who was rich and spooky, and Judy Chicago, who participated in the Primary Structures show under the name of Judy Gerowitz. The Smithsons brought her and her husband Lloyd [Hamrol] over once. I did not take to either of them. Did you respond to her work in the ’60s? It was very different from her subsequent, feminist work. I didn’t think it was any better than Smithson’s at that time. It was nice that there was a woman doing it, and from California at that. Later on, Smithson got more interesting. He used to drop by, and we’d argue about mirrors. He’d say, “Mirror images are identical,” and I’d say, “Mirror images are not identical; the scale is only half, the light goes there and comes back.” I didn’t know his wife Nancy Holt very well. Who were your women friends? The dancers­– Yvonne Rainer, Lucinda Childs, Judy Dunn, Meredith Monk.


would bring a box of blossoms in to my students at the School of Visual Arts. Orchids are exotic, and of course I like exotic things, being one myself.

Performance Trio A by Yvonne Rainer, New York, circa 1974. First on left: Jo Baer.

How did you meet them? I used to go to dance class, both Yvonne’s and Lucinda’s. Lucinda would make you sit still for 45 minutes. It drove me crazy. I cannot sit still for two minutes; everything starts to hurt. Once, Lucinda and Yvonne got together and made me perform on stage in one of Yvonne’s Trio pieces at the Lincoln Center library. When was this? Just before I left for Ireland. This was to make me get over my stage fright, because I had to do seminars and things like that. I really have difficulty being in public, exposed, exhibiting myself, as opposed to my work. So they engineered this event where I was part of the troupe. Yvonne’s an overwhelming stage presence. When she walks on stage you can’t take your eyes off her. I also knew Trisha Brown then. Meredith Monk was just a comer at the time; I went out to drinks with her once. She scared the hell out of me. She rang the buzzer and, when I opened the door, there she was at the bottom of the stairs, singing. At what point did you become enamored of orchids? I remember saying something like, “I wish I knew Greek,” and then I picked up the phone and tracked down a Greek tutor. This is what I did in Los Angeles when Josh was a baby, study Greek, so I had two years of that. Then I remember looking at an orchid and thinking, “Gee, I like those. I want some.” So I started doing research. I bought a book and joined the orchid society. It’s the only time I’ve ever collected anything. I had to build a room for all of them. Then Robert Lobe and I built a glass house, where I spent five hours every Sunday watering the fucking plants. I had a big gardenia tree and

What are the subjects of your current works? I’m working on two self-portraits. In one, I’m including my image at different stages in my life – my teenage face; a reclining nude of myself at a middle, nubile age; and my present face, looking in a blank mirror, I think. I’ve adapted a newspaper photo I found showing an exquisite profile of a horse and trainer. The guy’s face looks something like mine when I was about eighteen. Using the computer, I’ve replaced his face with a teenage photo of my own and framed the pair of them, horse and figure. This will doubtless reinforce the annoying “horse painter” stereotype I am sometimes burdened with, but I’ve used a veritable zoo of creatures in my image work. Besides, girls and horses are an inevitable pairing. That said, I like the composite image so well that I’m going to have it silk-screened on a canvas and then do the rest of the painting, with the other-aged figures, around it. It won’t be exact. The other self-portrait I’m planning will be derived from a photograph of me standing naked that Jack used once for a painting; you may have seen it reproduced in my Stedelijk retrospective catalogue. For years, Harry Abrams had it hanging in his office lobby. There are five images of me in line-up format bounded by a curved “tea-tray” frame. I’ve gone back to the original photo and am stealing one of the five figures, which I want to fit into the shape of a coffin. I don’t know how I’ll proceed with that one, though; it’s for the future. Is the computer a recent tool for you? I’ve used it to work out the last several paintings, yes. As I begin to work, I play with images on the computer. Then I print them out in black and white. I’ve been coloring the printouts with pencils and even Crayolas to help me figure out where I want to go with an idea. Did your experience of being a Westerner shape you as an artist? Some of the best American artists came from around where I did: Rothko from Portland, Pollock from Wyoming, Kienholtz and John Cage from Spokane, Motherwell and Trisha Brown from Aberdeen, Washington, Richard Serra and Yvonne Rainer from the Bay Area, Chuck Close from Monroe, near Seattle. I think people who come from the Pacific Northwest area tend to be very independent. We’re


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

What are you working on right now? I have one painting going, and another one that I’ve laid out. I seem to work in twos or threes. In this case, I’m doing paired paintings, and I may keep it that way and use different kinds of color, the same kind of color three times, and another kind of color three times, so I get pale stuff and then very strong, bright color contrasts, darks and lights, depending on the subject matter.

used to taking care of ourselves, making our own decisions, and getting on with it. Also, you were a first-born child. And your strength arises from two generations of women who were used to functioning as men. Since I was a child it was taken for granted that I must have a career. And so I had all of this working for me, plus good genes for athletic activities and for a long and healthy life, plus a beautiful education and an IQ high enough to handle it, plus some talent. All this was handed to me. So I was very lucky. I did the best I could with these things. I’m not saying that I’m not responsible for any of it, but I certainly had a very good start. I’m a throwback to my great grandparents, who left Europe behind and settled a new part of the world. My brothers became professionals, but I was the real tough farmer type. I consider myself very elegant as well as very vulgar.

Jo Baer interviewed by Mark Godfrey, 2004 Previously unpublished interview with Mark Godfrey, April 29, 2004 This interview was held at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in conjunction with the exhibition A Minimal Future? Art as Object 19581968. The referenced texts by Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Robert Smithson appeared in the following publications. Donald Judd, ‘Specific Objects’, appeared in Arts Yearbook 1965 no. 8; Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture’, appeared in two parts in Artforum, February 1966 and. October 1966; and Robert Smithson, ‘A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art’, appeared in Art International, March 1968, pp. 67-78. Baer’s essay ‘Mach Bands’ is included in this book on pp. 54-63. The seminars that Billy Kluver organized were given under the auspices of Experiments in Art and Technology, cofounded by Robert Rauschenberg, Billy Kluver, Robert Whitman and Fred Waldhauer. For Baer’s text about political art in Artforum, September 1970, see p. 53 of this publication; and for “I am no longer an abstract artist,” see pp. 111-112.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Let’s begin by talking about White Star, the earliest of your works exhibited here. 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. Had you moved recently from LA? Yes, I came to New York in 1960. 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? Yes, absolutely. What was your connection with the art scene in California? Had you seen shows at the Ferus Gallery? 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. What were you making in LA? Essentially, I was learning to paint. Some of the works that I made at that time still exist. I called them Fake de Kooning, Fake Still, Fake Rothko and so on. While you were in LA did you see any of the work that’s included in this show? I saw Johns and Gorky and a big show that came from the Whitney. Jo Baer with her son Josh, New York, 1961

Johns was shown here before you got to New York? No, a collector here owned some of his Targets. I saw the Flags for


White Star presumably has links to your encounter with Johns’s work. I never thought of it that way, but it’s an interesting idea. There’s something about White Star that could be considered protoPop. I was living with one of the people who invented Pop Art. My husband was John Wesley. Did you share a studio? Yes, we stole from each other. It was fascinating to watch how he used a brush. He liked a lot of the colors I made, so we sort of messed around that way. I did a lot of other things which I considered my Pop Art, like the graph paper drawings and paintings. I’ve never had any problem with working with images. The next work in this show, Untitled 62, is part of the series that became known as the Koreans. It marks a major transition – the central motif has been emptied out. What was involved in that move from White Star to the Koreans?

I knew that this was the right way to go. I wanted to make paintings, not pictures. And so I took the star out of the middle and made a painting. Did your certainty that it was the right thing to do come from your knowledge of what else was going on at the time, or did if come from within the work itself? Living in New York, one always knew what was going on. I had done these paintings, and then I met Judd in ’62 or ’63. Through Judd I met Flavin, and then Sol [LeWitt] and Eva [Hesse]. It’s interesting that you discovered these people before you were aware of the emergence of Minimal Art but after you had begun to make it. Yes, we all made it separately. Just like Jack [Wesley] and Lichtenstein and Andy [Warhol] were doing Pop at the same time. Something’s in the air and then somebody comes along and gathers you up and says, “Let’s do a show.” If I remember correctly, Virginia Dwan’s 10 show was actually Ad Reinhardt’s idea. Reinhardt noticed something and wished to be part of it, so he gathered us together and included himself and Agnes [Martin], who were older. That was in 1966, after Dan Flavin had organized the Eleven Artists show at the Kaymar Gallery. Flavin’s show was in 1964. It included a number of us along with several different kinds of artists. It was actually reviewed in The New York Times, so it wasn’t hidden. This emerging Minimalism was not an underground thing at all. It was in the air. Were the paintings from the Korean series shown at the time, or only later? They were not shown until 1971. Ivan Karp, who was working for Castelli when he saw them in ’63 said that they were very American and very aggressive and that he couldn’t believe anybody in the world would buy one of them. I was sort of stuck. There were 16 of them and they took up a lot of room, so I had to rent storage space for them. I got sick of paying rent on them and said, “I think I’m going to destroy them, to hell with it.” That’s when Flavin offered to take them in. Someone else ended up storing them, though, for money. The motifs at the top of the Koreans differ, but otherwise the paintings in the series are similar. Did you derive these from drawings? From six-inch drawings – gouaches – a number of which were borrowed for a show in Munich, and never given back.

Installation view, exhibition 10, Dwan Gallery, New York, 1966, including work by Baer, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt

The white paint on White Star looks very different to the white paint on the Korean in the show. The Koreans were painted over. Over time, oil tends to darken white paint. White Star was not repainted, and you can see what happened.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

the first time in New York. I was very taken with Johns.

When were the Koreans repainted? As soon as I found a way of keeping white paint white. I worked it out with the restorer at the Guggenheim, Oren Reilly. We used an acrylic resin which was compatible with oil and isolated every third layer with varnish. We did samples and aged them for two hundred years and things like that. Did they turn out the way you wanted? Yes, I just wanted nice white paint. Even though the lines seem very straight, up close it’s clear that they were hand made. Was it important to you to convey that fact? I don’t care about the hand in the sense of ‘Oh wow, it’s handmade.’ But a mechanical line is dead. A hand-painted line is kept alive by light. Light jumps off every wiggle, every slight irregularity.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

You mentioned that by removing the image of the star you were able to create not a picture, but a painting. But there’s still some residual sense of referentiality in these paintings – to columns, for instance. Yes, I like that. Did you see the move from the Koreans to these very spare paintings as a further reduction or as a way to expand? All references to columns or whatever those little shapes in the top corners might suggest are gone. Well, no one would show the ones that had little things in the corners, so I moved to what I consider the more ordinary or less original compositions because I really wanted to show work. On the other hand I found it very interesting to work with just the color. That’s when I really began to concentrate on the notion of light. I discovered what was happening with the color lines, and I developed a different referential system. That’s also when I started making the gray paintings. One of the surprising things about these reductive paintings is that although they look simpler that the Koreans, the visual experience they offer is more complicated. The color changes as you walk from side to side. When you stand in front of it, it zigs around the painting. Yes, I found this all very interesting, so it was okay to let go of the other kind of reference system. You’ve described the paintings as sumptuous. Was that sumptuousness picked up by other people at the time? My peers didn’t like the idea that I was using color at all. They thought I should stick to black and white. Then there were others like Clem Greenberg who thought I should paint it pink. Did you meet Greenberg? Yes. After I wrote a letter to Artforum attacking the sculptors, he invited me to his house. He said, “Hello, here’s a martini,” and then,

“Why don’t you paint it pink? Why are you always painting it white or gray?” I answered, “Because Noland paints it pink, or Olitski paints it pink. You don’t need me to paint it pink.” Your letter to Artforum was published in the September 1967. It’s one of the only instances of a painter in the mid-‘60s defending their work against Judd’s and Morris’ charges against painting. At what point did you sense an emerging hostility? Was it in conversation, or was it when you read Judd’s Specific Objects and Morris’ Notes on Sculpture? Their writings offended me. After all, all of this sculpture had come out of painting. The thinking was done in painting. These sculptors had been crummy painters – they were smart to go to sculpture. People were saying ‘Painting’s dead,’ ‘Painting can’t be radical,’ and so on. It was very annoying. Finally I got fed up and decided to write a polemical piece about it. It’s a very carefully written document. Why didn’t you publish it as an article? I didn’t want to be paid for it. This was just something I wanted to say. Even as it was, my dealer said, “Who the hell do you think you are, attacking Bob Morris?” People were very upset with me. Did you feel you were writing a polemic on behalf of your own work, or was it also on behalf on the painters around you? I didn’t see any painters around me doing anything close to what I was doing, so of course my main concern was my own work, but I would have to say that I was defending painting. I adore painting, and I felt it wrong that these sculptors were playing fast and loose for their own ends. Do you know how Brice Marden or Robert Mangold responded to your letter? I have no idea. The ones who congratulated me were the English artists, like John Walker and John Hoyland. Then all kinds of strange, bad painters came crawling out, saying what a hero I was, which I found really awkward. Did you feel that the art world was chauvinist at that moment? Was this letter more threatening because it came from a woman? I just saw that these sculptors were running roughshod all over the place. I didn’t think I was being discriminated against for being female, although in fact I was. I wasn’t particularly sensitive to it, although the women around me, like Lucy Lippard, were very concerned with feminism in the arts. Robert Smithson and Mel Bochner weren’t much involved in the debate between painting and sculpture. Bochner was interested in seriality and the way in which some of your works might be placed in a number of different orders. And Smithson wrote a text in which he compared


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 Untitled (Vertical Flanking Diptych - Yellow-Ochre), 1966-1974 oil on canvas, two parts, each 244 x 174 x 7.3 cm / 96.1 x 68.5 x 2.9 inch collection Gemeentemuseum, The Hague


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Stations of the Spectrum - Primary Colors, 1967-1969 oil on canvas, three parts, each 183.5 x 183 x 6.8 cm / 72.3 x 72.1 x 2.7 inch The Trustees of The Tate Gallery, London


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 Untitled (Wraparound Triptych - Blue, Green, Lavender), 1969-1974 oil on canvas, three parts, each 122 x 132 x 6 cm / 48 x 52 x 2.4 inch collection of the artist


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Untitled (Stacked Horizontal Diptych - Aluminium), 1966-1974 oil on canvas, two parts, each 152.4 x 213.3 x 6.4 cm / 60 x 84 x 2.5 inch private collection


About what? He would say that it didn’t matter what his work looked like as long as it followed the plan. I would laugh at him and say, ‘When you make the plan, you know what the work is going to look like. You care about that.’ He would deny this. He was particularly vehement in insisting that the visual thing was not important. That was just bullshit. Some or maybe all of your own paintings were made from maquettes. Were there occasions when a painting didn’t work out for you and you destroyed it? Or I changed it. It can be interesting when something doesn’t work. You learn. I suppose that real talent lies in being able to fix things, because things never turn out exactly the way you want them to. What about Dan Graham? When did you get to know him? In 1964, when he put me in the opening show of the Daniels Gallery. He was still a writer then. He did some writing on my work that wasn’t published because of the flak over my letter to Artforum. Later, in 1969, Graham put together an issue of Aspen magazine in which you published a very long and dense pamphlet called Mach Bands. In that text, you discuss Mach’s theories of vision and make a case for painting that’s based on perceptual science. Had you already worked on the subject, or did Graham’s invitation prompt you to take it up? Both. I had gone to one of Billy Kluver’s seminars. I learned a lot from it and did a lot of reading, which I found fascinating. Then I think Dan became interested in what I was interested in and asked me to expand on it, so I sat down and really tried to put it together. In your text, you explain why color glows more on one boundary than on the other in places where it’s sandwiched between white and black. It’s a retinal phenomenon. Visual activity adds light to whatever place the eye focuses on, so color in the focal area looks very bright and shimmering. The same color on the same surface but outside the focal area goes muddy.

Which means that the color in your paintings appears to change as you walk past them. Yes, or as you stand in front of them. In some respects, then, the mobile spectator that Morris was interested in is also the viewer of your painting. Yes. You did this research after you’d done the paintings. There aren’t many painters that I can think of from this period who would be able to look to science for a way of accounting for their work. What degrees had you done? I didn’t do degrees. I just went to classes. I worked on gestalt at the New School and took courses in physiological psychology and things like that at NYU. The Mach Bands phenomenon doesn’t happen in Stations of the Spectrum, the gray painting series. Well, it really does, but not importantly. In those the color glows. How did you get to these grayed works? I was interested in qualities of light as a subject, and I wanted a dimmer light, a twilight. So per one tube of Windsor white, titanium, add one-quarter teaspoon of Mars black. Why did you group the canvases? Originally they were six, and I split them into two triptychs. What was it about triptych and diptych formats that interested you at the time? I have written about it. I have said that a single painting is unique; a diptych has to do with identity – you’ve got it twice, now you know what it is; and three or more implies a continuous thing, an infinite number. I actually made Stations of the Spectrum to be hung in a circle. Or they could be grouped any way you want. The title Stations of the Spectrum obviously recalls Stations of the Cross. I was commenting on Barney Newman’s Stations of the Cross, which I saw at the Guggenheim in 1966. I thought it was a pretentious title, and he knew it. One of my triptychs went to Documenta in 1964, and he told me that he saw it there. He knew what I was doing. Stations of the Spectrum invokes the religious and fuses it with the scientific. You’ve spoken about your use of blue and its reference to the sky. In the Dia exhibition you showed drawings of little stars. There’s a metaphysical thread running through the work at times. Yes, but I don’t need it in the titles. I think that’s unnecessary. It sells work, I guess, but I don’t think it’s such a nice thing to do.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

your paintings to the Bellman’s map in Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark. He talked about your paintings as blank maps. What was your association with Smithson and Bochner and Dan Graham? I knew all three of them quite well. I liked to argue with Smithson. I liked his writing far better than his art. He was particularly interested in mirrors and would tell me that mirror images are identical. I would argue that they’re not. This used to annoy him greatly. I have a background in the sciences, and Smithson was a very literary person. He really did not like being corrected this way. I also used to argue with Sol [LeWitt].

All of this work was made during a very rowdy time in American politics. In September 1970, you contributed a text to a symposium in Artforum that asked artists to elaborate on the political import their work. Can you talk about the circumstances of that symposium or what you wrote? I wrote that you can go out in the world and work for whatever political cause that you feel that you should work for, but I didn’t think it had much to do with the art world. On the other hand, when Kent State happened, we asked the museums to take down our work.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Who’s “we”? It was just a gathering of artists who met and asked for this to happen. We simply did not want business going on as usual. The Modern took down the work – they owned paintings of mine that were on show – and they put a sign up explaining why the art had been temporarily removed. The Whitney did the same thing. But the Guggenheim did something very strange. They emptied the entire museum and left it open. The director said he didn’t want artists coming in and vandalizing the works. Astonishing! As if we would do such a thing! The Daily News ran a two-page spread of the empty interior. Was this the same director who canceled the Hans Haacke show in 1971? Yes. Also, The New York Times came out with articles saying that artists should not interfere in politics, that they should just do their work and mind their own business. Chuck Close and Robert Lobe and I wrote a letter to the Times saying that therefore we would have no Guernica and so forth, but they didn’t publish it. The text that you wrote for Artforum says that abstract art can be radical and political. You argued that a work which has contained boundaries and a very strict structure implies a political attitude. I think we were naïve. To make those arguments? Yes. The work at that time was sometimes called utopian, but I think it was actually naïve. I say that now, looking back. The most dramatic shift in your work occurred in the mid ’70s, and later you wrote a text called “I am no Longer an Abstract Artist.” Did your disillusionment with abstraction stem from a growing sense of this naïveté? I wasn’t disillusioned with it. I just thought it was over. I thought it was time to move on and do other things. The world had changed and the work needed to change too. I thought there should be more content, more meaning, and I thought the work should be broader and invite more people, instead of addressing just the very high art world. I was really trying to expand the audience.

Graph-paper Paintings (two from a set of four), 1962-1963 left: Horizontal Rectangle; right: Vertical Trapezoid oil on canvas, each 91.4 x 91.4 cm / 36 x 36 inch collection Kunstmuseum Winterthur

At one point, the differences between your work of the ’60s and ’70s and your work of the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s seemed very stark. Do you sense connections between your current work and your work in this show? I have always seen a continuity. What is its basis? I haven’t given anything up or away; I’ve just expanded. Do you mean that in terms of how the paintings are made, in terms of what you’re doing with color? I recently saw works in your studio where greens and reds come together in a way that’s not a million miles away from how color functions in the early work. I think that’s correct. Does the continuity extend to other kinds of meanings? I don’t think that way. Essentially I just think about the next work and what I want to do. One of the high points in this show is the room with works by Judd, John Chamberlain, and Oldenburg. It’s a room which is obviously indebted to Judd’s taste and sensibility, and a room which might help people see Minimalism in a more expansive way. Your tastes were also diverse. Do you feel that your work might be better seen in a broader context?


How would you describe that difference? Mine isn’t as spare; it isn’t cut down. I wasn’t making gestures; I was making paintings. They have a different source. I’ve shown with Judds quite a lot in Europe, especially some of the later Judds. They’re very brutal and big and colorful. You can hang my paintings beside them and it works. It won’t work if you try the same thing with most of these other paintings that were done at the same time. So I can show as a Minimalist very well, even though I wasn’t doing the same thing as these other artists. I think Judd and LeWitt and Morris certainly were the best of them. Their work still holds. It’s really there. That’s one of my criteria for good art. If people are saying thirty and forty years later how fresh my works look, it’s because I cared about exactly that – that the paintings should really be there. What got you to doing the wraparounds, the paintings you painted around the sides? I was interested in seeing what happens when you go around a corner. It’s as simple as that. Things change quite radically in all kinds of ways when you go around a corner. In these paintings you almost efface the corner, because the black paint makes it nearly impossible to see. Yes. But remember that I’m a painter and I have a thing against sculpture, so of course I would do that.

This is entasis, as the Greeks did it. But that slyness gets cranked up to another level in these works from the ’70s. Yes, but a painting is all about illusion anyway. I could quote from one of your texts in which you wrote that there’s no illusion in your painting. Yes, you just did. Thank you very much. You can make a painting that has no illusion if you use illusions, because all vision is illusionary anyway. Everything that you see is the brain’s best guess as to what’s out there. Not only are these fake shadows painted in, but when the surface turns a corner, the colors often shift slightly. When you’re looking at them, you’re not sure whether it’s the lighting in the gallery which is responsible or whether it’s actually a change in color. There are a lot of these kinds of deceptions. Painting has always been about things like this. Otherwise, you’d use a camera. Painting has to do with light and how things change. Velasquez’s grapes – the purple grapes where there’s no paint there at all, but you see grapes – it goes back as long as painting. We play with stuff, and it’s what makes things vibrant, stay alive, and interesting to look at. What is the reason that you live in Europe? Well, I get to ride a bicycle everywhere, and I’m not in my own country, so whatever’s happening, here or there, none of it’s my fault. But there are lots of reasons.

Some people react to these and to the paintings that come out of them, the ones called Radiators, by asking whether you were not making painted sculpture. Presumably, you would say “no.” Well they’re only four inches deep. Some of Stella’s are ten inches deep, and nobody asked him questions like that. So I figure at four inches I can duck that question. But in fact I prefer the flat surface. I have said many times that the wraparounds were interesting to do, and I’m glad I did them, but I don’t think they’re my best work. They take part too much in object-hood. I would disagree with you. A lot of young people do, but I think that’s because it’s no longer important whether something is sculpture or painting. It’s no longer an interesting subject. In my day it was. What interests me about the wraparound paintings from the early ’70s is that there’s something deceptive about them. Often, fake shadows are painted in. There is trickery, and it goes on in the earlier works too. Painted vertical elements which look straight are actually slightly curved.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

I would prefer it in another context. I can see the difference between my work in this show and most of the rest of the art, the hard-core Minimalism.

Letter to Jasper Johns, 1965

Letter to Marilyn Fischbach and Donald Droll, 1966

Baer wrote this previously unpublished letter on the occasion of a benefit exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York organized by Jasper Johns for Merce Cunningham’s Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. The work she contributed was a large gouache drawing made a year or two earlier for a show celebrating the Paris Review. Subverting the intended promotional character of the piece, which, like all the works solicited for the Paris Review show, was expected to be a mock-up for an advertising poster, Baer purposely misspelled “Review” as “Revue.” Reject Poster, as the drawing came to be titled, was excluded from that exhibition and was later retrieved from PR editor George Plimpton’s basement. It is now lost.

The following letter may never have been sent. It is addressed to Marilyn Fischbach and Donald Droll, proprietors of the Fischbach Gallery, where Baer’s first solo exhibition in New York had ended two months earlier. The P and Q in Baer’s text – as in many of her earlier writings – refer to the domain of mathematics and statistics, particularly symbolic logic. ‘The skill with which a painter renders his friends’ is an allusion to the painter Alex Katz. Baer had Michael Steiner in mind when she wrote: “your feeling for ‘enlarging’ the art goes to the stroboscopic lamp”.

May 1966

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

November 23, 1965 Dear Jasper Johns: This drawing really looks better without the acetate covering. If you agree, and if in the course of affixing eyelets, string or whatever to hang it with it should be bumped on the edge, WN Ivory Black “Designers’ Gouache” plus your fine hand should fix it fine. Since the edges frame sufficiently, and I am hooked on an unto-itself (Ding an sich) concept, I would prefer it “unframed” in the conventional sense. The title should be “Reject Poster” I think; reference to Plimpton (i.e. Plimpton’s Reject, etc.) reiterates a name I have no intention of furthering correctly spelled or no (what a temptation!). I share Flavin’s penchant for historical trivia, so I’ve left the original label on the back, although the address is now incorrect. Will this do as a signature? Matters of price would best be left to you. I think you should try to sell it to Plimpton or to his sponsor Mrs. Henry Heinz (2 or 3?). That way they can recoup an embarrassing situation since this poster is superior to anything they had in their show. He’s had it in a trunk in his basement for a year and a half (date it 1964). Best wishes for a successful show with much money made. Jo Baer

Dear P and Q, My recent dis-affiliation from your gallery occasions and provokes me to some first and second and third thoughts. The stance of your gallery, the nature of my peer group, and the axiology underlying our relationship all bear on my departure. Since these subjects generalized are a constant gossip factor and ubiquitous, perhaps this letter can be published. Anonymously. To begin with first thoughts, I believe you misunderstood the nature of my work and the special nature of my peers. It is elite, but so many elites constellate our art world: old-guard like Motherwell, Rivers and all the museum directors; critic’s-guard like Rauschenberg and Noland; popguard with its parvenus; international-garde, plethora of nonentity; inside-guard like Newman and Reinhardt; and finally, avant-garde like Morris, Andre, Judd in sculpture, Stella and Poons for the painters. I guard with the latter ones. Avant-garde has the meaning “new,” along with its qualitative meanings: some of the other-guard artists above were once avant-garde, and Bob Morris seems on the brink of becoming some-other-guard; Poons is something else too, a retarded radical, perhaps. And this list is not meant to be all-inclusive. The defining qualities of radical work are harder to express. Most obvious is the shock property which vanguard work traditionally seems to have. Nowadays it is always a result, never an intention. (The subversive intent belongs to history and Kienholz, a derriere cause). For instance, Carl Andre’s rooms do look peculiar with the bricks or block structures, but these materials cannot be improved on for his purpose, and surprise disappears as one begins to read the work. The jolt is caused by an unfamiliarity which is built in. It is a function of invention and to a greater or lesser degree, artist to artist, it usually shocks or annoys beholders. This is a nice side-effect. It is not sensationalism and it is not very important. Unlike this happenstance result, the following three avant-garde features are intentional and necessary. We have to do with limits: developing and enlarging and defining them. First, the word “vanguard” supposes historical progression, and at the front means to


no longer has reality, in fact becomes an incredible misstatement. Now when a gallery chooses to exploit such factors, it not only debases the work in general, it also blunts or hides the true objectives. And unfortunately, your comprehension of the salient features of difficult art was and still is nil. Your knowledge of the most “developed state of the art” stops at the skill with which a painter renders his friends; your feeling for “enlarging” the art goes to the stroboscopic lamp; art created “in its own terms” becomes a painter painting the paint on a sculpture which a sculptor sculpted. (Parenthetically, about New York galleries: they all have some things wrong with them, and they all handle some bad artists). Since your place is especially involved in the literary gimbal, in fact sponsors a press, I want to note some particulars on this subject. I think the literary orientation always disfigures the intentions of explicit art, even though in the hands of a first-rate poet like John Ashbery the destructive quality is not readily visible (he is very astute in his choice of artists and in his sensitivity to the correct and real nuances present). Yet when an artist works hard for the how-made and where-placed of something, it is misleading to put these elements aside, or merely list them, in favor of adjectives and allusive semblancings. And to review in analogy where none exists is to utterly misunderstand and misdirect. Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

begin at the tip of everything else. Frank Stella does this especially: he took over only over-size and over-all-field from the Abstract Expressionists. However, he carried their implications into the new art which he invented, and he continues to develop his concepts from his own prior ones. His was the most developed art of the day in ’58, and he works today out of the most developed art of ’65. He illustrates a linear evolution which has spun off one half-disciple, Zox, and one demi-movement, the shaped canvas. A second way to deal with limits is to broaden or enlarge them. Where Stella persists and invents vertically, Don Judd is a sort of horizontal radical. Starting from the work of Bontecou, Johns, and Chamberlain in ’62 perhaps, Judd’s work opens out a number of possibilities and questions. Very little about his oeuvre is resolved, except piece to piece, and it is even hard to name it sculpture. Whereas Chamberlain and Bontecou were straightforward translators of painting and drawing, Judd is not. He’s begun a wide wave which, so far, the retrograde-scientism of his juniors has obscured. The third part of the radical definition is highly technical. Clement Greenberg somewhere describes modern art as a continuous, foliating self-criticism of the art. I agree. That is why the vanguard artist works only with the quiddity of art; and that is why Morris is avant-garde while, for instance, Dan Flavin is not. Morris’ big gray shapes make the most of volume, and ply the space and placement functions. In this work his subject is intensely sculpture, even though he dances naked, writes dogma, and Sculpt-metals on the side. However, Flavin’s statement is the light tube and the light bulb. While these real objects have more immediate presence than a work of art, they quickly become boring like the other bric-a-brac around. He often derives his arrangements from spatial compositions of the Thirties, which add the art, albeit academic, dimension. This kind of work does not adduce the bases of art, and therefore fails of a radical definition. The synthesist, the perfectionist, the iconoclast all belong to the metier of manner. They provide the welllit shrine, the beautifully colored-stripe illusion, the indignant social commentary. Unlike the vanguard, they never ask the questions which redefine limits. A too-late hindsight informs me that you two misread me in all the above terms. It appears you exhibited my work for its immediate stun potential (mistakenly: only one Yugoslav had a tantrum and one museum assistant felt he had been had). Since I find all forms of expressionism extremely dull, it was disconcerting to be prized as such by my sponsors; only expressionists try to make empty, monotonous, obdurate, subversive or sullen work. Although each of these words can characterize and specify one of the artists named earlier, not one of them works in these “expressions” because the qualities are shallow and most irrelevant: they describe a superficial effect, a consequence of invention, which indeed changes in description once the work is understood. A Stella could first be encountered as “monotonous,” but as the whole painting is taken in this adjective

Installation view, exhibition Jo Baer, Fischbach Gallery, New York, 1966


On the Function, Place, Conditions of Museums, 1966 This text was published as a statement in Arts Yearbook, December 1966 under the title “About Museums.”

A major museum must act as a depot for the very new art and a repository for the old. This constant double function would assure the users a better chance to see how things are. The homogenized potpourri shows by our vanguard museums neuter the best new art and shelter the worst: they make and perpetuate an asylum for third-class art. One museum in New York specializes in collecting it. Since the old museums remain only depositories for the old, and the new museums engage solely in new repertory, the preferred site for viable exhibition is anywhere else in the public domain.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

To see Judd as a maker of boxes would be this kind of mistake. Judd’s “boxes” have no bottom (floor) sides, are internally filled up with criss-crossing wires and turnbuckles, and have no corner bracings: he makes a lousy box. On the other hand, Larry Bell’s boxes are uniquely “box.” He places the sixth side on a transparent stand so that all six sides are seen, complete and visible, his materials render the interior empty (waiting to be filled in its box-nature by box-filling), the sides and seams are well supported by metal tapes for this holding function. And he decorates the sides with an elegant smoke or incised ellipse. Bell makes beautiful boxes, not sculpture, and one can legitimately write on into a History of Box, or Box the Erotic, or Marketing and the Box in a Modern Economy. My point, of course, is that the artist’s meaning is prime and must be respected. To force an abstract artist’s work into the world of resemblances is to do it great disservice, although the literary way does implement that art which is mixed or literary in its goals. Since my endeavours are abstract and in the explicit mode, we must really disagree, and continually. It is not true that any publicity and all press are good.


Previously unpublished statement for Dan Graham, December 1966. Baer, who was friends with Dan Graham, wrote the text in Graham’s characteristically mathematical style. Graham wanted to write an article about her work for the journal Artforum, for which he had written articles in the past. However, the chief editor of Artforum, Philip Leider, refused to have anything more to do with Baer after she had sent a letter to the editors in 1967 criticising Robert Morris and Donald Judd (see pp. 4244 of this publication). Even after mediation by Clement Greenberg, Graham’s text was never completed and published. For a more extensive description of this affair, see Judith E. Stein’s interview with Baer in this publication (pp. 13-26).

The photos show one set of double paintings from a series of six double sets all the same shape. The pairs effect a size increment/ decrement: 36˝ x 25.71˝ x 1.07˝; 48˝ x 34.28˝ x 1.43˝; 60˝ x 42.85˝ x 1.79˝; 72˝ x 51.43˝ x 2.14˝; 84˝ x 60˝ x 2.50˝; 96˝ x 68.38˝ x 2.86˝. The paintings are proportioned for horizontal/vertical qualities: flanking horizontals accentuate the horizontal, a tiered set generalizes in this regard; stacked verticals (see photo) stress verticality, adjacent verticals are neutral. Different chroma, tones, values of the color band are more or less efficient for the different sizes and different horizontal/vertical properties. Two positions are repeated, in different colors, as big and little: the flanking horizontals 48˝ x 34.28˝ x 1.43˝ and 84˝ x 60˝ x 2.50˝; and the adjacent verticals 60˝ x 42.85˝ x 1.79˝ and 96˝ x 68.38˝ x 2.86˝.

Horizontal Rectangle: Bright Green, 1966-1968 Statement originally published in the exhibition catalogue Systemic Painting, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1966, p. 23. The revised version, below, was written for the Museum of Modern Art in 1968 when the museum, which borrowed the work described, loaned it to the US Embassy in Budapest. The work is now in the collection of Josh Baer, New York.

Horizontal Rectangle: Bright Green is one of a series of twelve paintings. There are four colors in the series: blue, green, purple, yellow. There are also four sizes and shapes: large squares, small squares, vertical rectangles, horizontal rectangles. Each particular size and shape needs particular properties of color: intense, or pale, or grayed, or bright. The possibilities for combination or grouping of the paintings are the permutations of factorial twelve (12 superscript ! = 479,001,600) or whatever set factors are chosen. All the paintings are color in a luminous mode and each is constructed equivalent to the others as a color presence within its particular mode.

Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Statement for Dan Graham, 1966

Schematic “record” of a series of diptych paintings from 1964-1972


Letter to Michael Fried, 1967 Previously unpublished letter to Michael Fried. On July 10, Fried wrote a short reply to Baer’s letter from Cambridge, Massachusetts: “It deserves much more of a response than I am free to give it right now (…) So let me simply thank you again. It is always a special (and rare) pleasure to be read seriously. There is a chance that I will be able to get to New York for a few days, perhaps around the 20th, and if I do I will try to get in touch with you.” There was no subsequent follow-up to this correspondence.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

July 7, 1967 Dear Michael Fried: I appreciated your article “Art and Objecthood” in the Summer Artforum. Since you are the first critic to engage the subject deeply (the Greenberg essay was distant and rather wide of its marks), perhaps my comments will interest you. My own work is sometimes called new “painting” within the objecthood matrix, an unpleasant enough contradiction; your essay clarifies this affliction for me, beyond the unworthy thought which knows most of the objectmakers as failed “painters.” About Judd: the subject is complex. His strictures on painting derive from his own painting of ’57-’61, and it was really bad painting: trite, dead, and uninformed. (Then came the miracle of transformation: Judd’s first “specific object”: a metal loaf pan set behind, dead center and flush, to a large, roughed-up, red or maybe black surface. He invited Jasper Johns to see it. Your footnote #18.) To add further to your writ, when Judd writes “Almost all paintings are spatial in one way or another. Yves Klein’s blue paintings are the only ones that are unspatial...” he can not see how articulated, unspatial canvases are possible, an indication of his own faculties, not the art’s; while to discuss the panels of Yves Klein as painting is to insult and mistake the art. At any rate, Judd’s writing abounds with unpropitious projections of this sort. However, I want to suggest that Judd’s writing and his art are not necessarily identical. His art often opposes what he says. He insists on new, “non-art” materials as a critical standard, yet he works, in the main, with sheet metal and lacquer, as old in art as Calder and the Orient. Nor is he as “literal” as his pose suggests. The lacquered surface detaches quite readily from its object. The object is not red; it is covered by a red film. That is, he tries for an immaterial glow, not for a dense red object. This translucence is one aspect of Judd’s anthropomorphism as you itemized it: mysterious interior (spiritual or hollow?) incrementing serially out and along the walls. But have you never felt the immediate, implausible, unlikelihood of those wall pieces? They are original, peculiar, and perhaps not at great odds with your criteria. Morris seems another matter: I find your analysis inspired and accurate. I think his first “primary” structures back in ’61, ’62, even

’63 (Column, Cloud, Platform, etc.) were actually part of his surrealist packet; they participated in the intellectual literalism of his handprint/glove and footprint/steps pieces. I doubt he knew they were “primary” or even “minimal” at the time. They were just more of the clever old name game. Interestingly, all that was needed to make them “objects” was a change of title: from the literary, which is allusive, to the geometric, which is not. The interchanged and easily changed venue points up the closeness of the two intellectual positions. (Flavin’s light-shrines are perhaps their perfectly realized union.) I have regarded Morris’ work as mannered, but “theatrical” is doubtless more modern and exact. He has, however, made one real work of art which I know of, polemics aside. It is the large, gray, slightly floating tetrahedron, untitled, which occupies a room’s corner. I think it has value as a portrait of Morris himself: it shows its uninflected, triangular facade, with the other three sides present, active, but hidden. It is cornered, cool, and tense as his stance itself. When a “surrogate statue” is invented beyond its abstract qualities, as in this particular piece by Morris, I think it is real art. Some form of portraiture has been legitimate, if minor, all along (vide, Abstract Expressionism). Aristotle says in the Poetics, section XXV: “the necessity is always to imitate any one number of three entities: either what was existing or is: or what they say and as it appears; or what needs to be.” In a sense, portraits work with “what was existing or is”; Modernist Art with “what needs to be”; and perhaps OpPop do with “what they say and as it appears.” Aristotle found all these forms possible, if of varying merit. One good reason to work in painting is that it is already conventionalized as “art,” and there is no further need to differentiate it from “objects.” If to give full attention to the formal means and content of painting, within and beyond its history, defines the painting as “modernist,” I accept the designation for myself. As you well know, shape came into painting from the problems of illustration and illusion. Painted circles on square canvases made inopportune, figure-ground pictures; Stella, Johns and Noland all variously appreciated this and solved it. There was no question of “presence” involved. You are entirely correct to see a misunderstanding and dilution of this technical necessity become biased towards entity. I find the uniform, spray-painted, sequined shapes of our latest “young painters” just so much bad wall sculpture, precious to boot. However, the painting argument with or against shape need not remain the battleground which you evoked: the terms may be synthesized. Shape, or the dialogue of shape and content, need not be the subject. Shape can be evolved and realized like the paint or canvas itself – that is, as one of our necessary and given tools. I use shape and size as crucial factors in my work, without featuring them as such. And contrary to Judd’s assurance, it is possible to do so with no illusionary, spatial reference; moreover, I’m speaking of articu-


lated canvases, those which consist of and insist on a syntax. To accomplish this it has been necessary to clarify and recast the subject of color in painting, to its progenitor, reflected light. This new position is remarkably rich in possibilities and new paintings. No one, neither critic, friend, nor dealer, has yet picked up or understood what I’m working with, but in this day of intermedia and intra arts, this can’t be too surprising. As you say, the difficult is not greatly esteemed. If you are in town and would care to continue the conversation, be free to call. And of course, a reply would be well received.

Letter to Robert Morris, 1967 Previously unpublished letter to Robert Morris.

July 29, 1967 Dear Bob: I pick up your accolade, the horsegift of a friend, For the prize of your save is the price of my spend.

Jo Baer 53 E.10th St. NYC, NY. 10003 533-5094

With apologies to Jimmy Joyce, gratitude for a presumed notice of quality in my unshaped rectilinear supports, and in reference to the “antique” art of painting, Morris, Part III, Summer Artforum, a question: why bother to hold, let alone publish, the myth of “inescapable, inherent illusionism” in painting”? (The original wishfulthinking was Judd’s: “Specific Objects,” Contemporary Sculpture, Arts Yearbook 8.) You speak of “marks on a flat surface” as if they were structurally, actually, and necessarily allusive or ambiguous. They’re not: your statement refers to a convention. Marks on a flat surface are exactly that: marks on a flat surface. A Berber can’t see our traditional drawing as a “picture,” much less as a “spatial illusion.” To avoid the conventional illusion, be a Berber. Or avoid conventional marks. (Space illusions are from the Renaissance, where their painted distances carried a subliminal teleology. Contiguous painted marks are not in themselves progressive; they are only so if their ends or contexts are so designated. Certain “advanced” sculptors amongst us have worked hard to perpetuate this same, tired, Renaissance teleology with objects. Time (sic) mag likes them best. A painting is an object which has an emphatic frontal surface. On such surfaces, I paint a black band which does not recede, a color band which does not obtrude, a white square or rectangle which does not move back or forth or to or fro or up or down; there is also a painted, white, exterior frame band which is edged around the edge to the black. Every part is painted and contiguous to its neighbor: no part is above or below any other part. No part looks like it is above or below any other part. There is no hierarchy. There is no ambiguity. There is no illusion. There is no space or interval (time). Some antique. Allusion is everyone’s problem. It refers to new sculpture as much as to old painting; it usually exists at the mundane level. You’ve worked notably with it in the past. (And I remember I once, unthoughtfully, set my purse down on one of your newer, mirror “pieces,” while I looked at the “pieces” on the wall. I thought it was a table.) If an unvisual, literary set of non-lookers must “see” me as a surreal illustrator of clean pages, empty vistas, forever-space or 19th century void, then by that same token, they must “see” that you and


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Judd build boxes; Noland designs yards of gaily striped fabric; Stella makes giant insignia; USw. Allusion didn’t start or stop with pictures (I hear you all make surrogate statues), but art is art, or not; picture, statue, or table aside. (I know a famous molecular biologist who thinks art is a molecular structure coded in our brain; he thinks we make our art objects to imitate the code. I think that’s a classy allusion – ”Your box is a surrogate formula” – it goes from Aristotle to RNA without a glance to picture or statue. When he finds these codes, the critics can accuse us of incorrect moleculomorphic emulations: 63412A (Art), not 74500t (theatre). The “advanced” artists will be working the nucleic clouds.) I am distressed that so fine an intelligence as yours must restrict itself to a dogma which knows only mass as alpha and omega. Surely you perceive an actual, physical nature which is light? Which is, moreover, prior and necessary to visual mass? Consider paint a film of light reflecting/absorbing material, and a colored paint a material which gives a particular, characteristic transmission of light via differential absorption and reflection. Call this reflected quality “luminance” and measure it in millilamberts. This measure is as real and present as height, breadth, depth; and I find the phenomenon equally sumptuous and convincing. Light: not “lamps,” which are complicated artifacts many removes from a primary physicality, and which are qualified by industry and the market, not by esthetic concerns. Painted light: not color, not form, not perspective, or line, not image, or words, or equations, is painting. I make paintings which do not represent light, they are light. A very antique mode. Judd recently told me he discusses Art only with first rate artists, and no painter “starting” after ’63 can be first rate (as per his specific objections listed in Specific Objects). He said that since I could never rank with himself or Stella or Noland, (he even has the year wrong for me), I must stop talking and behaving as if I were his equal... it bothers him. Now that kind of stupidity necessarily begets, and got, no response from me, either spoken or written. (Mental health does not interest me.) And while there are those who do favor my work, they are apparently quite unaware and uninterested in its content: Sol is pleased to see me as an illustrator of the new sculptural principles, presumably translated back into painting. He sees no further. And can’t. In this light, you may see how your paragraph about painting elicits this letter. Really, my work exists. It is necessary. It is completely within the advanced purview (if not somewhat prior: Judd wall-pieces took from my paintings of ’62). So please let me extend an invitation to take a close look for yourself. A critic does have responsibilities. Your friend, (from limbo) Jo Baer

Letter to the editor, Artforum, 1967 First published in Artforum 6 (September 1967) 1, pp. 5-6.

Sirs: Bob Morris writes a paragraph in “Notes on Sculpture: Part 3,” (Artforum, Summer, 1967), which designates the art of painting an “antique mode.” The contention parallels Judd’s polemic in “Specific Objects,” (Arts Yearbook 8, 1965), and taken together, [they] warrant rebuttal. Morris alleges an “inescapable, inherent illusionism” in painting, and derives the rest of the indictment from this fallacy. The misconception has at bottom two focusing points: illusion, which is technical, and allusion, which is either mundane or ubiquitous. Morris restricts his critique to mundane allusion: he believes a painting is necessarily a picture of something. This “duality of thing,” (the painting) “and allusion” (the picture) he finds “divisive,” “ambiguous,” “elusive,” “non-actual,” “unconvincing,” “indeterminate,” “unpragmatic,” and “nonempirical.” I never much liked it myself. He may be confusing inherent and inherit. It is true we inherit a pictorial convention, but painting has challenged and reduced this inheritance, decade by decade, so that pictorial allusion inheres no more now in paint than in wallpaper. Some recent paintings exist which are not pictures. To despecify, and in regard to ubiquitous allusion: all art always alludes to something else. Here are some allusions which “advanced sculptors” may be said to illustrate: a molecular code in the brain which enjoys esthetic principles of symmetry, unity, good gestalt; geometry, a fabricated schema which surveys and measures solids, surfaces, lines and angles, space and figures in space; logic, a catalog of canons and criteria of validity; other art forms: painting, the theatre; other objects: boxes, tables, benches, statues; and the psychological projections of the artists themselves; object as “surrogate.” If not all sculptures are statues, and not all cubical specific-objects boxes, then not all paintings are pictures. Two of Judd’s three specific objections to painting specify limits; they clearly objectify Judd’s limits, not the art’s. Here is his first objection: “The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangements of whatever is on or inside it… A form can be used only in so many ways. The rectangular plane is given a life span. The simplicity required to emphasize the rectangle limits the arrangement possible within it.” The arrangement of shapes which Judd states, and reiterates, is a specious objective to assign to painting of the mid-sixties. Radical painting completed this specific endeavor in the thirties. It began in 1908. Judd’s own specific objective has been the arrangement of cubes and other parallelepipedon in or on a shallow space (a 6˝ to


thing on a surface has space behind it. Two colors on the same surface almost always lie on different depths. An even color, especially in oil paint, covering all or much of a painting is almost always both flat and infinitely spatial...” A hard look at this expert critique shows it is wrong on all counts. One: not all paintings are spatial, and Yves Klein’s blue panels are not even paintings, since their surfaces lack articulation. They are the artifacts of an intellectual position. Two: it is apparent that anything done with both an upright rectangular plane and an absence of space is more than may be seen by the retrograde eye. Three: anything on a surface becomes that surface; it has no space behind it, unless it is so designated; it has its support (canvas, board, steel) behind it. If the painted surface is continuous, border to border and throughout, that shallow space between surface and support (so enjoyed by painters from Dürer to Cézanne, Matisse through Stella and Noland), no longer exists. Some recent paintings look as if their colors might be continuous right through the object to the wall. Some recent wall boxes look hollow. Four: two colors on the same surface can always be made to lie on the same depth. The ability to accomplish, and apparently to see this, distinguishes the painter from the sculptor or whatever. Some recent paintings redefine color as luminance (reflected light), and use this new color spectrum so that no illusion of depth is possible at all. Some recent sculptures light lamps deep in their interiors to make them seem less hollow. Five: an even color, especially in a rich oil paint, covering all or much of a painting, is always flat and finite if the covering and color are even, or if the color has been put on vertically. A surface is almost always infinitely spatial if it is scumbled, or the paint is applied horizontally. It is also infinitely spatial if it is mostly painted blue, in any manner, and its frame sides are not. Some recent oil paintings have large, flat, vertically painted areas where light reflection is controlled to where the painted canvas is discernible as a finite, painted event, and reflectiveness is still a bounded surface. Some recent lamp arrangements diffuse their light in a fluffy likeness of an Infinite Mazda. Judd now continues to allusion: “Except for a complete and unvaried field of color or marks, anything placed in a rectangle and on a plane suggests something in and on something else, something in its surround, which suggests an object or figure in its space, in which these are clearer instances of a similar world – that’s the main purpose of painting.” This thought on allusion makes a full circle back to Morris’ sister-allegation: the main purpose of painting is to make pictures in the very everyday sense of the word. And only Renaissance pictures, at that. The purpose includes no Oriental journeys ascending the plane, no Grecian Narratives gracing an horizon, no Muslim proliferations weaving a surface: only the figure in its perspective ground may be a clearer instance of a “similar world.” The last radical paintings to attend figure-ground problems were Noland’s circle paint-


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

48˝ projection from the wall, a 6˝ to 48˝ projection from the floor); and though he specifies arrangements which emphasize unity and wholeness of the objects, paintings or sculpture, this latter qualification was also invented by painters, and is also much prior to any art or paper by Judd (’58-’63: Johns, Stella, Noland). As the exhaustion of Cubist concerns in painting is hardly news, their translation now, into specific objects, is at best a minor sport. For about one hundred years painting has demonstrated the precursive, radical ideas in art. Painting is best suited for this pursuit, and the best painters are still about it. It is no surprise, however, that an academic, sculptural sensibility is not able to anticipate these new ideas. Arrangements which “emphasize the rectangle” is not one of them. Judd’s second objection: “Oil and canvas are familiar, and like the rectangular plane, have a certain quality and have limits. The quality is especially identified with art.” Oil and canvas are no more or less identified with art than tempera and board, flux and porcelain, ink or watercolor and paper, colored earths and granite, colored glass and mullions, pigments and sandstone, lacquer and metal, acrylic and plexi. We paint a house with oil, and shade its windows with canvas. Auto paint (lacquer) sprayed on sheet metal does not innovate, either towards or away from that which “identifies art.” Any kind of articulated color film on any kind of flat, frontal surface may be a painting. The only limits to the materials of painting are those of technology and of the eye’s discrimination in seeing reflected light. Humans can distinguish 15,000-17,000 colors: envenomed monkey, rat color, and elephant’s breath are some of the 7,000 documented varieties. A computer differentiates about two million. Judd has tacitly confused the novel with the radical. He implies that any vacuformed plexi-bas-relief is automatically superior to any contemporary ideated marks on a flat surface. But ideas are ideas. Techniques and materials are not ideas. Ideas and materials have a functional relationship, not an identity. If oil and canvas did confer a familiar quality “especially identified with art,” there are those who would count this an especial virtue of the materials; there is not new, esthetic value served in an arrangement of lamps anywhere but the ceiling, or in mirrored cubes confounded with moderne tables: Duchamp’s early question put and answered what is art, and his catechesis is still sufficient. “Non-art” settings, sites, and positions per se, are not innovations in art. Those works which do depend on the “unfamiliar,” require intensive propaganda to establish and maintain the small art quality in their amalgam; the printer then provides “that familiar quality especially identified with art.” Judd’s only technical objection to painting has two parts. He first speaks about spatial illusion: “Almost all paintings are spatial in one way or another. Yves Klein’s blue paintings are the only ones that are unspatial... It’s possible that not much can be done with both an upright rectangular plane and an absence of space. Any-

ings of about 1960. Painters discarded the teleology of distance and pictorial depth when they discarded ground altogether, and paintings became objects altogether. This happened some time before they were inflated into wall objects, up-to-ceiling objects and out-tofloor objects. An “inescapable” delusion moves the above critics. It is objectionable.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

JO BAER New York City

Recipe for a “Whiteonwhitesalad,” circa 1969-1970, written by Baer for a cookbook with recipes from artists. The book was planned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York but never published.

Edward Kienholz: A Sentimental Journeyman, 1968 Published in Art International 12 (April 1968) 4, pp. 45-49. This was written in response to a (friendly) dare by Kienholz. Baer based her commentary on the words and numbers that were legible in the works displayed.

Kienholz’ art reads like a novel.1 This remark mixes no metaphor, for when the novelistic romance went to glory and storytelling continued in and through the movies, that other aspect of fiction, the recreation of days and sites, a “real” context, that is, was renewed and continued in the camps, constructions, tableaux, environments, happenings, lamps and lightings, et al. of the fine and graphic arts. A recent “art show” (catalogue title) of Work from the 1960’s by Edward Kienholz (show title) exhibited on two floors of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, in Washington D.C., is evidential. The show contains thirteen single and singular objects, most from early in his oeuvre, on the first floor main gallery; amongst these works is the funerary construction of 1961, History as a Planter. Off in the nook of the rising stairs is the infamous freestanding construction, The Illegal Operation, which so offended visitors to the Whitney Museum’s Sculpture Annual in 1966. Up the stairs in a long gallery are two tableaux: The Birthday, a presumably legal, childbirth scene; and While Visions of Sugarplums Danced in their Heads, a bedroom with childmakers scene. These works are seen separately; a transverse, partial wall precludes the simultaneous view of cause and effect. Out in the foyer is a construction called The Friendly Grey Computer – Star Gauge Model 54, a grey “computer”, turned on, computing on a rocking chair. On the walls behind and alongside the rocking computer are a number of engraved bronze plaques and walnut-framed, typewritten pages. These are Kienholz’ Concept Tableaux, graphic reductions of ideas and titles for future works which may be contracted for, i.e. bought in advance of their construction. The alcove on the other side of the rocking computer, under the second floor’s stairs, contains a tableau called The State Hospital, which is a complete room of six sides. History as a Planter is prototypical, a literal,2 almost-possible piece of household furniture composed, however, in the manner of a charnel house. The theme is in three containers. There is a small electric oven (sound it “kill”) surmounted by a long shallow box, the whole backdropped and memorialized by a glass and wood frame. The oven contains six manikin feet truncated about mid-shin. The shallow box contains a live Wandering Jew plant, dying. The frame contains a newspaper scrap, askew like an experimental movie’s tilted photoframes of nausea. In detail, the kiln has three female plugs but lacks a projecting plug on the end of its well used cord. The shallow box which contains the Wandering Jew also contains a rusty Jew’s harp planted midcenter, and though the Wandering Jew is dying, it has dispersed seeds all over the top of the oven. Adorning


the oven’s top, in addition, are a number of chalk marks in the ancient manner of mark four, cross five; there are twenty-four sets tallying one hundred twenty. The scrap of newspaper framed on the diagonal is headlined “EXTRA; S RAID WAKE; alls to Rommel’s Army; RALD Express”. A two-column head reads “WEIRD BATTLE RAGES UNDER DESERT MOON”. Some of the small print is obscured with other small print. The only movable parts of the piece are the painted, white oven doors. When they are both closed, a painted, black swastika becomes evident on them, while a small black rectangle disjuncts one cross arm of the swastika: it is a metal label, which reads “SNELVRACHT AMSTERDAM EMBALLEURS”. (Emball, to “wrap or pack”.) This construction’s realism3 is especially pure in its lack of formal, visual aesthetic. The deficiency is totally commuted to illustration and nouns. There are no visual reasons here for anything, no sight gags to be seen. The object is a play on words. Objects used to be their names in ancient times, and a known proper noun could capture a god. Much later, Plato congealed this magicking into an assemblage of pure, unchanging forms of Ideas. The neo-Platonists then catalogued, indexed, and quantified the immanent Ideas so that The Essence was The One, The Nature was The Two, etc. By the eleventh century this school of speculation was known as “Realism”, and these thinkers were named “realists”. It needs no Pythagorean adept, however, to read the numbers in History as a Planter. There are six feet in the oven. There are six arms on the swastika, counting the crossed interior arms. On the oven top are six sets of twenty chalked marks recording the tally. 666. While the Planter is a funereal work, The Illegal Operation, dated 1962, is a grisly one. Unlike most of Kienholz’ work, this piece incorporates no bodies or body parts, though the subject presupposes them; the people and their parts are gone, leaving their sordes and


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Edward Kienholz History as a Planter, 1961 collection Los Angeles County Museum of Art

litter. Used medical utensils and refuse lie in white enamel containers: an ochre-stained bedpan, a large bloodied pot, and a small, darkstained kitchen pan. An old lamp stands by. Its shade is pierced and cocked to reflect optimum light on a stained, upholstered chair. The “chair” is made from a dirty pink cushion and strapped rags in a sideless grocery cart, and the filling is spilling out of the split upholstery cushion. The down is concrete. On the floor under the entire work is a white vinyl mat; on the mat is a woven rug. A painted pink footstool completes the ensemble. Fine print is abundant throughout this work. In the pan with the scissors and scalpels is a cardboard which reads “MEDIUM Chromic Ethicon Surgical Gut USA”. There is a “Coets” box in the pail. A discarded hypo is titled “DISCARDID, B-Plastipack, Made in USA”. Next to the spilling cushion is a pack of “Dr. Hobson’s Compound Laxative Cascara Tablets. New Style Package Adopted July 1906. A Mild and Pleasant Laxative for Constipation & Biliousness, Relieves Sick and Nervous Headache, etc. Price 10 cents, Prepared by Pfeiffer Chemical Co. St. Louis, USA”. The grocery cart is titled: “Hollywood Shopper, Technibilt Corporation, Glendale, Calif. US Patent # …” The light switch on the lamp says “ABC”, and the bulb says “150 W Westinghouse”. The fine print in this piece is not there to read, however. It exists rather to add “real” medical touches, and to effect a legitimizing irony through brand names. Also unlike the Planter, there is one thoroughly visual, symbolical element in the spotted, split, spilling pink cushion – it looks like a surrogate ode to its absent lady. The concrete gray spill from the cushion is literally central: it informs the work, while the low pink stool bounces back a figuratively similar cushion shape, dissimilar in its entire, flat-pink, unstained properties. No formal color is worked beyond local, illustrative uses; the color scheme is discolor. The sentimentally4 titled While Visions of Sugarplums Danced in their Heads, dated 1964, is a full-blown tableau.5 Typography includes “Coors” beer cans; a “Pocket Bible, New”; “National” sheets and “Trojan” condoms; “Pall Mall” cigarettes; a “PackardBell” radio which is “Stationized”; a “General Electric” clock; the tattoos “Mother45” and “USA” on one figure’s arms; “TELL Me you love me” stitched on the other figure’s head. Fixtures include a bed, bedding, a bed lamp, two figures in the bed, two bedside tables, two throw rugs, two framed floral prints, an armchair, a chest and a throw at the bed’s foot. Around a corner on another wall there is a waste basket and a dressing table, its mirror and its stool. Everything sits on a wooden parquet floor. The dressing table has cosmetic props, a Virgin Mary, a perfume atomizer, two frilly lamps, and two photographed figures printed on the round mirror. One photoed figure is male, naked, rearward and sitting on the bed drinking; the other photoed figure is female, robed, frontal and seated at the mirror brushing her hair. Doilies, clothing, artificial flowers, a comb, brush, and hand-mirror set, ashtrays and a crucifix complete the fixed appointments. Dynamic gear includes a contin-

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

ual radio blare, and two discontinuous headlights. The lights are inside the bedded couple’s inflated heads, where they alternately and briefly illuminate peepholed, miniature tableaux also inside the oversized crania. The rest of the bedded couple are approximately normal-sized and engaged in immobile intercourse. Inside the abnormal female head, visible only through the peephole and during each lit interval, is a line of six tiny naked male dolls, one black, and a male/female couple on the floor in coitus. Inside the abnormal male head there is a jumble of six tiny naked female dolls engaged and straddling one another and a male doll. His head lamp blinks on and off, also. Besides the anecdotal fixtures and fantastic illustrations, the novel in this composition is the artist’s desire to unite dynamic and simultaneous time. The photographed couple in the mirror are obviously “before” the coupling in the bed, unless these are amongst those few who make the bed, finish their beer, and brush their hair “after”; in either event, the reflection is “before” or “after”. And the bedded pair’s doubled “now” exhibits, through their fantasies, the synchronous phenomenon of desires dislocated yet “present”. Even so, their interior views are alternating, first the one, then the other. Consequently, this piece objectifies three of the four forms of time. There are the flow and conjugation of past, present, and future. There is the participial overlay of a sametime in a different place. And finally, there is the conjunction of alternating sequences. The bedroom tableau is a timetable.

Edward Kienholz The Illegal Operation, 1962 collection Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Reproduced bedroom scenes are revelatory and provocative so that a comparative review of beds and bedrooms by other artists is worth the while. Rauschenberg’s famous Bed hangs on a wall like a trophy: perhaps “Robert Rauschenberg Once Slept Here”. The Bed is made on a board and has a real pillow and a real quilt nailed on it; notwithstanding, it lacks depth and real support, i.e. legs or a mattress. There is a pallet, however: many colors decorate the quilt, while much paint is gaily splashed and squeezed on the pillow and on the top of the quilt. And Rauschenberg’s fine, East-Texas hand shows in the pencil-scribblings at the top of the bed and on the top of the pillow. The Bed is single and unoccupied. Oldenburg’s Bedroom Ensemble is also without personnel, though a leopard coat and a purse on a chair testify to a female in its vicinity. Four men’s shirts in an opened drawer evince a male, also. The overall scale of the Ensemble is proportioned to a huge bed measuring 7' x 8½', a size more than half again standard. Uncharacteristically, nothing sags, folds are few, and shapes are slickened and conventional. An inventory of created objects includes the bed, vinyl bedding, 2 throw pillow, 2 end tables, 2 lamps, 1 bureau and steel mirror, 2 fabric “paintings”, a wooden clock, ashtray, radio, perfume bottle, and 2 powder boxes; 4 shirts, a chair, a coat, a purse, and a furry rug. An inventory of commercial objects includes 2 windows, 2 venetian blinds, an air-conditioner, rows of ceiling lights, a door marked “private”, and wall-to-wall carpeting. The surfaces are marbled formica, vinyl, and fur, and the colors are black and white and blue, so that the Ensemble resembles a Hollywood period piece. Still, the grandiose scale excepts it from this glamorous office. No intimacies, sleep, sex or nail clipping seem possible in this Bedroom, and Oldenburg’s usual fat or limp, sex and appetite members are completely wanting. True, the Bedroom pieces are all stiff, but they are nowhere allusive like his stiff, nippled wall switches. Oldenburg exhibits a perversely public boudoir. Off in another world, George Segal’s white plaster Sleeping Couple lie on a real, ¾-sized bed and mattress. The headboard and the footboard are large and small, woodgrained metal halfmoons. The mattress has a rumpled sheet on it underneath the figures. There are no blankets, no rugs, no pillows, and no additional furnishings; the matter is inmates not décor. The embracing couple appear naked, intimate, and fond as they lie dovetailed together over to one side of the bed. Plaster edges from the casting process remain irregularly puddled on the bottom bearing-surfaces of the bodies, so that the all-white bodies are aesthetically linked to the white sheet. As the figures are cast from live people, they are necessarily larger than life: ears are overflowed, hollows filled in, and the rough surfaces are abraded to a roundness not yet smooth, which diffuses all hard-edged outlines. By this generalizing process, Segal dissolves the individuals’ properties into a concrete, plastered abstraction which is also larger than life. Nevertheless, life is no longer inside the white shells, and its remainders stand as a somewhat adumbrated, corporeal commandment to SLEEP NICE TOGETHER.


Edward Kienholz The State Hospital, 1966 collection Moderna Museet, Stockholm

most universal environs. Segal’s “real” bed and Sleeping Couple have a highly unreal aura about them; of that kind, perhaps, which accrue to all dead creatures. Samaras’ “reality” is egocentric. He exhibits his own “real” Room in the belief that everything tangential to the artist is necessarily art. From Samaras’ “real” real inhabited bedroom, through Oldenburg, Kienholz and Segal’s unreal “real” beds and occupants, to Rauschenberg’s real “real” mounted bed provides a span and scale of a common subject’s five “realities” where each of these “realities” is as clearly “realized” as it is differentiated from the others. The representation of objects documents an exposition as subjective as its creators, and the stories told may be as many and as multiple as their exponents. Reproductive art reciprocates a common object denominator with its audience bounded only by the limits of their mutual recognitions. Kienholz’ tableau The State Hospital, 1964-1967, represents a considerable departure in his development. In this tableau the sale of Concepts is inaugurated, and Kienholz fulfils his expository functions in the Concepts, that is, elsewhere than in the construction itself:

Edward Kienholz While Visions of Sugarplums Danced in their Heads, 1964 collection Centre Pompidou, Paris

“This is a tableau about an old man who is a patient in a state mental hospital. He is in an arm restraint on a bed in a bare room . . . There will be only a bedpan and a hospital table (just out of reach). The man is naked. He hurts. He has been beaten on the stomach with a bar of soap wrapped in a towel (to hide telltale bruises). His


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Lucas Samaras’ Room provides a final example of reproduced bedroom scenes. Samaras recreated his own bedroom anew at the Green Gallery. He lived and worked in this Room through the summer of 1964, and that fall, the Room and its contents were exhibited, as a work, in the gallery. All the above Beds and Bedrooms literally represent, use, or imitate the “real”. Yet the mind’s eye sees the Rauschenberg, the Oldenburg, the Kienholz, the Segal and the Samaras reproducing vastly different “realities”, beyond their common subject. Rauschenberg’s “reality” is the art of the moment, 1955 that is, where his “real” Bed was a sly comment on, and the obverse of, erotic Abstract-Expressionist paintings of that time; his object is a reaction against subjectivity, especially nondecorative, semeiotic painting and drawing. The paint and drawing on Rauschenberg’s Bed is defiling, defining, and ornamental. Oldenburg’s “reality” is functional and contrary. Whereas real bedrooms exist as arenas for humankind’s most necessary and personal affairs, his “real” Bedroom turns up impersonal, inflated, nonutile, and unanimated. The beneficial, venerable Bed has been given vinyl sheets. Kienholz’ “reality” is intellectual, yet to all appearances, naïve. His transcriptions are specifically located in time and place, and he provides exact historical and ethnic props to embody a thesis. His bedroom While Visions, Etc. in their Heads, is about visions in their heads. Kienholz thinks ideas are “real”. Segal’s “reality” is anecdotal and temporal, existing somewhere between the evanescent and the fixed. He illustrates a “Once upon a time” within its

head is a lighted fish bowl with water that contains two live black fish. He lies very still on his side. There is no sound in the room.” “Above the old man in the bed is his exact duplicate, including the bed... The upper figure will also have the fish bowl head, two black fish, etc. But, additionally, it will be encased in some kind of lucite or plastic bubble (perhaps similar to a cartoon bubble), representing the old man’s thoughts.”

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

“His mind can’t think for him past the present moment. He is committed there for the rest of his life.” The tableau’s only printed matter describes a “Master Lock” on the door, a number “8” on that same door, and the demonstrative sign “Ward 19” on the single exterior façade. The room is self-contained: it is roofed and floored. The side walls are short and angled to diminish6 the space and force perspective. The only interior view of the fiberglass occupants and their accoutrements is through a Lysoldoused jailer’s window in that only locked door. The visual elements in this piece are strong and tender. Duplicating the figure, like doubling in general, emphasizes and strengthens a subject without generalizing it to a series. Iteration is again or another: it assures identity. Kienholz’ proposed lucite bubble, in execution, has been extended to encapsule the entire duplicated upper figure, and the periphery has been outlined in neon. This lucite form is piscatorial, a “fin” pointed7 down from its lower edge near to the lower figure’s head. The lit, darting, sometimes languorous live fish in the glass heads, echoing the lucite shape and its transparency, somehow evoke a melancholy beyond meanings. Silvertone 17-Inch Portable Television was completed in 1967. It is a monumental, lone grey Silvertone 17-inch portable television set on an iron stand, including cord and interiorally-based extensible aerial. The rear, rear top, and rear upper sides of the set have been encased in matching grey concrete; Kienholz here eschews the fluid, transparent epoxy and resin drippings through which he has so often claimed found objects. The lateral tuning knobs and central carrying handle still project and are available to anyone wishing to play or carry the set. It weighs 224 pounds; it is concrete and solid. The only printing occurs below the bottom front of the screen where it is entitled, “Silvertone”. In conclusion and summary, a few words must be said: Literal. Kienholz seldom uses metaphor. He sometimes renders ideas word-for-word. Realistic. Kienholz regularly presents actual events, rich in genuine things. Sentimental. Kienholz’ art commonly transmutes whole bodies of day-to-day feelings and emotionalized principles into complete expressions of their thought.

Diminutive. Kienholz often reduces objects and phenomena. The State Hospital tableau is greatly foreshortened; the auto in an auto tableau, Dodge, is shortened in the middle to exclude the front seat and the front wheelbase entirely; and the bed in the bedroom tableau is shortened some 18 inches in the middle. Tableaux are diminutive “tables”. Pointed. Kienholz’ art is always pointed in one way or another. Kienholz’ art 8 is literal, realistic, sentimental, diminutive and pointed. Notes 1. “Novel”, in the word’s first literary use, described the stories in Boccaccio’s Decameron of 1350; Ulysses was published in 1914, a date also noted for the glories of Surrealism, The Birth of a Nation, and World War I. These happenings, like Kienholz’ art, unseal a chthonic mother-lode. 2. “Literal” derives from the Latin littera, “letter of the alphabet”. The Latin word is borrowed from the Greek word diphtheria, “leather, dressed hide”. Initial “d” becomes “l” through association with the Latin linere, “to smear, daub”, and the Latin legere, “to read”. Etymologically, littera meant first “a mark made on parchment”. It then became popularly associated with the idea of “daubing”, then “reading” the mark: a development from parchment to peruser through mud. 3. “Real” is from the Latin realis, “belonging to the thing itself”, a coinage of medieval philosophers participating in the Nominalist-Realist dialogue. The Latin root is re-, the stem of res, “thing, matter, fact”. Vedic Sanskrit has the cognates ras, “property, possessions, wealth”, and ratás, “presented, rendered”. 4. “Sentimental” became an English word via Lawrence Sterne’s use in 1768. The word derives from the Latin verb sentire, “I feel”. The much older English derivative is “sentence”, which meant “opinion, judgment, or grammatically complete expression of a thought” from Latin’s sentient-, the present participle of sentire. The Latin usage is modeled on a translation of the Greek words dóxa, “opinion”, and gnome, “a means of knowing, a mark, a token”. 5. A “tableau” is a “graphic description”, the Old French diminutive of “table”. A table is an “arrangement of numbers, words, etc.” 6. “Diminish” is to “make smaller, lessen”. The word is formed on a conflation of the Latin verb diminuere, “break up small”, and the Latin minutus, “minute”. “Diminutives” are nicked-names: nouns made shorter, or family pet-names for the small or young. They may be cutting or familiar or both. 7. “Point” has two meanings, though both derive from the Latin verb pungere, “prick”. The first meaning is a “dot, or precise position”, from punctum, a substantive use of the neuter past participle; the second meaning is “the sharpened end of something”, from puncta, the feminine past participle. English also derives the words “pungent” and “pugnacious” from Latin’s pungent-, the present participle of pungere, and pugnus, “fist”. Greek has the cognate púx, “with clenched fist”. The Indo-European base peug-, pug-, meant primarily “to stick out, stab”, and the sense “fist” originally derived from the hand doubled to allow the middle finger to protrude. 8. “Art” is cognate with “arms” and “articles”; the three derive from the IndoEuropean base ar-, “put together, join, fit”. “Article” is from Latin articulus, the diminutive of artus, “joint”. “Arm” is one of the ancient body-part names like eye, foot, heart, knee, nail and tooth which are common to a large area of the IndoEuropean stock. The later and second meaning, “weapon”, is equally pervasive.


Statement written for the audio-guide to the exhibition Serial Art, Finch College Museum of Art, New York, 1967. The exhibition, partly organized by Mel Bochner, featured work by Baer, Jasper Johns and Elsworth Kelly. Kelly protested the inclusion in the exhibition of Baer’s work because she was an unknown artist and did not belong in the same room as Johns and himself. At the time Baer wrote this text, she had just discovered the Oxford Etymological Dictionary.

This work is titled Primary Light Group, Dark: three paintings from a circular series of six named Stations of the Spectrum. The spectrum is the scale of wavelength radiation, counted in units of millimicrons or angstrom units. The visible spectrum extends from the 385 millimicron wave length of violet through the vari-colored bands into which a beam of white light is decomposed, and ends at 760 millimicrons, which is red. It is possible to read the visible spectrum as a vertical hierarchy of energy content, because the wave length is inversely proportional to both the energy quanta and the frequency of waves emitted per second, and these proportions can be mediated by Planck’s constant. Blue light materializes more energy than yellow does. A more specific ranking of terms makes the visible spectrum a scale of membership-class hierarchy, due to the inclusive nature of the white light which comprises it, and due to the bracketing at both ends of its scale by black, which is an absence. So this scale reads absence, something, all: a concentric hierarchy of metaterms. Scalar phenomena are hierarchical, discrete, and disjunctive of time, since a scale locates a place or a position. It does not describe a motion, a velocity, or anything continuous and dynamic. It utilizes, instead, the discontinuous and simultaneous: ontologically, that which “abides.” In the mathematics of vector analysis, a “scalar” is an undirected quantity which is fully described by a number. A “scalar” is designated the opposite of a “vector,” which is an entity of force or velocity representing directed magnitudes. In quaternions, a “scalar” is a pure number. A “scalar field” is one in which each point in space has a specific physical quality to which a single value can be assigned.

stem, system stool, both of bowel and seat, still, stay, static, stasis, station and stationary. state statement statistic, stall, stable, stallion. stale stalemate statutory. stud and steed, steady and stead, status and stance. substance. circumstance. constant, distant, extant, instant. solstice interstice assist, consist, desist, exist, insist, persist, resist, subsist. superstition, constitution, institution, prostitution, substitution, restitution. and destiny.

Paintings are stationary objects. Unlike moving pictures, music or dance, the dynamical, horizontal rows and progressions of true seriality are inauspicious for painting. Paintings are still, and stand where they are. At their stations, they may embody painted locations which are hierarchical, discrete, quantitative and static. There are a number of ideas that stem from our ancient word base for “standing.” Here are some of them:


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Primary Light Group, Dark, 1969

Stations of the Spectrum

Letter to the editor, Artforum, 1969

­­Undated personal notes on Stations of the Spectrum

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Originally a sextet shown at the 1969 Corcoran Biennial, then divided into two triptychs. All six were white paintings first, but it didn’t work, so they were changed to gray. After a while the gray paint flaked off the outside edges from handling. So I completely repainted the triptych, red, green, blue.

Letter to Thomas Messer, 1970 Letter sent to Thomas Messer, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Kynaston McShine, associate curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Spring, 1970. MoMA complied with Baer’s and like-minded artists’ requests. The Guggenheim took the extreme measure of emptying its galleries.

Dear Mr. Messer, Owing to the state of the nation and recent events of war, racism, and repressive actions, many artists feel the need to protest now – as artists – by withholding or withdrawing their work from galleries, museums and traveling shows until June 1st. I know I have no legal right to the disposition of that work of mine which you own and are now exhibiting, but I would like to join my fellow artists in this action and request that you remove my work from public view until June 1st. Thank you, Sincerely, Jo Baer

Letter written on February 25, 1969. First published in: Artforum 7 (April 1969) 8, pp. 4-5.

Sirs: About your rather complimentary review [by Robert Pincus-Witten] of my work in the February issue, and nowhere in order of importance: Photo and photo-data on page 67 are all screwed up. The painting you reproduced was done in 1962, not 1968, and three of the white outer edges (sides and bottom) have been cropped out. These edges are crucial to the painting if not to the sense (?) of the accompanying critique. The second matter confounds and puzzles me. I’ve never painted the three sequential paintings red-edged, blue-edged, yellow-edged, didactic, expository, Kellyesque or especially primary which are described in your review. I have made a number of nonserial diptychs which use these colors, but what’s so “primary” about a purple set? These double paintings have never been shown together at the same time or in the same place. There is a circular series of grey paintings I did where I found the academic esthetic position uncomfortable and not for me; I also showed a set of three single paintings in the 1966 Guggenheim Systemic show titled Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue, but the point was discretelight, not color wheels. Perhaps there’s some confusion about the differences within a system, and everything in the world is in a system, between sets and series? For openers, sets are saltatory and mainly a convenience; series imply dynamics and are the process-lessons in the book bag. Last point, and more as a footnote. I find the words “reluctant,” “arid,” “basket-woven,” OK if somewhat pejorative common adjectives, but don’t you ever tire of that yellow-dogged, malaproped misnomer, “Minimalist?” The noun’s original use in criticism (Richard Wolheim, Arts Magazine, January, 1965) referred to a minimum artcontent in the found-object works of Duchamp and Rauschenberg; the article includes a small (minimal?) nod to Reinhardt’s positions and dogmas. Otherwise, and in the real and greater world of History, a “Minimalist” is a Russian “anti-Maximalist” – having it out with the Bolsheviki and Mensheviki. Now while it happens I esteem Marx’s manifesto (over any of Reinhardt’s), I doubt you mean to call me a Communist, even that cop-out kind. And Reinhardt’s stands always left me cold unless they were funny. For the record I believe in a maximal art-content and work for paintings which are as complex as the world I find around me. It is most unfortunate that the formal means of painting today are so sophisticated and intricate to appear obvious, gratuitous or mystifying to those not sufficiently able to deal with them. Jo Baer


Previously unpublished, written in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Baer didn’t write this text for any specific occasion but to record her artistic activities. The account reads like a prototype for her later writing.

Sensation is the edge of things. Where there are no edges, there are no places – a uniform visual field quickly disappears. Irregularities, diversities, disparities signalize the eye, and the boundary between any two differences is the place where change is maximal and most marked. Thus the eye looks to boundaries for its information, while adjunctive neural networks beyond the retina heighten and sharpen existing boundary contrasts. These heightened neural contrasts, known as Mach bands, enhance cortical knowledge of an outline. It appears seeing is a best guess as to what’s out there, an approximate interpretation enhanced by mechanisms which compensate the instrumental flaws of the eye. All systems have reciprocal sensitivity/accuracy relations where an elaboration of one feature intrinsically reduces the other. The visual system is quite unbalanced in this regard: it is extremely sensitive to a large range of data which it is not too accurate in defining. Indeed, the sensitivity of the eye is so high that it comes very close to the absolute limit set by the quantum properties of light. Experiments show that a man can see a source of light as faint as a standard candle from a distance of 17 miles through a non-absorbing atmosphere – a minimal 5 to 14 quanta of light can excite the retina. Visual accuracy, on the other hand, is faulty, naturally blurred at the retina by imperfections of the dioptric apparatus of the eye (cornea, lens, vitreous and aqueous humors). These refracting media degrade the sharpness of the image formed on the retina. The blur is considerable and the sharper the boundary and contrast the greater the blurring. My paintings develop neural contrast effects and boundary relations as visual content. The paintings’ color edges are double-faced and operate differentially at each interface of the color band. At the black edge, contrast is great and Mach bands are prominent: the color edge appears almost white and the entire narrow color band gains a large optical boost in brightness well beyond its pigment nature. On the other edge where color abuts whiteness, a defining dark line appears to edge the color band. However, Mach bands are asymmetric towards light and the darkened edge does little to reduce the color’s total brightness. In fact, the color band gains lightness from the adjacent large white surface too. It swells and goes past its boundaries, for white as surface reflects diffusely, in all directions. Its expanding appearance is caused by glare scattering and spreading light across the retina. The sum of the two edge situations pushes the pigmented band into a self-luminous mode, where color is echoed and amplified into illumination.

The painting’s colors reflect and explore qualities of light from fluorescence to luminescence through twilight, from half-tones of light to half-tones of dark. As in Aristotle and Goethe’s color theories, perceived color is seen as a darkening of light. A series of six modular two-panel paintings done in ’66-’67 sets up fluorescing color bands on all six sets. Each bright fluoring fluorescing band functions as a half-tone of light, a corona mediating light and its absence. Coronas occur subjectively in the retina as light encircling bright objects in a dark surround when the object is very bright. Coronas are also objective and physical. The corona around the sun is a luminous envelope which is seen only during a total eclipse, when black shadow darkens the sun’s disc. The moon’s corona is light diffracted by suspended particles of moisture or dust in earth’s atmosphere. Coronas may be vividly colored. The corona which occurs in electro-static systems wherever there is a radical bend point or change in the system is a charged leakage of energy which ionizes the air molecules nearby. The molecules’ quantum-descents cause the encircling nimbus of brilliant blue. Dark’s half-tone is called a penumbra, the lighter edge of a shadow. Penumbras are caused by fringing effects produced by the interference of diffraction of light at an edge; in an eclipse the penumbra is the partial illumination between the umbra, or perfect shadow, and the full light. Out of the original series of double paintings I evolved a number of sets in the penumbral, darkened mode where the black/white/color relations are made to luminesce, not fluoresce. Twilight effects color in still another series of paintings where the central white is darkened to a pale grey lesser-light. The color band is moved its own width into the black, and the entire black band is moved some distance inside the painting’s edge. Color is dimmed and blue gleams to red’s glow. In a small set of four grey paintings the enclosing top and bottom borders are eliminated so that the black becomes two vertical bars set near the outer edge with a single color band expressing both of the former border relations: there is an interior set-in color line which turns back to become the color band mediating the black-grey boundary on the outer edge. Internal differences which occur in the color and brightness of this single looping band are extraordinary. These ringed sets of large grey paintings use very dark or very unsaturated color. All the grey paintings define illumination by its generation of color from light and darkness.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

On Seeing

Letter to the editor, The New York Times, 1970 Previously unpublished response to an editorial in The New York Times. Jo Baer, who sent this letter to the paper, was at the time living with her then-partner Robert Lobe in an apartment on 53 East 10th Street. Chuck Close had his studio in the same house. The letter was never published by The New York Times.

which never happened. We did vote a voluntary 10% tithe on sales but there was no effort to make this tax compulsory. In fact there is no way to make this tax compulsory – no way to enforce it – and consequently no need to be concerned with “improper pressure” on those who do not “believe in the given cause.” Finally, we have not considered “taking over museums.” We asked the museums to provide their entrance lobbies for public information and discussion areas. We also asked the museums to close for one day, May 22, to show sympathy and to draw attention to our concerns. Our cultural institutions have always been centers of discourse and free-thinking on both eternal questions and current issues. It is perverse to suggest, as you do, that those artists who want to place confidence in this traditional function are guilty of “intolerable” “abuse.”

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Jo Baer Chuck Close Robert Lobe Miss Jo Baer 53 East 10th St. NYC, N.Y. 10003 533-5094

May 21, 1970 To the Editor: Your editorial of May 20, “The Politics of Art” contains inaccuracies and misunderstandings which we wish to clarify. One cannot overstress what you have recognized: “The artist can be a powerful force for peace.” We do not feel, however, that as an artist “his voice speaks (only) through his creations.” Our work has exceptional meaning and this is art, but our voices also speak through conventional channels. In this respect we are like non-artists, eager to express our opinions. We will not evaporate behind forthcoming Guernicas. Picasso’s Guernica of 1937 did not stop the Spanish blood-bath nor did it prevent the Nazi concentration camps. Your editorial asks “how long before the government will support only its own approved art?” if artists formally oppose the government. The question is too late, for the answer is “now.” The government has already initiated such art policies. Artists have already voted to withhold or withdraw work from government sponsored shows and US embassies to protest government policies. Our vote acknowledges the reality of your fears. Unfortunately, you report a “compulsory levy on every art sale,”


Originally published in “The Artist and Politics: A Symposium,” Artforum, September 1970, pp. 35-36. The text was reprinted in Flash Art, no. 37, November 1972, pp. 6-7, along with the statement “On Painting” (see p. 70).

I think the time for political action by artists is now and I believe action should be taken in the art world and in the world at large. Political action need not inhibit art-making; the two activities are dissimilar, not incompatible. In fact all art is eventually political. As the carrier of esthetic experience, art is a powerful effecter of choice and action. Primitive peoples knew this and couched their magical rites in colors and forms, story and dance; the ancient GrecoRomans knew it and used it to smooth and civilize barbarians; the Medieval Church knew it and furnished glorious cathedrals for their impoverished flocks; the princes of the Renaissance knew it and hired artists to paint and carve monuments to their great humanism; Louis XIV knew it and ensnared dukes and counts in his totalart court; and the 19th-century bourgeoisie knew it and bought it to reflect their growing opulence and power. While the political power of art is easily seen in the past, the political effects of art today appear somewhat obscure. This is probably because any contemporary time presents so much material and allows so few conclusions. Aristotle, in the Poetics, provides the most direct analysis, describing artists who imitate the past, artists who imitate the present, and artists who imitate the future (ranking them in an ascending order of value). Past seeking, the preterit mode, sustains the conservative heart, which longs for that idealized childhood where authorities were strong, rules were clear and properties were unequivocally possessed. These desires are reinforced by reactionary art. There is no doubt why Nixon removed all the abstract art from the White House when he moved in. Abstract art seldom provokes a clear affection for the past. Art which mirrors the present moves in a different way, from another cause and toward another effect. Its mainspring is the status quo. It is unidealized, displaying both the good and bad aspects of the now. Pop art is the most obvious example but Machine Art, technological light works and most painting and sculpture in plastics are also typical. Other commemorators of the contemporary scene are Earth Art (reflecting the ways of our environment); the New Realism (recording the peoples and places of today); Protest Art (reproducing sado-masochistic brutalities); and that pair of sexual solipsisms currently known as Concept Art and Color Painting (rejoicing in the separative forces of our old friend, the mind-body problem). It is interesting to observe how intimately these art movements are joined to modern media, with their heavy reliance on promotion for distribution of products (and it is no accident to find their best customers in the bourgeoisie), for all these art ways and

works of the present are entertainment commodities. They posit no radical changes and deal with conundrums, not problems. Their net political effect is a tacit support of the present system. There is a radical art in America today, an art which innovates and is aimed at the future, but elucidation of its effects must wait until that future. Since the consequences of radical art are unavailable, it is only possible to sort out some of the issues engaging radical artists of the past twenty-five years. The most far-reaching endeavor has been the reordering of subject matter so that the art object itself dominates its particular parts. Figure/grounds and hierarchical arrangements give way to paintings that picture their own shapes and pigments and sculptures that render their own shapes and matter. In prior works a figure/ground or hierarchical arrangement is imposed from outside the structure arbitrarily. In the new work, forms arise internally and the materials function to prescribe their own arrangements. Some recent work develops and explores interdependencies between these new configurations and their surrounds, work-process in its relation to material and form, and a reintegration of color with black and white. These new ways have political implications that bear on the sovereignty of the subject and the nature and ramifications of self-determination. Other new work is obsessively concerned with horizontality and edges. Exploring these boundaries creates a newly mobile human scale assaying territorial limits and equality. Some new work occurs in sets or units which explore multiplicity and dispersal. Works of art are no longer presented as a precious class of objects. Will a special class of subjects also be relegated to history?


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Art and Politics, 1970

Art & Vision: Mach Bands, 1970

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

First published in Aspen Magazine, no. 8, Fall-Winter 1970, Section 9.

i Two main queries have developed and informed the science of today: questions put and answered to the enigmas of colored light and mass in motion, and a rigorous assay of the enquirer and his measures. This essay will deal principally with the color lights of science and painting, their standards and interrogators. There is an old, rather unscientific yet very perceptive theory which holds color to be a darkening of light. Aristotle, in his Treatise on Colors, places white and black at the beginning and end of the color scale and derives all the other colors from them. However, he warns us that “We must not attempt to make our observations on these effects by mixing colors as painters mix them, but by remarking the appearances as produced by the rays of light mingling with each other”.1 Leonardo, in the Trattato della Pittura, agrees with Aristotle’s viewing black and white as colors, but he further informs us that blue may be produced by the actual mixture of black and white (pigments) provided they are pure.2 Goethe’s Theory of Colors, modeled on Aristotle’s Treatise, also regards all the colors as resulting from the mixture of black and white and he ascribes to the colors their quality of darkness by the differing degrees in which they are distinguished, passing from white to black through the gradations of yellow, orange, red, violet and blue; green appears to be intermediate between yellow and blue. The various observations upon which these authors based their theory were compounded and confounded catoptrics (the geometry of reflected light) and dioptrics (the physics of transmitted light). However, the theory is still useful if one deals only with the perception of reflected lights from objects, for this older theory’s conflict with modern Newtonian theory is mainly one of class discrimination. Newton’s discovery that white light is the mixture of all the colors as opposed to all the colors a mixture of white is of course the reverse of the former idea, but Newton’s theory is strictly and only derived from the light transmitted through a prism. There is an interesting note on the illumination mode differences between Flemish and Italian Renaissance painting made by the English translator of Goethe’s Farbenlehre (1840), Charles Lock Eastlake, where he differentiates the northern and southern painting in terms of the two diverse light modes.3 Eastlake points out that Italian painting, especially the Venetian, appears to imitate the colors and qualities of gems and glass; this is accomplished by the use of a dark ground and white highlights, which allow the intervening opaque colors to become very intense, brilliant and flashing. The strong color to dark contrasts reiterate reflected lights in both prototype and painting. In the North the Flemish and Dutch appear to imitate


what the organism sees. Changes and transitions from one intensity of light to another or, less importantly, from one color to another are more important for seeing than the absolute light intensities and colors themselves, so that boundaries, edges and contours – the change points – are physiologically preferred. The price of this change or edge preference is a loss of absolute visual accuracy while the gain is toward salient information. What is fundamental for organisms is essential for art. The paintings on which this article is based (painted in ’62-’69) were intuitively fashioned with the above data somewhere in mind. Among other factors, these paintings were made to work through boundary and luminance phenomena. Briefly described, the paintings make use of a continuous black band at the outer front edges which, moving in, is adjacent to a continuous narrow color band that is in turn adjacent to an interior large white square or rectangle. Tucked in between the white and black, the narrow color band gains a vast brightness due to two separate and distinct edge effects working at the color interfaces. At the white-to-color edge, retinal glare or scattering occurs: like all white surfaces the large white area reflects diffusely in all directions and appears to swell and go past its boundaries so that the color band gains in apparent luminosity. At the black-to-color edge a different thing happens. Brightness contrast effects push the color band still higher into luminosity through a physiological neural phenomenon called Mach bands. Both phenomena are subjective, not physical, and cannot be measured outside their context. In the paintings the two events noted at the color interfaces combine and allow color-light aspects which can range from fluorescence to luminescence, from phosphorescence to twilight. This essay will treat principally with Mach bands, the black-tocolor edge phenomenon. ii A brief sketch of Mach’s place and the pivotal work he did is desiderate. About a hundred years ago Ernst Mach, an Austrian physicistphilosopher-psychologist discovered and postulated in mathematical form a subjective brightness contrast effect known now as Mach bands or rings (1865). In experiments using a rotating disc, Mach measured and analyzed the light and dark striped ring which rotation magically offered to the viewer’s perception. As the ring was a new shape with its own qualities which are not physically present on the disc, and as this ring could be modified by changing the luminance and spatial factors on the disc, Mach’s discovery and its implications put a crucial question to both science and philosophy: how does one distinguish between properties of the observer and properties of the thing observed? Mach’s subsequent writings were deeper investigations into this relationship between the subjective sensations of the beholder and the nature and measurements of the thing observed. Mach felt both to be of equal reality and importance. He was the first to systemati-


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

stained-glass windows. Here a white ground and thinly glazed, finely pulverized pigments are used, allowing the ground lights to reflect back and up through the semitransparent colors much as light is transmitted through a window. The tones are very muted and the paintings are remarkable for their cool lights, extreme depth and a certain subdued splendor. Aside from the modes of light themselves, color theory and physiology are afflicted with two diverse yet true sets of data. Goethe, Chevreul and, later, Hering evolved an opponent theory of color: color-contrast observations were the basis of this theory where it was noticed that red-green or blue-yellow have marked effects on one another if viewed next to each other, and an empirical map of the normal retina does show a four-part color sensitivity. The retina is sensitive to yellow over the largest area, to blue over one almost as large, to red over a smaller area, and to green over the smallest. Location of these areas shows a fairly restricted zone in the center of the field of vision where all color qualities can be seen; surrounding this zone is an area in which no redness or greenness is visible but where blueness and yellowness can be seen; in the extreme periphery all color experience is restricted to blacks, grays and whites. Electrophysiological data on fish also show retinal ganglion cells beyond the retina which have opposed-spectral responses.4 One type has a single maximum at about 575 millimicrons, another type has a maximum in the red part of the spectrum and a maximum of opposite polarity in the green part, and a third type has its two maxima of opposite polarity in the yellow and blue regions of the spectrum. Opposed to the opponent-color theory is the equally demonstrable Young-Helmholtz theory of color. Here only three mechanisms of color perception are postulated: red, green and blue. This trichromatic theory does not account for color contrast effects, but does account for Colorimetry data which have demonstrated that a color stimulus may be accurately matched by a mixture of correct amounts of three color stimuli. It is physiologically assumed here that there are three kinds of retinal cones, each with pigments sensitive to light of different absorption spectra. The means of combining the Young-Helmholtz theory and data with the color-contrast theory and its data is not at hand, so that “Turtles appear to hate blue while frogs seem rather fond of it” is about the clearest, least complicating kind of statement one can make about color vision at this time. However, data and theory on luminance vision, a prior aspect of all color vision, are highly developed, sophisticated and fairly straightforward in implications. It appears the lights and darks of ancient arts and science are still productive standards for new endeavor. Most sensation is the edge of things. Visual systems schematize; they look to physical boundaries, edges and contours to select from the immense detail in the retinal-image data which are most significant to the organism. What the receptors of the retina see is not

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

cally question the classic Newtonian mechanics with their yardsticks of absolute fictitious measures, and during his lifetime his work was profoundly germane in the development of relativity theory. Mach’s experiments and theories had been well known and much debated when, around 1880, physical science was rocked and subsequently redefined by the failure of the Michelson-Morley experiment, an attempt to measure the speed of light. Contrary to classical expectations, a light beam projected in various directions with respect to earth’s motion discovered no differences due to the fabric of space itself, the Newtonian ether which classical mechanics needed as its fixed reference point, its absolute rest to which all other things in motion must refer. Suddenly there was no such thing as absolute motion or absolute space. Mach had called to question both principles in his writings. At this point, G.F. Fitzgerald advanced a possible explanation for the Michelson-Morley failure when in 1893 he suggested that all matter contracted in the direction of its motion; this meant that all possible measuring devices, including the human sense organs, would be foreshortened in the same way. H.A. Lorentz took Fitzgerald’s idea one step further: a flying charged particle foreshortened in the direction of its travel would be compressed into a smaller volume and the mass of the particle would have to increase. According to the equations worked out by these two scientists, at the speed of light a measuring rod, its length in the direction of the motion, would be zero; at the speed of light an electron’s mass would be infinite. In 1900 W. Kauffman proved that the electron’s mass increased as predicted by the Lorentz-Fitzgerald equations. Excepting the speed of light there were no more absolute measures and the subjective element of science could not be eliminated. Mach’s epistemology, his concern with the observed and the observer, was intimately connected with these events. His concepts of space, time and mechanics influenced Einstein and in 1916 Einstein wrote: “Mach clearly recognized the weak points of classical mechanics and was not very far from requiring a general theory of relativity and all of this almost a half a century ago! It is not improbable that Mach himself would have discovered the theory of relativity, if, during the time that his mind was in its prime, physicists had been concerned with the importance of the problem of the constancy of the speed of light.”5 Mach and Einstein disagreed on many points, however. One difference was in the matter of gravitational theory. Einstein’s theory of gravitation still requires some use of the concept of absolute space. But according to what is now known as Mach’s principle, inertial forces are due to acceleration relative to distant matter in space, not to empty space. As Mach put it, “When we say that a body preserves unchanged its direction and velocity in space, our assertion is nothing more or less than an abbreviated reference to the entire universe.”6 In the world of philosophy Mach’s contributions were equally significant. He exerted a strong influence on the Vienna Circle and

the Unity of Science movement (Wittgenstein, Carnap, et al.) and their subsequent development of modern logical positivism. He also influenced the Russian critical-empiricists, provoking Lenin to write the polemical Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909) against Mach’s Russian followers. Mach’s own philosophy was skeptical and similar to Hume’s, though derived from one of Hume’s contemporaries (Lichtenberg). Mach read Hume somewhat later. Mach’s early positions were taken in rejection of Kant. He often cited Berkeley an influence but made much of his differences with Berkeley’s Idealism. In 1914 Mach wrote: “Shall I once again state the difference in a word? Berkeley regards the elements as conditioned by an unknown cause external to them (God), – accordingly Kant, in order to appear as a sober realist, invents the thing-in-itself; whereas on the view which I advocate, a dependence of the elements on one another is theoretically and practically all that is required.”7 iii A dependence of the elements on one another is a succinct statement of a Mach band’s external modus operandi. Wherever there is a change in light to dark between two areas Mach bands will appear: on the light side of the edge or contour a lighter stripe is manifested, on the dark side a darker band. These light and dark bands are not objective for they are not on the physical surface. They occur in the viewer’s visual system. However their brightness and darkness are specifically dependent on the elements, the magnitude and spatial distribution of the physical illumination. If the edges are sharp or the contrast in light intensities great, the Mach bands will be quite apparent. These bands are always present at all boundaries, though at middle values and at dull edges they are seldom noticed. Color edge-effects show a more complicated variant of the same phenomenon, but depend mainly on luminance differences rather than color differences. Curiously, Mach bands are not symmetrical, that is, the bright stripe is more pronounced, much lighter relative to its light area than the dark band is dark to its dark area. The bright band also becomes significantly narrower with increasing contrast relations. The occasion for the asymmetry, indeed for the entire Mach band phenomenon, involves the nature, structure and desideratum of the visual system itself. Imperfections in the lens and other dioptric apparatus of the eye (cornea, vitreous and aqueous humors) cause blurring and a degradation of the sharpness of the image formed on the retina; the degradation occurs through diffraction, chromatic and spherical aberrations and so forth and causes considerable blur, especially when contrasts or edges are sharp. The Mach band effect, which occurs beyond the retina in the lateral neural networks of the eye, compensates and rectifies the retinal blur. On the other hand, since Mach bands occur at all boundaries even where blur is minimal, they also accentuate edge and contour information. Their role is therefore dual – to preserve and to enhance.


Now the subjective light curve for this same chart turns out to look quite different. An observer’s sensations may be charted with respect to the same edge transitions to give an apparent brightness curve. This curve starts out parallel to the uniform objective horizontal. Somewhat before the objective edge transition the apparent light curve goes up in a spike for a short space to a height well above the objective light level. The sensation slope then descends in a similar (not identical) fashion and at its bottom overshoots and goes well below the objective change point of the lower uniform horizontal. This bottom spike is shallower and broader than the one at the high light-intensity level; when this bottom spike comes up, it continues as a line parallel to the bottom objective horizontal. The spikes of course represent the apparent Mach bands.

What is important here is that at a point of change a viewer experiences an exaggerated point of change in the direction opposite to the given physical stimulus (mathematically characterized as the negative of the second derivative: that is, the instantaneous amount of change of the amount of change in an opposed direction. Second derivatives are always large since they start at and return to zero for any amount). Since these subjective change points always move in a relatively large, reversed way, Mach assumed an inhibitory factor at work in the viewer’s optical system. Now inhibition often means a simple lessening of a quantity, but here it is complex and really means opposed in a significant amount. The inhibitory factor postulated by Mach was the divisor in an integration of intensity minus a constant times excitation over inhibition, where the inhibitory influence divides a summated gross excitation of light into its subsequent net effect. Electrophysiological data not available in Mach’s time confirm and locate an inhibitory factor in the neural networks beyond the retina, and the unit of neural activity is now identified as the nerve impulse. Electrophysiological studies of the horseshoe crab limulus (an arthropod compound eye) have given the clearest data and mathematical terms for inhibitory networks. The compound eye is made up of little eyes (ommatidia) so that both the excitatory and inhibitory influences in the retina may be observed directly. If a mask is placed over the eye so that only one ommatidium sees a pattern, then the responses faithfully reproduce the objective stimulus; when the mask is removed so that interaction can take place among the neighboring elements, the Mach band spikes appear in the response curve. The inhibitory influences are exerted mutually among the ommatidia so that each inhibits, and is inhibited by, its near neighbors. The amount of the inhibition on a particular element depends on the response of those neighboring elements rather than upon the stimulus to them. In other words, the inhibition is recurrent, exerted back on the site of generation. A network of tiny fibers laterally connects each ommatidium, albeit all eyes of fish, birds, cats, monkeys, even mudpuppies have lateral interconnections in their post-retinal neural fibers. And all eyes show the Mach band response to edge transitions in much the same form. A number of mathematical models have been devised to deal with the excitatory-inhibitory components: nonlinear and linear statistics with negative weighting functions, non-linear ratios, and sets of simultaneous equations describe Mach bands, depending on who, how, and what is observed and measured. However, the precise mathematical formulations are unclear if similar in all but the limulus eye data. The many and diverse formal models indicate the intricacy and complexity of the retinal-neural interplay which accomplishes the viewer’s discernment of boundary change. These perceived changes of illumination are fundamental, for without them, all things would seem to be invisible. Change of light in space is a form of motion, but the vertebrate


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

A dependence of the elements on one another delineates the Mach band’s interior process as well, its physiology. Mach postulated an interdependence of neighboring elements in the retina; his mathematical model formulated a non-linear, reciprocal, inhibitory interaction. An integration of opposed excitatory and inhibitory influences still describes most modern quantitative attempts dealing with neural network contrast effects. Mach’s initial assumption rested on a diagnosis of psychophysical data. If one charts an objective average luminance curve for an edge transition, the coordinates are light-intensity against distance and the slope between a change from light to dark will depend on how much the light-intensity changes in how much space. The point of change from a uniform intensity to the change slope might be simple and abrupt or gradual, while the slope itself may range from an almost vertical drop parallel to the light intensity ordinate (a white painted area next to a black painted area, very hard edged), through ascending diagonals expressing half-shadow areas between the light and dark intensities. All the information on this graph can be measured with a light meter on a physical surface: it is an objective light curve and looks somewhat like the three parts of a step.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

retina also has a striking sensitivity to temporal changes in illumination. The most natural cause of these temporal changes on the retina come from objects which are moving. Furthermore, although an object viewed might be still and without motion, the eye itself is in continual motion. There are experiments where the effects of eye movements are canceled: a contact lens with a mirror attached plus a complicated projection system of other mirrors which compensate the angular motion of the eye produces a stationary retinal image on the receptor mosaic.8 All details of illumination viewed this way appear sharp and clear at first, then, in a few seconds, they gradually fade out. All contrast and form disappear and the stationary image on the retina appears uniform no matter what the physical pattern of illumination; there is no vision without change. Outside the lateral neural networks in the vertebrate optic nerve itself, the highest proportion of retinal ganglion-cell axons are movementsensitive: they are either quiescent or discharge very slowly under steady-state, uniform conditions. These ganglion cells respond very vigorously, however, when the illumination is changed. The shape of an edge determines the response of other ganglion cells.9 In frogs, a large pattern with a straight edge might yield no response at all, yet a small, circular stimulus might yield a vigorous response when moved into the same fields. Curvature of the edge, rather than size, appears to be the determining factor. These cells also respond strongly to a sharp corner of a stimulus pattern. There are similar findings in the brain of the cat and monkey. Other ganglion cells in the retina seem to be highly specialized in a selective sensitivity to direction of movement.10 They respond to movement in one direction, but not to movement in the opposite direction; that is, the preferred direction of movement is generally horizontal or vertical. Similar data occur in the brain of higher forms here also, and none of these ganglion responses is the direct result of receptor activity. They seem to be a product of integrative activity, an interplay of excitatory and inhibitory influences which occur somewhere between the receptors and their second- or third-order neurons in the visual system or in the brain. An elucidation of these particulars is perhaps best expressed by the neuro-physiologists Huggins and Licklider: “... The nervous system often hedges. Instead of presenting a single transform (a change of information from one kind of signal to another) of the peripheral centers to the higher centers, the... tract may present a number of transforms... As a rough analogy, one can improve upon the transmission of a message in noise by using a number of channels, one for the message itself, one for its time derivative, another for its second time derivative, perhaps another for its time integral. These several transforms of the message protect different aspects of the message from the effects of the noise. The receiver, trying to reconstruct the original message, can come much closer by operating upon the set of transforms (though they are all contaminated) than it can with only the noisy message itself to work on.”11

The neural network interactions and the specific ganglion cell responses, each functioning as different kinds of information, together present an integration of information from several different points of view. So edges and boundaries, corners and sharp curves, motion and the direction of motions horizontal and vertical prevail as a physiological bias for both vertebrate and invertebrate. These rudiments are the signal points of view in all well developed visual systems. iiii Since it is a pretty long leap from physiological bias to modern art, a short review of modern art’s nature and development seems in order. A useful analysis of the general dialectics appears in Clement Greenberg’s essay, Modernist Painting (1960-65): “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself – not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. The essential norms or conventions of painting are also the limiting conditions with which a marked-up surface must comply in order to be experienced as a picture. Modernism has found that these limiting conditions can be pushed back indefinitely before a picture stops being a picture and turns into an arbitrary object, – but it has also found that the further back these limits are pushed the more explicitly they have to be observed. Each art... had to effect this... demonstration on its own account. What had to be exhibited and made explicit was that which was unique and irreducible not only in art in general but also in each particular art.”12 To chronicle the particulars and beginning with Manet’s Olympia (1863), the subject of modern painting has been a suppression and dispelling of the sculptural from the painted canvas with the defining means the flat surface, the shape of the support, and the properties of pigment. The Impressionists began the differentiation through their use of dabs and pats of paint which asserted the immediacy of the painted surface; they also diminished value contrasts, the blacks and whites of sculptural modeling and substituted color relations instead. Cezanne took the Impressionist paint surface, the points and pats, gave them directions on the plane, and modeled for pictorial depth in the warms and cools of Impressionist theory. These factors, plus his habit of drawing which tilted the picture plane forward from the top, established a flat surface in dialogue and tension with pictorial illusions of deep space. Evolving from Impressionist tenets and Cezanne, the Fauves and later the Orphists and Synchromists focused on an elaboration of color relations, orchestrating brilliant design rhythms. Cezanne’s flat surface developed further in the hands of Analytic Cubists: early Cubism muted the broad color contrasts, modeling value on shapes which had been flattened out through looking behind and presenting back aspects of the pictured object simultaneously with its frontal aspect. The Cubists also developed a taut unification between


the energy transformations of fire and flame. Black, F. blanc (bleached white), L. flavus (yellow), and Rom. bhlavus (blue) all come from the same Indo-European base flag- (to blaze, burn). A Greek gray (spodios) is ashes, and even the Greek green (khloros) derives from the Indo-European base glodi- (hot coal, fire). (The green of a hot coal is most likely its corona, where the encircling envelope of light takes its color from a contrast effect with the red coal.) All Indo-European reds come from the same root: red has always been red. Its etymology is lost or never was. Besides the colors, even the word material participates in the fire schema; material, from Latin, means hard part of a tree rendering the Greek mater (mother, i.e., the trunk of a tree producing shoots). These ancient and very perceptive observations of energy barters, the wood, fire, lights and heats, show that in that long ago color was also appreciated as the remaindered result of something else. Form, shape, space are principally boundary and gradient phenomena. In paintings it is convenient to let form mean the markings which articulate a surface, the lines, areas, bands, figures, etc. Forms on a surface become visible through the differential light and color intensities and absorptions: the lines, areas, bands and figures are the materialized edges and gradients. Shape, the outside physical perimeter of a painting, is a little more complicated since a shape is three-dimensional. However, shape edges and surfaces are also made visible by reflected-light, though the comprehension of an object needs other objects or a wall to appear as shape. Objects occur in deep space, but the space on a painting surface can be made as flat as the surface itself and need not set up illusions of depth. Marks on such a surface then merely mark edge intervals and gradients between reflected light intensities and color lights. The definitive means of painting (color, material, plane, form, shape, space) are now encompassed by the more fundamental limits of reflected-light boundaries as means. This reduction includes the former terms but makes possible new questions, ways, explications and interpretations. What remains to be formulated out of this revised dialectic is a differentiation of the sculptural from the pictorial. Certain properties are obviously shared, indeed intrinsically mutual. There are three necessary mutualities. First, both paintings and sculptures are shape objects, for even when a painting is a mural done directly on a wall, the wall becomes its object shape; so-called two-dimensional art is a fiction. The second property shared by painting and sculpture is their surface; all objects have surfaces. The last shared property between the two arts is materials – mainly pigments for painting and much of the rest of the material world for sculpture. Put another way, if all the lights in a room are turned out, there isn’t much to know about a painting excepting its texture and its shape against the wall. In that same dark room, there is a great deal that can be known about a sculpture: bumped into, one can feel all the masses, their possibly moving articulations and the particular materials used. So bounded, colored surface light is paint59

Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

their faceted forms and the rectangular shape of the picture itself. The later Synthetic Cubism eschewed modeling and favored flat bright colors and interlocking, quasi-geometric silhouettes, which rendered a more obvious flatness of surface. The final reduction in Cubism was soundly effected by Mondrian (and Malevitch and Kandinsky before); they dispensed with all representational content and reduced form to the nonobjective. Somewhat later and in America, Abstract Expressionism invested the properties of pigment with their most material sense – every mark made on a canvas was explicit in its manner of generation. More recently, attention to the shape of the support evolved into shaped canvases, and the properties of pigment turned into Colorfield painting. At the present state of the art, these latter two concerns have been successfully unified and joined by contemporary artists (Newman, Noland, Stella, etc.). None of this short art history has to do with physiological bias. It is rather a synopsis of a reduction to what are still immensely complicated locutions: color, shape, plane, form, material, space. Advanced art is radical, and radical in its most literal meaning describes a root, base, foundation. Advanced art is thus an art which works for and effects change, within the general Modernist dialectic, towards a more basic and particular substance of art. At present, a radical redefinition of current painting is pertinent and possible. All the pictorial terms given above (color, shape, plane, form, material, space) can be summed up and reduced to a single term: reflected light with its boundaries and gradients. Now in every day language light signifies three quite different phenomena. There is a light from a source, that is a lamp or the sun; there is a light transmitted through a transparent or translucent medium – Newton’s rays through a prism or smoke in a room; and there is a light reflected back from the surface of an object allowing us to see this object. There are also combinations and transition states between the three light modes. This section is addressed to the third mode, the reflected surface light, because paintings are essentially objects of their outermost boundary, a skin of matter reflecting lights. Reflected light brings us to color, plane and material. All reflected light prerequires a surface (a plane) in order to become reflected light – the terms are correlatives. At this surface an energy exchange between a source light and the materials on or of the surface determines the color of the reflected lights which are then seen. While all surfaces are material, pigment materials are intrinsically energy filters which manifest colors through their specific and selective properties. A particular pigment absorbs particular fractions of the source-light. What we see reflected back, i.e., the color, has been transformed into that fraction of the original source light which the pigment has not absorbed. So reflected color light is the remainder of an energy exchange of heat and light in a material. Our ancient progenitors understood this retroflexion, for among the European languages six of the seven unique colors derive their names from


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

61 Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

ing’s ontological bottom. A painterly guess in the direction of sculpture’s fundamental terms would be mass (including tangibility – touch Mach bands exist for the skin’s sensorium), the variousness of materials, and perhaps the movement of parts. Art is a very complexed affair. So is physiology. However, if we wish to deal with that which is unique and irreducible, we must attend closely to the explicit properties of the observed and of the observer and to the intimate nature of their juncture. A known physiological preference for edges, boundaries, and contours, for corners and sharp curves, and for particular directions of change is most certainly pertinent to aesthetic preferences and the continuing development of art. It is illuminating to go to Clement Greenberg again, for exception must be taken with him at this point. The quotation is from an essay titled “American Type” Painting (1955, 1958): “...the new emphasis on black and white has to do with something that is perhaps more crucial to Western painting than to any other kind. Value contrast, the opposition of the lightness and darkness of colors, has been Western pictorial art’s chief means, far more important than perspective, to that convincing illusion of three-dimensionality which distinguishes it most from other traditions of pictorial art. The eye takes its first bearings from quantitative differences of illumination, and in their absence feels most at loss. Black and white offers the extreme statement of these differences. What is at stake in the new American emphasis on black and white is the preservation of something – a main pictorial resource – that is suspected of being near exhaustion; and the effort at preservation is undertaken, in this as in other cases, by isolating and exaggerating that which one wants to preserve.”13 It is doubtful if value contrasts, the opposition of the lightness and darkness of colors, can be a “main pictorial resource... near exhaustion” if such value contrasts are intrinsically essential, preferred, even enhanced by the nature of all visual systems. Visual systems do not need the “illusion of three-dimensionality” on flat surfaces; in fact, neither does the great bulk of the world’s art excepting the Western European tradition. Over the last hundred years Western painting has successfully suppressed and dispelled the sculptural third-dimension from its surface and at the same time, Western painting has also successfully engaged the sub-rosa aspects of full-out color (hedonism) against the blacks and whites of good and evil (puritanical pleasure-pain). Since biological preference for illumination qualities, boundaries and sharp changes precede and underlie the more complicated color and sociological factors; and since they are a known, universal visual necessity, it would be well for the proceeding arts to investigate and keep these constants in mind. Perhaps it is now propitious for radical painting’s surfaces to mediate new color and value relations between a more closely examined observer and an expanded, more worldly observed.

xerography & mach bands: instrumental model As the eye looks to boundaries for its most significant information, so does a Xerox duplicator in its earlier and most intrinsic forms. In fact, early Xerox only reproduced edges. Visual systems and Xerox copiers both distort the edges of what is seen in a similar fashion, and these distortions are similar because in each case the product of the viewing is a result of the interdependence of neighboring points in the viewing systems. (Mach, in 1882, remarked on the similarity of equipotential curves and the curves representing visual contrast effects.) The systems are otherwise dissimilar however in that organic edge distortions are subjective, the result of living, changing responses to relative light boundaries; Xerox distortions are entirely physical, printed on a page and unchanging once the instrument has placed them there. The Mach band edge enhancement of a biological visual system is due to the integrative activity of neural networks within the organism. The edge enhancement from a Xerox copier is due to the particular charge densities of an electrostatic field. An electrostatic force field is any interval between two oppositely charged objects. An electrostatic system, as distinguished from current electricity, is one in which the voltage, the electric pressure or force is great, stored up even, to charge a field rather than to discharge current (amperes) along a conducting wire. The field intensity or volts per micron are much higher near one or another of the charged objects (electrodes or particles) than out in the middle where the field is weakest. In general, the strength of an electrostatic field at any point is given by adding vectorially (quantities of direction versus magnitude) the fields produced at that point by each positive charge. All high voltage systems will either spark over discharges or leak corona currents if the systems are inadequately shielded or badly built. Corona is of interest here, since the Xerox process is initiated by a spray of corona discharge. The word corona comes from Greek where it meant “anything curved or bent,” and this early meaning quite nicely describes a corona’s electrical conduct. Wherever there are sharp edges, sharp curves or flexions in a voltage system, charge densities build up strongly there and then tend to leak out at these highly charged places. (Over-volted current systems will also discharge corona, but all over, along the line as well as at the sharp edges, flexions or curves. And natural coronas occur when an atmospheric high-intensity electric field finds the tip of the mast of a ship: sailors call it St. Elmo’s fire.) This corona leakage of charged particles changes nearby molecules of air into a flood of ions which can grow into an ionic current or an electric wind. In a Xerox machine a zig-zag charged wire (lots of bends) sprays a uniform layer of positive ions, in the dark, onto the neutral smooth surface of a selenium-coated drum. When an image is to be duplicated, it is projected by light through a lens onto the ionized sele-


The band widths painted on the subject prototypes are on canvas and proportional to those used on existing paintings. The color of the narrow band between the black and white is phtalo-green mixed with titanium white; a 2400 Xerox duplicator was selected because its spectral sensitivity is particularly good for this color. It would be well to remember that these presentations illustrate a multiplicity of processes, all differing in their outsets yet similar in their outcomes. The sequence goes from art (intuited artifacts), to painted abstracts (selected physiological data) and then branches into instruments: photo reproductions (Talbot-Plateau law of absolute light intensity) and Xeroxed copies (electrostatic forces). The printer’s lithography will also affect the illustrations to some extent. And the observer’s eye still stands behind all these models as the touchstoned backbone of their visual effects Notes 1. Theory of Colours, Goethe, pp. 385-386. 2. Id. 3. Ibid., pp. 365-366, 377. 4. Mach Bands, Ratliff, pp. 190-191. 5. Ibid., p. 31 6. Id. 7. Ibid., p. 24 8. Ibid., pp 169-170 9. Ibid., p. 178 10. Ibid., p. 179 11. Ibid., pp. 79-80 12. The New Art, Gregory Battcock, E.P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1966, pp. 101, 102, 106. 13. Art & Culture, Clement Greenberg, pp. 220-221. Bibliography Asimov, Isaac, The Intelligent Man’s Guide to the Physical Sciences, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1960. Dessauer, J.H. and Clark, H.E., Xerography & Related Processes, Focal Press, New York, 1965. Greenberg, Clement, Art & Culture, Beacon Press, Boston, 1961. Judd, Deane B., A Five-Attribute System of Describing Visual Appearance, American Society for Testing Materials, Philadelphia, 1961. Mach, Ernst, The Principles of Physical Optics, Dover Publications, New York, 1926 (1913). Moore, A.D., Electrostatics, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York, 1968. Onions, C.T., The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, Oxford University PressEtymology, London, 1966. Ratliffe, Floyd, Mach Bands, Holden-Day Inc., San Francisco, 1965. v. Goethe, J.W., Theory of Colours, Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., London, 1967 (1810). Acknowledgements Personal thanks and much gratitude for their assistance is extended to R.W. Gundlach and A. Dinsdale, Xerox Corp.; J. Krauskopf, Bell Laboratories; S. Hanlon, Mathematics Department, Riverdale Country School for Boys; W. Agee, Museum of Modern Art; and R. Lobe and D. Graham, Departments of Humoring, Editing and Morale.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

nium surface so that the surface becomes selectively charged. Selenium is a photoconductor, which means that wherever light strikes its surface it discharges and becomes neutral again; the electrical potential decays and dissipates leaving a distribution of positive electrostatic charge corresponding only to the dark areas where light has not fallen. Next, a black powder is spilled over the revolving drum; the powder particles have been tumbled together with little beads somewhere else in the system to build up a negative static charge. This negatively charged powder now clings to the positively charged areas which have remained on the drum and a visible image becomes manifest. We are still on the drum, but paper is forthcoming: a positive charge has been applied by stroking ordinary paper with plastic fur and the paper attracts the negatively charged powder to its surface. Off the drum and onto the paper, vaporized solvents or heat are used to soften and fuse the powdered image. The image is now part of and as permanent as the paper itself. The accompanying Xeroxed edge-effect illustrations are useful as a physical model of subjective optical phenomena. If there is doubt in the reader’s mind as to whether he is seeing subjective Mach bands or instrumental edge distortions in this material, cover one side of the Xeroxed edge with hand or paper and notice that the phenomena remain the same: it is printed there. Next, cover the contrast-edge of the photographed original and notice that the subjective Mach bands disappear. (Mach bands appear in photographs because the photographic process distributes light with the same brightness relations to the eye as occur on the original.) The Xeroxed illustrations presented here are in two forms: there is a standard line duplication of a painted original and there are several halftone duplications where white Zip-a-tone dots or a finer white screen developed by Xerox has been laid on top of the original painted canvas prior to its Xerox reproduction. On the standard, unscreened line pictures a value asymmetry is apparent, since a bit more black powder is attracted to that side of the edge where less light has fallen to discharge the field. The middle areas between the boundaries do not reproduce because, while the charge particles are dense near an edge due to the fringing-effect of the electrostatic field, the centers of the field are very weak. The nature of an electrostatic field is such that the amount of black powder attracted to any point on the charged selenium is determined not by the charge at that point alone, but by the integrated effects of all charges whose fields act at that point. The same edge phenomena become more apparent with the screened Xeroxed illustrations although the middle areas are now printed. The white dot screens give a continuous tone to areas by breaking up the components so that there are changes from light to dark everywhere. This breaking up of extended dark areas into many narrow lines or dots yields many narrow fields of full strength throughout the center of the area where the field would otherwise be zero.

The Eye is Not a Camera

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Written in the early 1970s, previously unpublished.

The primordium of art is perceptual experience where object plus observer specifies the rudimentary relation. In the conjunction of object and observer, over the greater span of history much has been made of the object’s properties – it has been measured, weighed and classified, color-matched and movement-mapped. The observer’s properties, however, have been traditionally set aside and dismissed as illusory or unworthy. The inclusion of the observer and his properties in the perceptual equation was only appreciated and engaged about a hundred years ago, while during the past thirty years physiological data have been advanced which show in detail how the object’s properties are selectively apprehended and perceptually changed by the observer’s properties. The dynamics of physiological linkage and the particular selective processes which go on within it raise implications for artist and viewer alike. Are aesthetic values determined or affected by basic physiological preferences? And if so, in what way and how much? Although definitive answers to such broad questions of taste are refractory and outside this article’s scope, much of the modern data on vision is particularly suggestive and warrants close consideration. All organic visual systems (and other sensory systems as well), are living, instrumental detectors which at the very outset select and modify the physical stimuli which they receive: the eye is not a passive camera, simply registering or reproducing the visual array for an attendant homunculus in the higher brain to “read photos” transmitted from the retina. The visual system, rather, selects, interpolates, approximates and schematizes at every level, from neural inception of vision at the retinal surface through an ascending and branching complex of higher-order neurons, geniculate bodies, colliculi superiores and the striated visual cortex in the occipital lobe. Additional information from other sensory systems, motor systems and the cortex is also integrated with the visual signals at various levels. Spatial directions are furnished by the inner ear’s statocyst; head movements and eye movements continually renew the visible panorama; touch, the haptic system, reinforces textural information. Plantar touch from the soles of the feet establishes both earthsky orientation and also the motion of the viewer relative to proprioception of the large body muscles used in movement. Audition and olfaction add data from a distance for the eyes to search and focus, while recognition and memory from cortical centers further contribute to visual apperception. In fact active vision is so unlike photography it is worth considering how the two came to be identified with one another. The first camera was said to be the invention of Leonardo, the crude camera obscura (a dark chamber and small window hole),

which projected an image on a wall used by artists for sketching. They traced the lines and shapes of the projected, upside-down scene from outside on the paper on the wall inside and then colored the picture. By the early 1600’s the camera obscura was a sedan chair or tent equipped with lenses that artists carried into the countryside to sketch landscapes. In the 1620s, experiments performed by Christoph Scheiner, which were correctly anticipated and interpreted in 1604 by Kepler, placed an ox-eye instead of a lens in a wall to catch an image. It is at this point that the camera and the eye became confounded, for when the external membranes at the back of the ox’s eye are cut to make an opening over which a thin white paper can be placed, and this eye is set in a hole made in the shutter of a window with an observer behind it in a darkened room, an inverted picture of the objects outside will be seen by the observer “not perhaps without wonder and pleasure,” as was said at the time. The interchange between camera and ox-eye provided an organic analogue for geometric optics (the science called catoptrics, of reflected light or mirrors), and it is notable, in passing, how the technology of a particular time forms the picture of nervous mechanisms in its own image. Descartes, as Galen 500 years before him, believed nerves to be waterways or tubes of fluid whose functions were therefore to be described by the laws of hydraulics. Hydrodynamics were highly developed in Descartes’ time. Nowadays, the nervous system is “electronic” and full of transducers, action potentials, modulators, transforms and the like. To return to the camera-eye parallel, in 1727 Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered the light-sensitivity of silver-salts (though the first “film” for cameras, invented in 1826, was a light-sensitive pewter plate engraved to fix the image). The analogical discovery of the retinal photoreceptors had to await the development of the microscope and was described in 1835 by Treviranus. The resemblance between camera and eye ends here, with pupil and lens and the photo-sensitive molecule; and in fact, even at this level the similarity between the two is loose rather than strict. Photographs copy and reproduce on a flat surface a fairly well defined and accurate patterns of physical lights and darks. The organic eye does not and cannot do the same due to a number of properties of the eye itself. Light travels through air in a camera’s interior. In the eye, light travels through a fluid aqueous humor between the cornea and lens and then through the gelatinous mass of the vitreous humor between lens and retina. The refractive index for aqueous media is much higher than the refractive index for air, so that in the eye, light of long wave-lengths is less bent than light of short wave-lengths. Even when the eye is accommodated for distance, exact focus cannot be achieved simultaneously, and the image on the retina is blurred and not perfectly sharp. This phenomenon is known as chromatic aberration. Others distortions occur: spherical aberrations due to curvature of the cornea and retina also add to the blur, further degrading the


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 V. Speculum, 1970 oil on canvas, 203.2 x 56 x 10.2 cm / 80 x 22 x 4 inch courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

V. Lurida, 1971 oil on canvas, 203.2 x 56 x 10.2 cm / 80 x 22 x 4 inch Levi-Strauss Collection, San Francisco


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 H. Arcuata, 1971 oil on canvas, 56 x 244 x 10.2 cm / 22 x 96.1 x 4 inch collection Daimler Corporation, Zßrich


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

V. Staminodeus, 1974 oil on canvas, 203.2 x 56 x 10.2 cm / 80 x 22 x 4 inch collection Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam

H. Tenebrosa, 1972 oil on canvas, 203.2 x 56 x 10.2 cm / 80 x 22 x 4 inch collection Ludwig, Vienna

V. Eutopicus, 1973 oil on canvas, 203.2 x 56 x 10.2 cm / 80 x 22 x 4 inch collection Virginia and Bagley Wright, Seattle


becomes a nervous excitation (through complicated changes in the electric potential of adjacent membranes), multiple contrasts, intensities, and wave-lengths of the visual environment become designated, inaugurating specific nervous interactions in the prescriptive alternations characterizing all biological organization. Neural interactions take place in time as well as in the space of the retina. Change or motion in the viewer or the object is mandatory for vision. “Motion” is the passage of a body from one place to another. Motion itself always occurs in both time and space. “Change” may occur in either space alone, or time alone, or both, the word “change” deriving from an old Sanskrit word meaning “bend.” “Change” is a generalized term which includes motion as one of its forms. A surface with changing points, such as a stationary pattern, for instance, implies motion at some prior point in time, (like when it was put together. There is no truly static event without a history, outside of God, perhaps), but a surface itself can be static and unmoving when we look at it. In active vision, however, a static, light-dark pattern on a surface seen as texture, boundaries or gradients, which might be analyzed as a change of properties in space only, always acquires the additional time dimension in actuality due to the temporal requisites of the photoreceptors themselves. The light-sensitive molecules in the photoreceptors, when bleached by light, need an interval of darkness (or no stimulation) to recombine into their original, light-sensitive form. This means that a given constellation of light and dark may be seen temporarily without either its movement or movement of the eyes, but that this same constellation will disappear in a matter of seconds if the pattern is not displaced on the retinal field. Experiments in which the effects of eye movements are cancelled and a static retinal image is projected on the retinal mosaic demonstrate that all details of illumination viewed this way appear sharp and clear at first, then, in a few seconds fade out. All contrast and form disappear, and the stationary image on the retina appears uniform (i.e., grey, non-existent) no matter what physical pattern of illumination was in it. The image will immediately reappear if it is caused to move on the retina or if it is flickered on the retina at a certain time interval.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

sharpness of images formed on the retina. For that matter, only about 10% of the light reaching the eye gets to the receptors at all, the rest being lost by absorption and scattering within the humors before the retina is reached, though the receptors at the retina are so sensitive they can be stimulated by a single quantum of light. The wave properties of light itself affect and limit the resolving power of the eye because the rods and cones have a diameter equal to only a few wave-lengths of visible light. At this scale the light-waves can bend and flow around the single sensor so that details of the image must fail to become sharper. All the above factors cause considerable blurring of a projected image and are evidence of an intrinsic, morphological bias in the eye towards a system highly sensitive to the presence of light and shadow, not towards accuracy of image. All instrumental systems have reciprocal sensitivity/accuracy relations where an elaboration of one feature intrinsically reduces the other. While it is true that all instrumental systems distort data to some extent, and the ordinary black and white photo is never an exact replica of the object (due to distortions introduced by the lens and aperture stop by scattering of light within the film’s emulsion and by reflections from the backing of the film), still, the photo presents a balanced sensitivity/accuracy rendering of illumination. The camera is not in itself weighted towards either accuracy to definition or great sensitivity to light and dark. Vision’s disquiparant bias in this regard points up the most obvious difference between the biological mechanism and the physical photograph. The eye’s pronounced sensitivity towards light and dark, its sensitivity to motion and change, is motivated by survival and the desire of the living organism to persist, with its correlative ability to renew itself and its parts. Things that change and things that move are food, enemies, or mates. The eye’s morphology did not evolve to contemplate nature’s verities or document its data. Light and dark, motion and change are the physical requisites for vision, and these terms from the outset are necessarily composite. In living systems they are also interconnected, ultimate and indivisible. Indeed, the one characteristic which distinguishes organic life from the inanimate is its alternating, dualistic level of organization. All systems have molecular metabolic requirements, and the dualistic feedback mechanisms intrinsic to all organic maintenance and stimulus-response activities always occur in composite space/time. Light alone, that is unchanging, single-intensity light having no dark-light distribution, like all pre-chemical or onedimensional phenomena, belongs to the realm of physics. It is biologically non-existent except at vision’s instant, physical inception where, at the retinal extremity, photopigments respond to any kind of incident light with one single change of structure, rotating from a bent configuration to a straight, linear one. The production of this structural change, i.e., the warping of the chromophore molecule, is the only role that light itself plays in vision. The instant this rotation

Unused Statement. American Woman Artist, 1971 Baer submitted the following statement in lieu of art to “American Woman Artist,” an exhibition organized by the Gemeinschaft der Künstlerinnen und Kunstfreunde Hamburg and held at the Kunsthaus Hamburg, 1972. This statement was not displayed at the exhibition as Baer had requested. Subsequently, she was no longer invited to take part in feminist events. Previously published in exhibition catalogue Jo Baer. Paintings 1960-1998, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1999, p. 45.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Art exists sans gender, race, religion. In fact, one of the best reasons for making art is that no one particularly cares who the artist is – woman, Negro, Jew – only the work counts, which is one reason there are so many fine women artists available for your American Women Artists show. Nothwithstanding, an exclusive show of women artists is, I believe, a retrograde step towards establishing a women’s ghetto that heretofore has not existed. For that reason I will not participate in this endeavor. Moreover, I will not endorse shows or policies which exploit art in the name of social justice, racial equality, religious sanctimony or anything else extraneous to art’s provenance. I do direct your attention and energies outside the art world to combat the many real discriminations waiting there. Jo Baer August 14, 1971

On Painting, 1971 Statement, originally written for an unidentified German catalogue. First published in Flash Art, no. 37, November 1972, pp. 6-7.

It is almost impossible to write or speak about non-objective paintings which have been intentionally originated at the sub-verbal, non-vocal level. This sort of painting must speak for itself in its own language. Non-objective painting’s language is rooted, nowadays, in edges and boundaries, contours and gradients, brightness, darkness and color reflections. Its syntax is motion and change. Surface articulation proceeds by the discovery of theorems or precepts correlative to intuitions of sub-realities: of symmetry, flow, chaos, order, entity, essence. Percepts become precepts, precepts percepts, and within this exchange-process paintings evolve as ambience in exact definition.

Fluorescent Light Orchid Culture: A New Approach, 1971 First published in the American Orchid Society Bulletin 40 (September 1971) 9, pp. 786-790. Baer was a member of the American Orchid Society and of the Greater New York Orchid Society at the time, and the plants she cultivated won prizes. She gave various paintings from this period fictitious Latin plant names.

For thirteen and one half hours every day, from 9:15 in the morning when the “sun” comes on to 10:45 at night when it turns off, my family and I enjoy all the pleasures a small greenhouse of tropical plants can offer. I grow orchids, indoors, in New York City, under Super-High-Output lights – powerful fluorescents which give out 215 watts per eight-foot tube as opposed to the 73.5 watts of conventional eight-foot tubes or the 40 watts of four-foot, Wide-Spectrum Gro-Lux tubes. My super-high intensity lamps supply sufficient light to grow plants from floor to ceiling, to flower a gardenia tree throughout the year, and to bloom vandas, ascocendas, brassavolas, and within the near future, quite possibly, a renanthera. Since I live on the second floor of a building in downtown Manhattan where there is virtually no sunlight, my plants therefore depend totally on their fluorescent lighting and occupy a room wholly to themselves. This room has a glass door and window which open onto an outside balcony. Ventilation, but no outside light, is thereby provided. Plate-glass windows and a glass jalousie-door form the opposite, interior wall whereby trees, plants and flowers are visible to the rest of the house. The complete lamplight garden is a self-contained unit, nine feet long and six feet wide, with an eleven-foot ceiling. Ten fluorescent tubes, in reflectors, are fastened to beams set two feet below the ceiling, at a distance of nine feet from the floor. Sufficient space is thus allowed for the considerable ballast-heat from the lights to rise and be collected and removed by a fan into an adjoining room. Set up near the lights, at varying appropriate distances, some seventy orchids hang over our heads, in pots or slabs attached to strips of hardware-cloth hanging between the lamp fixtures, creating the effect of a naturalized jungle-thatch. Shadier plants are ranged on shelves and small tables, hanging from long chains, or fastened to lower walls. Ferns cloak a humidifier and fill in behind the gardenia tree. Several vines start their climb from pots on a wood-slat floor, raised slightly above several inches (1000 pounds) of one-quarterinch gravel poured on a doubled sheet of polyethylene plastic. The gravel helps to maintain humidity, and the fragrance and feel of the air within are joy itself to a city dweller. Engineering the components of my plant room has been somewhat less joyful and will, perhaps, be best understood as the learning process it was. The initial installation of all equipment was tailored to common house plants as well as to the exotic gardenia; I felt a need to experiment with “ordinary” flora before taking on the


Orchidaceae. After an experimental year, we bought our first orchids, and, as their number inevitably multiplied, subsequent replacements and additions were made solely with their needs in mind. Light, of course, was the first concern. We originally installed three double-tube fluorescent fixtures with six G.E. cool-white Power-Groove lamps (215 watts each) in reflectors, mixing in four 150-watt floods for a proper incandescent-fluorescent ratio. We discovered, after a time, that the floods gave off so much heat it was impossible to place plants near them, thus creating unwanted waste of space. Secondly, the Power-Groove tubes supplied a high percentage of their light in the yellow-green range of the spectrum, relatively useless for plant culture and in turn a waste of power. In New York City, simple waste becomes venal sin, and, following some intensive investigation, we replaced the four floods with two more double-tube fluorescent fixtures. In them, we put four Westinghouse cool-white deluxe Super-High-Output tubes (each 215 watts), achieving a total of 2,150 watts of power solely with fluorescents. The deluxe variety of cool-white fluorescent tubes is said to supply sufficient red light to flower plants. This fact was spectacularly affirmed when the gardenia tree, placed directly under the four new lights, bloomed in bands of flowers. This remarkable sight confounded all skepticism and we immediately replaced the six remaining Power-Grooves (still good for a year) with the new deluxe SuperHigh-Output lamps. Since then, blooming orchids have shown apparently normal size, shape, and number of flowers. Water and humidity have been another instance of evolving equipment. On first setting up the plant room, we installed an eight-


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

Jo Baer tending orchids, New York, 1971

gallon humidifier with a rotating evaporative pad and a two-speed fan. We also ran a water line in from the kitchen to a hose terminal placed near the humidifier. We later modified the initial plumbing so that a separate hose and valve ran off the line directly into the humidifier, no longer necessitating hauling the humidifier out each day to refill it. The humidifier, a hose and a plastic mister appeared adequate for both the garden plants and the orchids until New York City’s summer descended in full. I quickly sent away for mist nozzles for the hose, which provided the additional humidity needed, the cooling, and no end of interesting fungus afflictions for my burgeoning collection. Despite the constant problem of arresting the fungus, this supplementary “machinery” was sufficient for the plants: in August, September, and for most of October, the orchids grew and flowered and thrived. We were, however, totally unprepared, by the end of October, for the advent of steam heat with its hateful, dessicating results: lovely flowers shriveled, pseudobulbs wrinkled and leaves withered, yellowed, and fell off – all within three days from the time the steam heat went on. I misted five and six times a day (breeding some remarkable new fungi and rot) but the orchids continued their rapid plunge downhill. Fortunately, an advertiser in the A.O.S Bulletin chose that time to introduce a new humidifier for sale and we post-haste ordered a centrifugal fogmachine complete with automatic humidistat and saddle valve for self-maintenance of water level and humidity. Since we installed the new appliance, most of the orchids have recovered their initial vigor, sprouting new growths, fattening many old pseudobulbs and flowering anew. And now, with two humidifiers, we maintain a relative humidity around sixty-five percent, while heavy misting (and all fungus gardening) has been relegated to a few oppressive summer days. Summer days signal temperature controls: fans, breezes, heaters and insulation. When it is very hot, misting does give some temporary relief, but fresh moving air is probably the most effective means of temperature reduction. We move air with three fans. A twelveinch exhaust fan is set in a side wall above the lights. This fan has two interchangeable blades, a small flattish one for winter and a large more efficient blade for summer. We found that the large blade kept the room much too cold during the winter – circa sixty degrees. This fan is operated on a time clock and turns on and off with the lights. High up on the interior door frame, a second, tiny spider fan is canted at an angle away from the exhaust fan in order to circulate air around the room at orchid level. At the opposite end of the room, a third fan, incorporated in the humidifier and several feet off the floor, runs all day at high speed, and throughout the night at low speed. This summer, we also plan to install a fourth, oscillating fan, high up above the humidifier to guarantee fungus relief and insure adequate cooling. Fresh air (and no small amount of pollution and city dirt) is available through adjustments of the outside door or window. We can control cross ventilation by opening or closing the glass louvers of the interior door. Notwithstand-

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

ing, the temperature near the lights still approaches ninety degrees in the summer, and the positioning of plants beneath the lights must be done with that in mind. Winter heat presents no problem as we removed the radiator when we built the room itself. The risers remain however, covered with asbestos jackets. They, along with radiant heat from the lights, provide a pleasant seventy degrees during winter days. Throughout the winter, we also close down the glass door louvers to retain humidity and staple a doubled sheet of polyethylene plastic across the six feet of outside door and window wall to further keep the garden snug and heat bills down. A small electric-heater with a fan and thermostat can thus maintain a winter night-temperature around fifty-five degrees even though the steam heat leaves off around 10:00 p.m. With the above temperature controls, extreme cold and heat are somewhat ameliorated, although with improved equipment and technique, I think that the seasons could be made to approximate one another far more closely. This potentiality, coupled with the constant day length which lights afford, might lead to a large percentage of plants which know no season and bloom throughout the year. Despite the absence of sophisticated temperature devices in my setup, a number of plants have taken to an aberrant or constant blooming cycle, a distinct advantage of culture under lights. Lockhartia oerstedii brought to my light garden a year ago has never been without flowers, although those I’ve seen in greenhouses and on window sills during this time appear to rest and observe the “seasons.” A similar situation occurs with my Brassavola nodosa, although it waits a week or two between flushes of flowers. Both these orchids are notoriously easy bloomers in any case, but a Zygopetalum mackayi which bloomed for me at its scheduled time throughout November appears now, in unscheduled April, ready to bloom again with two large flower spikes. One orchid I was advised would never bloom under lights is Sophronitis grandiflora, yet mine has put forth scarlet flowers twice this winter with a third growth and flower on its way at present. It would seem that the fluorescent light canons and mythology remain open and in flux, presenting a constant challenge and constant surprises, and in future articles, I would like to discuss some of the more particular surprises I have uncovered. I would also like to suggest that any other orchid growers using fluorescent lights might begin to keep a careful record of their progress and send such records on the Bulletin. Fluorescent light culture is a relatively new field in orchids and it needs all the careful help which we can give it.

Fluorescent Light Orchid Culture: Advantages and Disadvantages, 1971 First published in the American Orchid Society Bulletin 40 (October 1971) 10, pp. 868-873. Baer was a member of the American Orchid Society and of the Greater New York Orchid Society at the time, and the plants she cultivated won prizes. She gave various paintings from this period fictitious Latin plant names.

You would be surprised at how many bits and pieces of nature still remain in that concrete jungle called New York City. Glance up at the roofs of tall buildings in the more fashionable areas and you will see clusters of trees and bushes, many of them flowering during the spring. Those of us who can’t inhabit such lofty heights, however, turn our attention indoors and attempt to reconstruct nature as best we can. In my artist’s loft in Greenwich Village, I grow a considerable number of orchids under fluorescent lights. My setup, which I described in an article in the September 1971 issue of the Bulletin, has given me and my family a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. But it has not always been an easy task, and, in this article, I hope to describe some of the advantages – and disadvantages – of my approach to fluorescent light orchid growing. Orchid culture under Super-High-Output lights resembles a greenhouse culture program more than a conventional fluorescent-light program. Due to the higher light intensities provided in my setup, my orchids seem to grow faster and require more water and fertilizer than is normally the case with plants grown under fluorescent lights. As all my orchids are hanging from pipes suspended below the ceiling rather than set on benches, hose-watering is apt to be a bit haphazard. To be certain that they get a complete watering, I soak all the plants once a week in a bucket. Bucket watering is also the easiest way to fertilize without resorting to complicated proportioners. I alternate feedings of one-half strength Fish Emulsion and onehalf strength 18-18-18, every two weeks, with a clear water soaking in the in-between weeks to flush out salts. Plants in osmunda or tree-fern are soaked in clear water before Fish Emulsion is added; that is, they are not fertilized on “fish day” since the high nitrogen is unnecessary and might well hinder flowering. On the in-between weeks when fertilizers are not used, I occasionally add Natriphene to the clear bucket water to keep down fungus; in addition I use a hand-mister with Natriphene to spray each plant’s foliage. Natriphene is fairly drastic, however, and I do not recommend using it more than once a month. Many of my plants are on slabs or in small pots which dry out pretty quickly; these plants must also be watered during the week. Some require water every day, others every other day, still others get by with one or two mid-week waterings in addition to the weekly watering. Water requirements change with the season


Paphiopedilum callosum, Paph. sukhakulii, and Paph. argus. Temperature needs alone do not determine the position of a plant under fluorescent lights. Different light intensities are equally important, and these intensities, in all artificial light setups, vary in three dimensions. First and most important is the perpendicular intensity, the distance from the tubes to the foliage determining the foot-candles or light available to a plant at any given position. This availability tends to diminish by halves at any given point from the lights. Second, there is a longitudinal difference in intensity from the bright middle area to the dimmer ends of the tubes, where brightness falls off to a considerable extent. Third, in a bank of parallel lights, the outer fixtures provide light from only one source – rather than from several overlapping ones so that less total light is available at the horizontal perimeters of the installation. These three factors combine to give the greatest amount of light to the center of the room, and here, with leaf tips scant inches from the lights, I grow the brassavolas, laelias, a vanda, several oncidiums, cattleyas and epidendrums. When buds begin to enlarge on many of these plants, I move them down lower on the hardware cloth so there is room for the spike and so the flowers won’t be burned by the light. When a plant is moved, care must be taken to preserve its orientation to the lights. If you turn a plant about and change its radial position, the tropistic torsion which most orchid flowers undergo in the blooming process will be disturbed. I frequently take a plant down altogether after flowers have been opened several days, placing it under the gardenia tree or on a low shelf to keep it cool and extend the life of the flowers. When flowering is over, I return the plant to its usual growing spot in the central area where, by and large, epidendrums are located towards the cooler end, oncidiums and vandas verge toward the warmer end, and brassavolas, cattleyas and laelias are as close to the center as possible. I’ve recently inserted short, metal curtain rods across the hardware cloth strips to bridge the space directly under the tubes. Here I grow Cattleya walkeriana and C. aclandiae in light of approximately 3-4,000 footcandles. In the near future I plan to add Cattleya schilleriana, C. nobilior and Renanthera imschootiana to these highly lighted interspaces. Low-light plants are also easy to accommodate in a suspension setup, for pots can be hung at many levels creating a storied arrangement much like nature itself. In the central area I hang my paphs on six-inch mini-hangers around the edges of large pots, putting their foliage about 25 inches below the lights. It is possible to cluster two or three small pots on any one good-sized pot. Even further below the lamps several phalaenopsis hang on long double hangers from other large pots with their growing tips about thirtytwo inches from the tubes. Additional “shady” areas are available across both ends of the room below the extreme ends of the lights, and here there is also more space for plants with large or spreading foliage. Under the dim light terminals at the warm end of the room


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

and with each individual plant’s needs. In the summer, pots dry out more quickly and require additional water. I am also guided by what a particular plant is doing – if it is making new roots (not new growths, new roots), I water it a bit more often regardless of season. Conversely, I water less frequently when a plant is resting. In general, pots hanging in moving air dry out sooner than those on a bench so the instructions given in books are hard to apply. I often gauge water needs by touch. If a pot feels warm, it probably needs water; if it is cool, I pass it by and check on it the next day. The seasonal temperature range in my plant room, varying from a low of about 50° in the winter to a high of 90° in the summer, has roughly determined the orchid genera I’m able to grow. My orchids are chosen mainly from the “intermediate range” with a few liberties taken with the hot- and cold-growing types. At the cooler end of my plant room, I’ve managed to bloom Zygopetalum mackayi, Sophronitis coccinea, Coelogyne cristata, Dendrobium formosum, Ada aurantiaca, and Trichoceros antennifera. At the opposite end of the room where it is quite a bit warmer, I’ve bloomed Stanhopea tigrina, Catasetum russellianum, Ascocenda Tai Chen Beng, Coelogyne parishii, several phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum concolor and Paph. bellatulum. The larger number of my plants hang in between the two extremes, where the temperature is more nearly “intermediate.” In this middle area I’ve flowered Rodriguezia decora, Brassavola glauca and B. nodosa, Trichopilia suavis, a miniature Cymbidium species (Cym. gyokuchin, Epidendrum atropurpureum, Epi. nemorale, and Epi. aromaticum, Lockhartia oerstedii, Slc. Mischief, Cattleya (Mrs Mahler x Taboo), Bc. Ardis Weaver (B glauca x C. forbesii), and

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

catasetums, Angraecum gracilipe, a stanhopea, Coelogyne parishii, and Cycnoches chlorochilon are hung, their foliage about sixteen to twenty-four inches from the lights. At the other end of the room, where the fans and humidifiers keep it cooler, the Zygopetalum mackayi, an odontioda, Odontoglossum pendulum, miltonias, Odontonia Debutante, and Maxillaria nigrescens are ranged about twenty to twenty-four inches down. Rounding out the light variations in the room plan is the space next to the two side walls. One wall is not used for orchids, the house plants and a large gardenia tree making access to hanging plants too difficult. The other side wall, however, provides an excellent hanging space for pendulous orchids, monopodials, and orchids established on large slabs or in cork-bark. Along this perimeter I grow Coelogyne cristata, Epidendrum medusae and Epi. nemorale, Brassia verrucosa, Cirrhopetalum rothschildianum, an ascocenda, Dendrobium nobile, and lower down, an immense white Phalaenopsis Palm Beach, some small botanicals and a young Oncidium papilio. The monopodials have their leaves parallel to the wall and are tipped out from it to give adequate light coverage and protect them from rot caused by water collecting in the crowns. A reasonable disposition of plants according to temperature and light is one thing – growing and flowering orchids successfully is quite another. Success depends on wisdom and good judgment, qualities I have notably lacked on certain occasions! I have made several spectacular mistakes and numerous remarkable errors of judgment. For example, early on in my orchid-growing experience I rather fatuously decided to grow all my plants “hard”; that is, grow them in an overabundance of light in the hope that fungus would be checked and floriferousness enhanced. Over a period of weeks and in a blithe spirit, I watched leaves burn and bleach and, to my great surprise, eventually fall off. SHO lights are not the “shady” fluorescents commonly discussed in lamp-light literature, and I have a leafless maxillaria, a half-leaved trichopilia (which did bloom abundantly, however), scorched miltonias, a burned stanhopea and lycaste which bear sad witness to the SHO lamps’ burning power. Not long ago I accomplished an even more witless feat when, discovering mealy-bugs and scale on three plants, I carefully brushed the infested areas with a solution of Cygon and discovered the crucial difference for plants between Cygon and Malathion. The next morning the Ada aurantiaca, so treated, was totally covered with brown spots, Angraecum gracilipe turned yellow all around its base and has since lost several basal leaves, and an evergreen dendrobium is no longer evergreen, dropping its leaves one by one. Cygon is effective and apparently harmless when widely diffused as a spray, but too late, I realized its decimating effect when applied directly to plants. Fortunately, not all my mistakes have been major or wholesale ones, like the above. A list of my minor offenses against the orchids must be prefaced by the usual, incorrigible overwatering with its inevitable loss of roots, but I have also foolishly bought divisions of

plants which arrived rootless and went downhill from there. I also allowed an epidendrum, purchased in bloom, to carry two beeinspired seed pods to maturity, lacking both the knowledge and conditions to sustain the plant’s vigor. And, to close this chronicle of errors, there was the time I regularly bucket-watered a stanhopea in spike, finally rotting a bud grown big as my hand. There are many advantages in using the SHO lights in a total environment such as we have constructed, but there are associated disadvantages, too. Although I have enough light to grow plants from floor to ceiling and to flower many different kinds of orchids, the SHO lights are expensive to operate. My electric bill went up about forty dollars a month when the installation was complete and in use. Another advantage to an entire room devoted to plants is the space available for fans and humidifiers, a welcome means to a higher humidity and better ventilation than is possible in most fluorescent light shelf arrangements. But in my setup, better ventilation for the orchids is also due to hanging the plants high in the air near the lights, necessitating a lot of climbing up and down on a wooden crate to reach orchids six to eight feet from the floor. Mid-week hose waterings atop a box become a dance of stretch and balance. It’s good exercise for those limber enough to profit from it, but a lower ceiling should also be considered by anyone thinking of building a similar room. One corollary nuisance built into any suspension arrangement is the constant need for hangers. I’ve finally learned to construct adjustable ones using pliers, baling-wire, and a drill with a ceramic-bit to bore holes in the pots, turning an initial inconvenience into a useful flexibility. Accordingly, not all disadvantages lack merit, and in the balance, the only real limits to this new approach to orchid growing under lights appear to be the ubiquitous and ever-present ones of space and money and time. My jungle-garden, situated in the heart of New York City’s abysmal mass, has given me many hours of joy and provides a “bower quiet” and serenity hard to find in urban life. For those interested in setting up similar gardens, I would be happy to answer additional questions and would also be glad to hear from anyone else who has experience growing orchids under Super-High-Output fluorescent lights.


Letter to Jim Monte, 1972 Letter to James (‘Jim’) Monte, the then curator at the Whitney Museum. Baer had called off her solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1972 after the museum reduced its allotted space by half. Finally, a solo exhibition of her work was held in the museum in 1975.

January 10, 1972 Jo Baer 53 East 10th St. NY 10003 Mr. Jim Monte Whitney Museum of American Art NYC, NY.

tion of a serious artist’s legitimate aims, but I do know I can not participate in or subject my work to the “packaging” concept which seems to inform and motivate your position. In fact, I find the “neat,” sleek, sock’em-shock’em kind of museum show you apparently always had in mind for me repulsive in the extreme and an unnecessary oppression of an already distressed museum-going public. Good, radical painting can always be made explicable to the public when seen in context, but your counter-intention seems more directed to the introduction of a new spring line or novelty item. No thanks.

Sincerely, Jo Baer 53 East 10th St. NYC, NY 10003

xc: John Baur, Steve Weil, Bill Agee

Dear Jim:

When you first saw my new work and we talked of showing it at the Whitney I feel I made it quite clear I wished to include my new and very radical new paintings in a context of other earlier, more conventional works. I’m sure you understood this at that time since you offered me the interior suite of galleries on the 4th floor, a quite acceptable 2400 sq. ft. of space which was entirely sufficient for my needs (but hardly room for a “retrospective” and never intended as such). It was at this time that the Pasadena Museum proposed to make the show a joint venture predicated on this particular space and within this scope and concept. Subsequently and some months later you informed me the 4th floor was unavailable (for reasons which you never specified nor made clear to me), so we considered the 2nd floor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney galleries which comprise a space of approximately 1440 sq. ft., a tight but still possible arena for the kind of show I wanted. The advent of carpeted walls in this area, however, made the Whitney galleries impossible for my new paintings and I know we totally agreed about that. Your last, final, and unshakeable offer was the 1st floor gallery off of the lobby – about 900 sq. ft. which is a 60% reduction of space from the original proposal no longer permitting a felicitous exhibition of any work other than the five new paintings. I do not know the intricacies or etiology of such a curatorial demolishment and reduc-

Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

With some regret I must advise you I am cancelling my show scheduled for the Whitney in March of ’72. The following recapitulation of conversations, facts, and circumstances will detail and, I hope, clarify for you my decision and prevent further misunderstandings between us and others.

Installation view, exhibition Jo Baer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1975


Cadmos’ Thicket, 1998

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Note from Jo Baer to Marja Bloem, August 1998, on her inkless intaglio hand colored with oil, Cadmos’ Thicket (1973). First published in the exhibition catalogue Jo Baer. Paintings 1960-1998, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 47-48.

According to Greek mythology, Cadmos, the legendary founder of Thebes, introduced the alphabet from Phoenicia into Greece (before eventually he and his wife were changed by Zeus into snakes). In all Celtic languages trees mean letters; and the most ancient Irish alphabet, the Beth-Luis-Nion (birch-rowan-ash) takes its name from the first three trees in a series. The letters used in the print, U CC Q are taken from this alphabet where U is ‘Ur’ or ‘Ura’ and stands for heather, Q is ‘Quert’, the word for wild apple, while CC was often substituted and written for Q by the Irish balladeers and poets. Important in myth, epic, and Druidic mysteries, the wild apple was one of only two of the seven sacred trees where death was exacted by law for the wanton felling of it. (Coll, the hazel, was the other.) The painted black Roman letters in the print are copied from forms carved on Trajan’s column in Rome. Inside these letters, but intaglio, colored, and rotated at 90 degrees, are painted the GrecoPhoenician exemplars of the same letters, their presence attested to at least some 500 years earlier. The vowel Upsilon remains to this day unchanged. But both of the early consonants disappeared from the later Greek alphabet. The letter Q, ‘koppa’, was dropped around the 5th century BC, but remains in Hebrew as ‘koph.’ Written as a circle balanced on a stick, it stood between the letters pi and rho, was retained as the numeral 90, but was replaced by K, ‘kappa,’ later pronounced as either B or P. Why? [Q, in fact, is the letter of perpetual question. Nearly all interrogatives in the Indo-European languages begin with Q (except where Q has been, as in Greek, changed into a P or, as in German, into a W]. Q’s requisite latinized pairing with U is interesting too, since Q and U are also seasonally paired in the Irish alphabets as summer-time partners. CC, the other form of Q in the print is painted as two gammas since the Greek sequence runs alpha beta gamma rather than abc. However gamma written twice becomes digamma, early on the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet. It looks like a slanted capital F, was sounded like a W, and disappeared around 200 BC. When used as the numeral 6, it was written in the form of a C with squared corners… I was intrigued by all the tangled cross-over references. W is double-u, and replaces Q, which is also expressed by doubled-c, which is written C in an angular form. C itself – Coll, the hazel tree – is said to share the month of August with Q’s wild apple; V is the Latin voicing of the Greek digamma F, Vinum for (F)oinos, wine, and one of the early (Welsh) Goidelic B-L-F alphabeths pronounces its F as V and includes a FF pronounced as F. Something must have been going on… what a delicious mare’s nest!

Traditional and Radical Painter. Excerpt from an interview with Serge Guilbaut and Michael Sgan-Cohen, 1974 Parts of this interview were first published in a French translation in: Serge Guilbaut, Michael Sgan-Cohen, ‘Jo Baer: peintre traditionnel et radical’, Art Press, May 1974, pp. 16-18.

Jo Baer, how would one define your work? No one can situate me or really localize me; no one knows what to do with someone who refuses the protection of an entourage or membership in a clique. I am not attached to any particular New York group and I don’t have any “political” power. Therefore, I can come and go between groups and still remain welcome. Often, of course, I’m warned against the bad influence of such and such group. New York’s art scene is like a series of particles which react to one another. In 1964, I wanted to burn up a whole series of paintings. Dan Flavin dissuaded me, but I was trapped; I couldn’t start new work because I knew that those canvases were good and that nobody wanted them. I was part of the New York scene; I attended its “parties,” but no one wanted to take the responsibility of doing something with my work. I could do whatever I wanted; no one would be interested. In a way, I was very free and I took advantage of that freedom. Still, my name appeared in art journals; my work appeared in various important exhibitions – Systemic Painting, Serial Art – without, however, provoking serious study. I did not seem to be integrated into the milieu of artists like Judd, Morris, Bochner, and Flavin. They all turn away from painting and decide to create objects which turn out to be sculptures, despite their reluctance to be described as sculptors. These artists said that there is no such thing as “radical” painting, that only sculpture can be that. I was sick and tired of listening to the same thing continually, so much so that I wrote a letter to Artforum magazine in response to Don Judd’s allegations (Sept. ’67). I am the only one who is still genuinely interested in painting. All the ideas in my paintings can certainly be found in their sculptures, and they always start their development as paintings. Painting is a perfect instrument for exploring ideas, for revealing the true order of things. Furthermore, it’s a rapid technique. For this reason, painters are good sculptors, and sculptors are often relatively bad painters. Who is the audience for your art? Firstly, the art is for whoever wants it, but one must admit that this often means other artists. And as far as I’m concerned, my work can’t be used to decorate apartments easily. People don’t want my work; my art is too powerful. Besides, who needs to wake up every day brutally confronted with the monumental things in life?


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 Untitled (Double Bar - Red), 1972 oil on canvas, 183 x 183 cm / 72.1 x 72.1 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975 M. Refractarius, 1974-1975 oil on canvas, 106.7 x 152.5 x 10 cm / 42 x 60 x 4 inch private collection, Paris


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Cadmos’ Thicket, 1973 inkless intaglio handcolored with oil, 102 x 76 cm / 40 x 30 inch edition of 30


Is the need to move the viewer at the heart of your work? No, not at first certainly; although that is the case with the last series of canvases. In these works, the paint is applied around and on the edges of the paintings. From my first series, however, the paint has also been applied on the edges. If one looks at them up close, one perceives tension there. I have always been interested by that ambiguity, but only in the last few years have I deliberately intended to have my viewers move around the canvases. Once again our bourgeois system of values insists on the centrality of the object. We have the time and the luxury to sit down and contemplate it, but there are multiple visual systems. The type of system one uses when remaining still implies a fixation, a concentration, that is different from what one gets when one is displaced. The image first hits the optical nerve before arriving at the grey matter of the visual cortex. This long tradition of people entering a trance is possible for rich people who have nothing to do and create things based on illusions. A fixed image has no surprises and is a window that allows one to definitively fix an image in one position, and, by doing so, attain orgasm. In fact, all primary research carried out in psychology is based on that fact exactly (that of primary vision and fixation). This analysis results in the creation of abnormal effects. This is not the way in which one looks at things and is not the way in which one experiences things. In this way, one gets an art that leads to the same illusions; it is ridiculous and stupid, and we find ourselves confronted with centuries of convention. How do you distinguish your art from kinetic art? Kinetic artists look precisely for those effects. As for me, I just let them happen. I don’t know quite what will happen; the kinetic artist “knows”a long time in advance. He manipulates the spectator. The problem of the illusion is explored over and over so many times that one becomes completely disoriented. Speaking of illusion, do you think that the black frames of your canvases form an aggressive line that projects outside of the works ? Yes, that is the most aggressive space. But again, if you look at the work from the side where you can see the grey and not the black, the

work as a whole plays a game of equilibrium. The black is put back in its place, that’s to say, on the same plane as the surface. You can concentrate on a single point of view and see the aggressiveness of one color, but to do so, you abstract the work and do the same thing as the contemplative bourgeois. One must instead see the work as a whole. Brecht talked about this as alienation. If you concentrate your attention on one point in this way, you isolate yourself and lose touch with the rest of the world. What do you think of the spatial implications in your work despite the flatness of the canvases? That bores me; I try to avoid talking about it. If it doesn’t seem right to me, I modify it. I don’t know how to talk about it; I don’t understand. For instance, in horizontal canvases, there is a real, functioning perspective: there is the upper side of the canvas and the front side. If I draw a line on the edge, and if I want the line to be seen as the same as a line on the frontal face, I must take into account the fact that the value of the color will change since the light affects the two sides of the canvas differently. I have to change the values of the colors as well as the weight of the line (thickness – color) so that they are finally equal. I visually flatten the given ensemble; the goal of this gymnastic technique is to allow me to work literally with the canvas, with what is given. The surface has to remain flat, eliminating illusion and speculation, sometimes forcing the illusion until it disappears. The corners are fascinating because they are alive. When I paint, I can distort them, work in a manner that bends them visually, makes them go back into themselves because if I don’t do that, they project too much beyond the canvas and I want to preserve them exactly as they as they are, right angles. Do you work with the shadows between the wall and the canvas? Yes, because they are there. Normally people don’t talk about them because people don’t even see them, but they are there and one should work with them. In other words, I only work with what is physically present and I preserve it in as simple a way as possible. I don’t roll or hang canvases; I try to remain as traditional as possible because I believe that truly “radical” work develops and evolves calmly, progressing one step at a time. One needs to return to a simple concept of evolution in which changes are important but progressive or else the situation becomes inextricable and one no longer knows what to do. I describe myself as a “radical traditionalist.” What is behind your insistence on horizontality and verticality? They are two completely different, complex situations. In vertical canvases, only one side is revealed at a time; one must move to see the other side. These works force one to take action. One cannot remain immobile looking at them because they arouse curiosity.


Minimalist Painter — 1960-1975

You talk about your paintings as being radical; how do you define this term ? The term radical is meant in all its senses: root, base, fundamental, inventive, the creation of new relationships, the creation of fundamental changes. I also believe in art that is political. It is political, even if that is not its intention. Bourgeois art never seeks change. The bourgeois is the status quo. “Let’s delude and entertain ourselves with art” – that’s the definition of bourgeois art. I believe that the canvas should be something fixed; that is not to say that the viewer should remain equally fixed. I don’t like works that move, like those by Tinguely; works should produce the opposite effect.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Horizontal canvases cause a contrary movement, forwards and backwards. The canvas uses the wall to provoke an interrelationship. It is in changing our position confronting the elements of canvas and wall that we come to understand the whole in all its aspects. The forward and backward movement of the viewer is necessary to completely situate the relationships of light, line, color, and surface. Light plays a very important role in these canvaseses because it reflects on the wall and on the canvas. The vertical canvases are much more conventional; they are difficult to create and thus require more sensitive treatment. Why do you insist on black and white and limit color? I am very interested in the color reflected by objects and the relationships that result. In reality, the color one perceives on the canvases is not the same color that is painted on the surface. I believe in the definition of color as a darkening of light. Greenberg said that one should not use “value-color” in painting, that is to say different gradations of shades, since that creates too much depth and make the painting resemble sculpture. But that is not completely true because in saying so, Greenberg ignores painters like me who are capable of using color and black and white and preserving a flat surface that is not at all sculptural. It is a surface plane on a physical object; it is a different approach to the whole problem. However, Greenberg refuses to recognize this possibility. He knows it is possible, but it doesn’t conform to his theory, so he ignores it. The whole problem is very complicated; it’s a discussion that has existed since Poussin and has sexual and social connotations. All the “Greenberg people” think that they are “Swingers.” They are hedonists who indulge in color. In contrast, those who work in black and white think that they are intellectuals. They are very puritanical; black and white represents good and evil. All that is wrong, of course. One must be able to work in black and white and color simultaneously. However, critics and artists often demand that I change my colors. Greenberg once asked me with regard to my first canvases. Why don’t you paint in pink rather than white or gray? I then told him that if I did that, I would have to change the black into brown or into blue or green. And would that be such a bad thing, he asked? I would then be a colorist painter, and I think that Noland and Olitski do that work sufficiently well that there is no need for me to bore myself in this way. I want to do something else. I believe that a good critic comes along only once a century. I missed our generation’s good critic; that was Greenberg, but he did not go far enough to incorporate my work.

more interesting than can be obtained using a card, a strip of paper or anything else. However, I have assistants who work for me. I do not necessarily finish a work; all hands create interesting work, I am not a hero. Are you only interested in visual effects? Certainly not. When one draws or places something on the corner of a building, the architects don’t know what they are going to achieve. A form placed on a corner visually transforms the whole. You do not know what you are going to find before you look at one of my canvases. This sensation is the reality we encounter every day when we walk along the streets or when we enter or leave a room. You may not know it, but I recognized it, isolated it, and presented it. It’s a way of discovering the relationships between objects and people which is the opposite of manipulation. The discovery of these relationships is unexpected. Op-Art is the most boring thing in the world, boring to look at and boring to create. What do you think of the diptychs and their interrelationships? I began by taking the rectangles and putting them together two by two, until they almost formed squares. I wanted, in part, to extend the idea of the canvases to arrive at the idea of a strip, the strip being created by the juxtaposition of a series of identical canvases. On the other hand, I also was playing with the notion of contraction which allows two rectangles to become a square. It’s because people were offended by the simple and unique canvases at my first show that I decided to double their power and present them as diptychs. Every time an action is doubled, its meaning changes. Two means identical, reinforcing what the object is. One is unique, two are identical, and three make a series. What is interesting in a diptych are the relationships arising from the proximity of the two forces linked by the space between the two canvases. I made a series which I called Stations of the Spectrum where I presented a series of canvases in colors (orange, red, blue) identical in intensity. My idea was to create a circle of color, but I quickly realized that this would make weak canvases because the individual power would be diluted in each component of the series. I quickly abandoned the project. Do you think it is impossible to write about your paintings? That seems to be the case. Is that a good thing or a bad one? It’s good for those who can see my canvases. Mel Bochner wrote about the impossibility of writing about my work; he produced a very good piece. He discussed Roland Barthes whom I admire a lot despite the limited opportunities to read him in this country.

Do you paint using a card? No, that’s an old, discontinued method. My hand creates something


Dialogues with artists 1966-1967

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Group portrait of New York artists, published in Esquire, November 1974, with amongst others Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Indiana, Malcolm Morley, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Serra, Larry Rivers, Joseph Kosuth and James Rosenquist. Jo Baer is in the second row, the second from the left.


None of these written exchanges initiated by Baer has been published previously except one: ‘A Paragraph for Robert Smithson’, reproduced in: Judith E. Stein, ‘The Adventures of Jo Baer’, Art in America 91 (May 2003) 5, pp. 104-111, 157. In the exhibition catalogue Jo Baer. Paintings 1960-1998, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 39-40, the artist described her dialogues as : “A project undertaken at the moment when it became clear that some artists and myself were forging a new movement. I gave it up only because my schedule of exhibiting commitments had become very demanding. The collection includes my responses bearing on material requested by me: a poem from Carl Andre, set questions from Robert Smithson, an exchange with Sol LeWitt, citations from Dan Graham and Mel Bochner, an interview with Don Judd.”

Well here is a collection of artists in colloquy. My choice of participants is based on friendship and some shared esthetic characteristics. One factor of selection is the published authorship of all these artists, another is a history of mutual shows. But best still, this ensemble includes the most radical, inventive artists working today. The press and critics also approximate this grouping, for reasons other, diverse, and usually wrong, so let’s have a look at their journalistic brand names, sources, and misapprehensions. The oldest label, “Minimal Art,” is from an article by Richard Wolheim (Arts Magazine, Jan. 65), where he dealt with Reinhardt, Mallarmé, Duchamp and Rauschenberg and the “intentionally low art content” of their work. He did not speak of the artists now-sonamed (our “minimalists”) at all. The second article, which did, was by Barbara Rose, entitled “ABC Art” (Art in America, six months later, Oct. 65), where she worked from the Wolheim piece into her own analysis on “an art that, by the terms of its own definition, resists interpretation” (!?) The third name attempted was “Primary Structures,” from the Jewish Museum sculpture show in the spring of 1966. The title is accredited to Kynaston McShine who also organized the show; and a fourth nomination was by Lawrence Alloway via his Systemic show at the Guggenheim Museum, fall of 1966, which however, showed only painters. Lucy Lippard (in The Hudson Review, Winter 1966), says the Systemic show was misnamed. She refers the title back to the group of artists discussed here (mostly sculptors) as their real cognomen: the only true set of “systemic artists” existing (re the 10 show at Dwan Gallery, Oct 66, Andre, Baer, Flavin, Judd, LeWitt, Martin, Morris, Reinhardt, Smithson, Steiner). Now these formal titles are simply a labeling convenience for critics and curators. They are specious names and are not suitable for extended use. “Minimal Art” is probably the worst, since at first it looks plausible. While a focus on minimal means could apply to Morris’ “no-color, anonymous gray,” the redundancies, proliferations and prolixities in the work of some of these “minimal” artists (LeWitt, Smithson) quite invalidate it as a patronym. And none of us think our “art content” is low.

“ABC Art” is the obvious analogy to “easy as,” or “beginning”; but there is a profound disparity between simple and “easy as,” and besides, none of this work is either. It turns out to be highly complicated (and more medial, like KLMN). “Primary Structures” or “Primary Art” is probably the best journalistic term, mainly because it doesn’t mean anything. It is derived from an allusion to primers (ABC) and also to primary colors, an art term to be sure. Its inadequacy is the same as that of “ABC Art,” plus a tautological flaw which renders it true of anything and everything. The last term, “Systemic Art,” means a planned, modular system and is only sometimes descriptive of this art or these artists. Now there is also a string of descriptive names, seldom capitalized, for this contemporary art. We hear of reductive art, cool art, and most recently, rejective art. These terms would seem to ascribe motives or interdictions to the artist to be “cool”; to “reject” the attractive or complicated; and to “reduce” the artistic means (for negative expressiveness) if not the ends. I find these terms pejorative. They are veiled moralisms, wishfully thought by some, to describe an asceticism which does not exist in the art, much less in the artists. And finally, there is always “avant-garde”... so consummately right if only one can believe in the French, and a front and a back to art. Dialogues with Artists — 1966-1967

Dialogues with artists, 1966-1967


Letter to Dan Flavin, 1966

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Letter to Dan Flavin, December 23, 1966. Flavin did not respond. Baer’s postscript refers to alterations which he had made to her expired driver’s license.

Dear Flambs, Have managed not to read your Artforum article only with the greatest difficulty... hear it’s a WOW, and I must say the cover looks choice. Do not be insulted by my refusal to peruse: it is attached to a good reason, that which prompts this letter. It is my wish to do an article based on quotations by artist/writers, for some publication not an art journal (publish or perish they say). That is, will you send me a paragraph I can comment or not on, any subject or aspect which seems appropriate or tickles your fancy wherever that is? The contributors should be seven: Flavin, Judd, LeWitt, Smithson, Graham, Bochner, with Andre maybe, all the rest definite besides you. You would have prepublication rights of censor (on yours). Josh is in California for the week. Jack has a show at Elkon in about 2½ weeks. Busy, busy, busy. Hear you had a real houseful last weekend. Judds say the new abode is nice. Merry holidays to you all, Love, Jo PS We have my California license over the sink where it looks real nice. Thank you.

A Double Trade (with Sol LeWitt), 1966-1967 Statement written in 1967.

Sol one day suggested we trade work. He wanted one of the 12 replicas of one of my 12 paintings shown at Fischbach Gallery in Feb. ’66. One of these replicas had a color which subsequently looked faded, and I changed it, thus breaking the exact correspondence of my replicas to originals. I offered this changed one, an 8” x 10”, to Sol. It is a piece which, since it no longer corresponds to an existing painting, is unique and no longer systematic. A run-a-way, out of a system, seemed a good choice from me to him. Little ironies abound amongst us artists. From Sol I could choose any one model of one of the nine large open pieces he was building for a show in LA, Apr. ’67. Here is a chart of my possible choices: [see opposite page]

I couldn’t decide on a model via appearance, since nine available, similar but different-looking pieces overwhelm my visual discriminatory sense. (Sol says he doesn’t care how his pieces look. They need only show their logic and generating ideas.) We therefore discussed this, and agreed I should own one of the two extreme cases: either the highest cube with the highest interior rectangle (#9), or else the lowest, flat piece, barely 3-dimensional, which is a large square surrounding a small interior square (#1). I left the final choice to Sol. The low piece (#1, flat square within flat square) is a base-impinging, 3-dimensional parody of my paintings. In his Dwan show he exhibited and dedicated to me a similar, 3-part, large piece. We do have aesthetic similarities, if not congruences. The other choice (#9, the high, open cube with rectangle), expresses nearly all our differences. It is aggressively 3-dimensional, and its visible linear complexity shows and is very much Sol’s particular invention.


87 Dialogues with Artists — 1966-1967

Robert Smithson: A small test for Jo Baer, 1966 Smithson’s questions to Baer from 1968 were first published in: Jack Flam (ed.), Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1996, p. 360. The document with Baer’s responses was reproduced in: Judith E. Stein, ‘The Adventures of Jo Baer’, Art in America 91 (May 2003) 5, pp. 104-111, 157.

[Baer’s reply:]

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

[What Smithson sent Baer:]


Written in 1966.

Here, eight linked quotations which Graham sent me. They form a commentary on Appearance, and I will take them singly in their order of presentation. To disagree would occasion a book on each, so I can only amplify Graham with a second rejoinder quote and add a comment or two. appearance 1. Quotation given by Graham: “There is no object which implies the existence of any other if we consider these objects in themselves and never look beyond the idea we form of them.” David Hume Rejoinder quote given by Baer: “No object ever discovers, by the qualities which appear to the senses, either the causes which produced it, or the effects which will arise from it; nor can our reason, unassisted by experience, ever draw any inference concerning real existence and matter of fact.” David Hume Exegesis by Baer: Graham’s Hume quotation is an incomplete quote used by A.J. Ayers in The Problem of Knowledge in Hume, 1956. It is truncated and mostly inappropriate to Hume. When Hume refers to the object he always cites his cause-effect injunction (temporal contiguity-nothing else), and he does not explore the extension or existential status because he is interested in science and induction, not metaphysics (which he assures us are abstruse and quite beyond the human capacity to understand). Hume emphasizes experience and custom, the only certain knowledges. I doubt that anyone in the eighteenth century would conceive of real “objects in themselves” unattended by human qualification (Kant is a special case). After all, Locke’s earlier seventeenth century empiricism developed to exorcize the innate, God-given idea of object; Locke’s revolutionary object had “substance” completed with the primary and secondary “qualities” generated by perceiving humans. 2. Quotation given by Graham: “Here perceiving considered simply as consciousness and apart from the body and bodily organs appears as something in itself essenceless, an empty looking of an empty “Ego” towards the object itself which comes into contact with it in some astonishing way... All consciousness is consciousness of something.” Edmund Husserl

Rejoinders given by Baer: “I am a thing which thinks. And what more? What is a thing which thinks? It is a thing which doubts, understands, conceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines, feels.” René Descartes “We only know phenomena.” Immanuel Kant Exegesis by Baer: Graham has put together two separate quotes to reinforce Husserl’s seeming objectification. Notice how in the first part, the empty “Ego” has come cross circle from Descartes, who instigated this whole research in the first place. Husserl’s description of essenceless self looking at and being contacted by the object, mysteriously, anticipates the most modern fiction going. He may be describing some exotic, atypical state; it is not natural philosophy, which considers universals and is a bit more careful in its renderings of “perceiving and consciousness.” In the second statement, the word “something,” in “all consciousness is consciousness of something,” is key. A naive glance, especially in Graham’s context, reads “something” literally, as some thing. Husserl means some thing, all phenomena, any thing: objects, ideas, other states of consciousness or being. Husserl, a Phenomenalist, subscribes to a theory which limits knowledge to phenomena only (vide Kant’s dictum). Phenomena are objects known through the senses rather than through thought or intuition, while the “noumenon” (the “object”) is the thing-initself, which is unknowable by the senses. I cited Descartes and Kant because they open and close the arguments of Epistemology, the “what’s in here? what’s out there? how do we go back and forth?” The epistemological questions are a refinement of the older metaphysical ones, but since Kant the subject is moribund, replaced by the questions of science, mathematics, and art. Graham tried to present classic philosophic evidence of the primacy of the object – its existential reality. But Husserl and Hume are still idealists, and what he presented are mutilated or atypical statements by them – statements with which I agree, authority aside. 3. Quotation given by Graham: “Imagination lies in the analogical copy, in the re-presentation.” Edmund Husserl Rejoinder given by Baer: “Since certainly the poet is an imitator just as the painter or anyone else who makes a likeness, the necessity is always to imitate any one number of three entities: either what was existing or is; or what they say and as it seems; or what needs to be.” Aristotle


Dialogues with Artists — 1966-1967

Appearance. A dialogue with Dan Graham, 1966

Exegesis by Baer: My translation of the Aristotle is literal, and the sentence is from the next-to-last section (XXV) of the Poetics. Aristotle is great granddad to all statements which link words such as imagination/art/poetry to analogy/representation/imitation. Through his use of multiple verb tenses here, he’s also saying more than Husserl does in this selection. Graham uses this quote as a transition from “objective” researches which are philosophic to the next, “subjective” quotes.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

4./5. Quotations given by Graham: “The expression ‘in fact’ can... certify or alienate. (He wasn’t in fact at home; he said he would be, but we didn’t believe him and had a look; or again, we didn’t think it possible for him not to be at home, but it was a fact!) The term ‘actually’ is just as conducive to alienation. (‘I don’t actually agree.’) Similarly the Eskimo definition ‘a car is a wingless aircraft that crawls along the ground’ is a way of alienating the car.” Bertolt Brecht “An alienation of the motor-car takes place if after driving a modern car for a long while we drive an old Model T Ford. Suddenly we hear explosions once more; the motor works on the principle of explosion. We start feeling amazed that such a vehicle, indeed any vehicle not drawn by animal-power, can move; in short, we understand cars by looking at them as something strange now, as a triumph of engineering and to that extent, something unnatural. Nature, which certainly embraces the motor-car, is suddenly imbued with an element of unnaturalness.” Bertolt Brecht Rejoinder: “I walked to my office to resume work for the afternoon. At my desk I found papers waiting for my signature. As I picked up my pen to begin, I experienced a strange although not alarming feeling of dizziness. Since the sensation lasted only a moment, I reached for another paper... I found that the words on it seemed literally to run off the top of the page... Then came another puzzling experience: I could not express what I wanted to say... When morning came I quickly learned that I was not fully recovered. My eyes happened to be attracted to a favorite picture of mine, done by Turner, the noted British watercolorist. It was called The Smugglers, a scene of smuggling a century ago on the River Clyde in Scotland....The picture was a favorite, not only because of the subject but because of the skill of the artist. With the doctors once more in the room, I tried to tell them about the picture. I could remember neither its name nor that of the castle. In every way I could, I tried to give hints and clues to the assembled company, which included my wife and son ... I had sense enough then, however, to cease trying to force myself.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Exegesis by Baer: The Brecht is a juxtapose of two separate quotes, cunningly cemented through the noun “car,” fore and aft. Brecht’s first paragraph says that to define a state of affairs (to check it out), like defining a function (how something works), will isolate and therefore “alienate” by hypostasis. The second paragraph is a detailed rendering, an example of “alienation.” The passage by Eisenhower used not to be separated in the middle. Graham found the whole thing and gave it its interval. I submit it for reasons geometrical. 6. Quotation given by Graham: “Things that exist exist, and everything is on their side.” Donald Judd Rejoinder given by Baer: “A beam on its end is not the same as the same beam on its side.” Robert Morris 7. Quotation given by Graham: “Content is on the side of the object.” Jean-Paul Sartre Rejoinder given by Baer: “In the old arguments about the nature of substance, table and chairs were always the example; they didn’t argue about the primary and secondary qualities of their pants and shirts.” Donald Judd 8. Quotation given by Graham: “A peer today, gone tomorrow.” John Wesley Rejoinder given by Baer: “Ars longa, vita brevis.” Hippocrates Exegesis by Baer: I think the artists are rethinking and reworking their concepts of object. I also think the classic questions of “appearance”/”reality” are no longer useful and are needlessly complicating for them/us. The best artists today keep “appearances” (i.e. “qualities”: color, texture, hierarchy, etc.) to a modicum. They do this to emphasize the integrity of the object, its wholeness, its actuality, its factuality, its brute, materialistic presence. The work wants nothing to do with the dualizing ideas of “appearance” versus “substance”; rather, it is a deliberate enforcing of the native and naive sense of things entire. Leaving aside the interior of this sheaf of quotes, I want to look at its structure and intent. A series of quotations is really an allusive


A Painter Interviews a Sculptor (on Painting). Donald Judd interviewed by Jo Baer, 1966-1967 Written in 1966-1967. “Specific Objects” is reprinted in Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975 (Halifax: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design; New York University Press, 1975) 181-189; and in James Meyer (ed.), Minimalism, London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2000, pp. 207210.

There are four aspects of “ordinary painting” which you listed in your article called “Specific Objects” in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965. They are: 1. The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. 2. Everything on or slightly in the plane of the painting must be arranged laterally. 3. Almost all paintings are spatial. Two colors on the same surface almost always lie on different depths. 4. Oil and canvas are familiar, and like the rectangular plane, have a certain quality and have limits. The quality is especially identified with art. There are two ways in which something is alive: first whether it is still being done well, first-rate work is still being produced... in which sense Barnett Newman and Rothko are still live artists. Secondly, and fairly narrow historically, whether it is something for artists whose work is developing to consider or not. In which case, for the most part, Newman and the others aren’t, and by now, almost no painters are. What I want to say: what really seems to be dying off is conventional painting. I don’t like conventional sculpture either... I couldn’t care less about conventional sculpture. I bothered with conventional painting six years ago and haven’t bothered with it since, except everyone brings it up. Other people bring it up, that’s all. Is this total condemnation, or do you see any chance for paintings at all? I think another kind of painting like Bob Irwin’s has not all the aspects of the old painting. Why do you call that painting? Primarily, I guess, because it’s parallel to the wall. I guess it has to be two-dimensional. But you do draw, and drawings are also two-dimensional. I just put them down sometimes so that I won’t forget an idea. They’re sort of materialized ideas. I guess they could be useful in getting to what you want, which is an art object? Yeah. But otherwise I don’t think it’s too interesting.


Dialogues with Artists — 1966-1967

system. The system uses some of each of the separate authors’ authority to authenticate each statement, and by implication, the entirety. It is a very loose system where the quotes can only indicate a common subject; they cannot really discuss, define, examine, or make a specific point. You might call the form an authoritative litany. Here is a précis, a rough summary of Graham on Appearance: Objects have a singular existence, distinct and separate from our ideas about them and from each other (Hume); and our ideas about these objects seem to further establish the actuality of the object, not our sense of experiencing it (Husserl 1). Art lies in the ability to work the above state: the artist invests the made art object with his own ideas and feelings about it (Husserl 2). The attended actuality of things (art, autos) however is experienced as peculiar and unnatural, as are all highly specific individuated objects and states (Brecht). A repeat: any actual thing has an obvious precedence over ideas (Judd), and all its included subject matter further contributes to this (Sartre). Still, that which “appears” is ephemeral and vastly mortal (Wesley). The précis points up some interesting structural facts. The quotes are organized in a serial order several ways, perchance in sets of concentric rings. I like reading it as a seriousness-scale: Hume’s passage is quintessential to inductive logic and modern scientific method: it has never been disproved, only modified to a system of posits to replace prediction of truth and causal connection. It is a very energetic position, quoted and discussed by Positivists and Philosophers of Science. It is very serious. The Husserl updates Aristotle on the nature of the art process, which is not quite as serious as the discussion of reality. Brecht provides a true and viable analysis of fact and object, plus a tiny work of art. Judd iterates a truism for emphasis, an OK procedure. The Sartre is plain trite, and the Wesley is a ripple, calling the whole sequence into question. This reading delights me.

So you don’t think these sketches of ideas can stand as, or be, a work of art? No, I guess not, because I want to make something that I want to look at. I don’t want to make something that stands for the thing I want to look at. But aren’t there levels of complication, complex ideas or qualities in fact that a sculpture cannot make apparent in just the act of looking? You don’t just look at the damn thing. One look at it is by definition complex in quality. That doesn’t mean it’s an idea, as an idea, or that it stands for something. But ideas are real too? Anyway, I’m interested in visual art.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

From what you’re saying, one could guess that you don’t much like conceptual art? Now if [inaudible], that’s interesting. I don’t give a damn for the whole thing, because you can’t really see it. Couldn’t the literalness and fidelity to complication of an idea, an “idealized” work, sometime seduce you? I want something you can see – thoroughly visual art – not so-called idea art. Any good work has ideas, that’s why it’s good visually. If a thing is interesting visually, it’s obviously complicated as far as ideas go, and call it feelings, whatever – I don’t like the disassociation between the two. I think illustrating a point is pretty uninteresting. Personally, I find that paintings can be richer in ideas, if somewhat poorer in presence, than three-dimensional objects. The flat wall concentrates the mind of the viewer rather wonderfully. But objects standing alone enjoy the power of greater “thereness.” Objects can be mixed up with other things, which would certainly be an undercutting of a presence: I never meant mine to be inconspicuous or to get mixed up with other things, to be minimal or whatever, in a way which is somewhat contemplative. That’s what I object to in painting, because it does lie back, and ordinarily it’s contemplative. In a way, there’s no way out of it. That may be what you mean in not being immediate or whatever. It’s a slightly passive aspect. I don’t think on drawings, I really think in my head. The drawings accomplish almost nothing. Otherwise they’re done because someone wants to buy one, or just for the hell of it. I also don’t think in articles. I think walking around, that’s all, like everybody else. Thinking for yourself and thinking to communicate something to someone else are two different things. This is writing, and I don’t want to get that into painting: a discussion of visual art, that’s a verbal situation.

To be contemplative is to think about things. Is “thought,” for you, something which occurs in between writing and the verbal? I don’t think that way. That doesn’t mean anything to me as far as I think. Work should be made to be thought about. That’s not what I mean by contemplative. Contemplative is some sort of word that stands for a quality that I sort of ascribe to painting in general, going on back, which is just sort of dying out now. But aside from their surface to-ings and fro-ings, paintings are also objects that occur. They’re rather small, flimsy objects that occur primarily at the sufferance of a rather big object which is the wall. Your really big object is really that wall. Well, boxes are a sufferance of a room’s space, too. But a box or anything else three-dimensional is at least free on three sides or whatever. It only lies or is attached on one side. Ordinarily, it’s freer, freer of support. Paintings are also three-dimensional, just less obtrusively so. And they may be appendages on a wall, but so are so-called three-dimensional objects either on floors or walls. Actually, in a way, a three-dimensional work occurs in an area the way a painting occurs within the wall area, so I think that reduces the power of the form. Then perhaps the major difference between paintings and sculptures lies in the greater presence that three-dimensional objects provide? If I accept presence, then that presence has to be the all-important quality, not a word that I use. I don’t like paintings lying back against the wall. It’s personal with me. But since you also use the wall, are you saying that only works which obtrude from a wall in an aggressive way are valid? If it turns out that my work isn’t any good, then it’s invalidated. I use the wall as I’d use a floor, but if it doesn’t come out a certain distance, it’s a bas-relief. And because of that quality, I thought for a while there wasn’t anything I could do on a wall. Anyway, the main thing for anyone now is to invent his own means. Have you a position on what makes a work of art good? The persistent characteristics of good art are very general and not always present, such as large scale, wholeness, unmodulated color and an emphasis on materials.


Written in 1966.

Mel Bochner is a young artist who is well known through his critical writing and presence on the scene. He writes in a somewhat polemical style which engages the attention, if not the adoration of his readers. The essays aspire to a literary/philosophical estate, rare in art journalism, and I think he intends a portfolio edition of them some day. His principal talent here is the mot juste: he styled Morris’ gray corner pyramid “uncanny”; nailed Noland’s paintings “literal” (representational), contraposed to Stella’s “finite”; and he noticed the ambiguous in Judd’s objectivity, “Especially how it got on the wall – which is, for the most part, unexplainable.” As a working painter/sculptor, Bochner is tender and obscure. His art examines premises. He is a questioner, not an affirmer. Lately he has made photos of cuboid arrangements (blocks built up by formulae) to re-ask the status of mass and/on the two-dimensional surface. Another query, of stasis and motion, led to a silent film in collaboration with Bob Moskowitz. Bochner esteems radically inventive art, and he admires that which is powerful, or poetic, or intelligent.

[Baer’s reply:]

An interest in closed systems (solipsism) accounts for this piece. It is meant to be impenetrable, a completed fact in itself, inexplicable. If simply the words “Existence-Nonexistence” were given to me for comment, we’d be into ontology, a hard place to be. Fortunately, Bochner chose to present them as they are listed in Roget’s Thesaurus, where they appear as the first two entries, complete with their synonyms, antonyms and associated expressions. Well, the closed system “1. Existence 2. Nonexistence” is embedded in the thesaurus, which is a large, closed asymmetrical system. The growing numbers indicate increasing specificity and diminishing generalization. Since an increment order is given, we may go on to the end of the series and point out: 1036. Clergy; 1037. Laity; 1038. Religious Rites; 1039. Ecclesiastical Attire. Under the last heading, 1040. Religious Institutions, the final entry is “1040.15 austral, cloistered; monastic, monachal, monasterial; conventual, conventical.” This absolute system ends suitably.

Dialogues with Artists — 1966-1967

Mel Bochner. A Proposition, 1966

[What Bochner sent Baer:]


Dialogue with Edward Kienholz, 1967

Carl Andre: a letter to Jo Baer, 1967

Kienholz and Baer had been friends since the middle of the 1950s when Baer lived in Los Angeles – see Judith E. Stein’s interview with Baer in this publication (pp. 13-26). Kienholz sent in a clipping as his contribution to Baer’s project. Baer limited herself to an equally terse reply. Kienholz used the ill-tempered and misbehaving alter ego “Carl Stender” and the recalcitrant Baer used “Clara Stender” as her nom des arts.

Asked by Baer to send her material she could use for an article, Andre sent her the poem below. Baer then created a perverse graphic diagram and a written analysis of Andre’s “Song”, which Andre, in turn, commented on.

[What Kienholz sent Baer:]

[What Andre sent Baer:]

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

[Baer’s reply:]

I see only one reply to Kienholz’s comic question: Clara Stender says, in Finnegans Wake, “Suck it yourself, sugar stick.”


[Baer’s analysis of Andre’s poem, with remarks by Andre:]

Dialogues with Artists — 1966-1967

[Baer’s reply:]

[Andre’s answer to Baer’s reply:]



Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Radical Figuration 1975-2010

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Radical Attitudes to the Gallery, 1977-1996

Recent high-styled art writings characterize the artist as industrial worker, art works as manufactured products, and art galleries as merchandise marts. This tidy outlook is both wrong and tacky. For – if you think about it – art-works are not household goods but are, instead, requisite commodities like soy beans or spuds which are fundamental to the vital health of a community. Accordingly, an art work (at its best) is a necessary, speaking sort of entity requiring cultivation; true, telling works are not stamped out in factories to gratify an entrepreneurial or consumer itch. Which makes artists resource acculturators – near kin to landed farmers – who, in like fashion, must tend their talents wisely, find the best use for their unique soils and acreages, drain their bogs, weed, feed, and be on time and in season. If such methods and madness are realized they can take their harvest to market; if inadequate or unambitious, the produce will be for home consumption (like most art works in the world). Along parallel lines but more shareholder than share cropper, art dealers hitch their horses to a star or two to trade as futures brokers: their galleries function like a commodity exchange. (An exchange is a market which is more abstract than a retail store: it trades in symbolics, not chairs or tables. Exchanges come in several forms, and a commodity exchange, unlike a stock exchange, deals in paper quantities of real produce). Dealers buy early and gamble on what crop at which price: the bets are on imponderables such as future weather and foreign buying forays. This sort of long-range speculation has backed countless artists, is at least as old as Joseph in Egypt, and carries no political onus even if art works do sell on to the ubiquitous bourgeois (who else buys?). One can and should, of course, show works outside of galleries, but to distribute and sell them requires a market. Some market alternatives to galleries are scheduled stalls on market days, private roadside stands, frangible co-ops (or a government subsidy for not cultivating certain things). None of the alternatives to the gallery can reach a sizeable audience. Yet, given today’s homogenized world, there has never been a deeper, more immediate need for widespread sowing of relevant new ideas. So there are two ways to go: if the artist would work the long revolutionary trail and address the working class only, never mind the galleries, get out in the streets and do it. If, on the other hand, all possible creatures are worth your trouble, use the galleries and never mind: the row to hoe should be rooted in your “radical” works, not their “radical” system, for our muddled “radical” critics have confounded buyers’ terms with sellers’ standards. 99

Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

This text was originally written as a statement to be hung with an exhibtion at Art Net, London, 1977. Baer revised the text (seen here) for the book compiled and edited by Paul Andriesse, Mariska van den Berg, Minne Buwalda, Art Gallery Exhibiting. The gallery as a vehicle for art, Amsterdam (Paul Andriesse / Uitgeverij De Balie) 1996, pp. 42-43.

Ireland. Part 1, 1977

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Previously unpublished, 1977. This text was the result of Baer’s attempt at writing fiction as ‘a way to amuse myself’. While she pretended that everything was made up, the text was based on actual events.

By virtue of peculiar circumstance and too long a tale to tell I am mistress of a sprawling Norman castle, the oldest continuously inhabited keep in Ireland. Ringed by old beech trees, ash, yew, cedar and fir (even palms and a monkey-puzzle) all standing to a regimental design, Smarmore Castle – to give the place a name – lies about 45 miles north of Dublin on a folded valley-slope of earthmounds, pierced-stones, ring-forts and souterrains, relics of the ‘old straight-tracks’ and lea-lines which criss-crossed these fairy-infested hills connecting Tara, Teltown, and New Grange with Ulster. Lost in time, there’s no surviving record as to who constructed the place. The family who own it found (and took) it standing in 1320. Built in the 12th century, it was probably an outpost of the Pale, one of a string of strongholds raised to circumscribe and keep the “wild” Irish and their raidings out of the rich Danelaw countryside. As with most of these castles originated for soldiers but recycled for gentry, only the small keep is Norman: two round, turreted towers sited east and west sit cat-cornered to a castellated center square providing the usual several tiny rooms on each of its three floors. Within this arrangement – which has seen continual renovations over the past 800 years – altered traces of the proceeding centuries hang about. In the central donjon a walk-in pantry replaces a former 15th century fireplace, while from Victorian times all the defensive slit-windows have been widened to Gothic outlooks flanked by (poured-concrete) knights’ helmets. In the very modern mode one of the ground-floor tower-rooms is used for laundry and has been plumbed and fitted-up with a washing machine and dryer. However, modern appliances aside, it still feels very much like a real castle if only because in each of its rooms one sees outside walls which are eight feet thick, while tiny stairs still spiral up to “real” battlements commanding extensive views of the surrounding country-side. The major part of the present structure, however, was built in more recent times, from the 16th century onwards. Attached and made continuous out of the Norman keep, “new” Queen Anne and Georgian wings meander off in a sort of Y-shape, changing levels and rambling on rather like some kind of split-level California ranch house. A desperate description, this, but for all and in spite of its jumbled antecedents – modern to medieval – the entire assemblage works into a very nice country house which though shabby, water-stained, and more hodge-podged than designed, is comfortable and well proportioned. It had to be to survive. Ireland’s landscape is littered with picturesque derelicts of other more ambitious productions: grand mansions, castles and manors all abandoned to

the ubiquitous weeds, vandals, and animal life of rural realities. Naive and otiose, such ruined remains call to account and still testify to the prolonged failure of that long-suffered marriage-by-force between Anglo pretentions and the Irish weather, ways, history, and race. So I am chatelaine of 36 rooms, unheated. It takes two days of opened windows for the wind to dry out a mattress here. There is one bathroom. Water is pumped from a deep well in the yard, and electrification is five years along so there’s a wall-socket plus a single light-bulb hanging in the center of most of the 36 rooms. The telephone works and many of the chimneys draw. Almost all the rooms and passages are wall-papered with flowers (to remit, perhaps, their absence in the out-of-doors). My wash-stand is tiled with painted cymbidium orchids while the drawing-room fireplace is enameled in posies. Where floral patterns are omitted, bright flat-colored walls obtain. One reception room is done in red and black with a pale, blue-flowered paper; another is pink, green, cream and gilded. The large dining room has some real Sheraton furniture and is imperialist red and blue. Bedrooms are yellow or green or blue or pink, etc. One of the kitchens is orange. There is a black, wood-paneled room with elk horns. The oratory is pale blue. The library is (naturally) brown. Outside things are, as they say, very green. Except for the yellow and black yew-walk with its parallel palisade of pink roses above a defunct tennis court, the famous green extends via large lawns in a parkland which sweeps out and up and down over hills only turning into serious brown plough, stubble or green fields beyond lines of trees, brambles and hawthorn hedges. Laurels, elder, the odd small wood, and rhododendrons interrupt the flow of grass. Here foxes and rabbits, hares, pheasants and squirrels pop in and out of the coverts; dogs and men do too, in season. Overhead the sky is always busy with rooks and daws. There are several rookeries along the avenue and others up the hill in the beech trees which I endlessly watch. Along a lower corridor wood-pigeons perch about breaking down branches, and much cooing counterpoints the caws. It’s pretty noisy and, while less variegated, I find it more engrossing than the remembered urban pulse. Once I saw an enormous hawk plunge down and steal a fox’s hidden kill, and there is a huge raven who circles all the upstairs windows, knocking loudly as he eats the insects from the window frames while I keep answering an empty door. Sometimes racing-pigeons stop by, en route, to rest and wander into the dining room next to the front door, and once I saw six giant owls sitting in a tree. Neglected and running down for many years with an owner originally “wanting” and later nearby but absent, the animal and vegetal have become abundant, reclaiming house and grounds as their demesne, a reversion to Nature which the locals find unnatural. My neighbors think the castle’s haunted. And since no Irish woman would live alone as I do, their children have named me the “Witch of


Discreetly garbaged, that night’s work stamped the cat a creature one would not care to offend, and I’ve been really wondering about him. I mean why butcher and transmit only rat kill? Why not his mice or the rabbits or those two nice red squirrels whose disappearance from the garden coincided with the empty skins and tails I found in the old kitchen next to the Aga cooker where he hangs out? Could the act of murder adduce different excitement levels, valences of violence for him where, for instance, sweet-vengeance is broadcast while ordinary killings-for-fun are not? When the cat appeared one day outside the (orange) kitchen window with a fluffy, yellow ball between his teeth – a tit I think – I only noticed because the rooks were chasing him, diving and screaming “thug” (in a move calculated less to accuse than to make him drop it for themselves I’d guess). So would that untransmitted tit murder be sort of common, of real interest only to rooks or other tits, a quantum leap from the excitement of rat kill in the “Irish way”: i.e., like St. Oliver Plunkett, beheaded, flayed, drawn and quartered? Come to that, who the hell is he, anyway? Black and familiar and uninvited, certainly. But when one lives on a posted Bronze-Age crossroads/burial ground/healing place/epic site, where odd disjunctions with their slightly nauseating sense of shift occur all too often, the question feels more than academic. I read somewhere that on the nearby Isle of Man you must never talk directly about rats. It’s said to be very unlucky, so you must use euphemism and call them ‘the long-tails’ or ‘the fur and whiskers’ or whatever, but never R-A-T-S. This custom implies an extra dimension to these creatures, at least in this part of the world. Even more to the point, there was once a cat cult in Ireland. In Connaught an oracular cave-shrine served a “Slender Black Cat reclining upon a chair of old silver,” while at another center much nearer to home, in fact just down the road, the burial chamber in the tomb at Knowth, Co. Meath – next to New Grange of renown – is said to have been the home of the King-cat Irusan, who was “as large as a plough-ox and once carried Seanchan, the chief-ollave of Ireland, off on its back in revenge for a satire.” Um humh. I think I’m living in a leak.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Smarmore.” Behind my back of course. In fact things are a bit odd here and I can’t decide whether it’s the cat’s doing or because of the old-straight-track erupting Ancients playing games. Whatever, before the cat I suffered only the customary discomforts normal to any castle-dweller – that is rats, bats, and dwarfs, etc. – but these visitations happily disappeared or at least were modified by the advent of the cat. For instance, in pre-cat times a bat might disentangle and flutter from a drape I was drawing or suddenly rise and circle my head while I sat on the toilet, but since the cat I no longer suffer such surprise enjoyments. Also, the dwarfs have stopped calling on me. They’ve stopped trying to come in, too, and have even stopped telephoning. The rats, however, did not disappear but have only altered their behavior. Time was my rats maintained a running-track under the floorboards directly beneath my bed, where they either fought to the death or perhaps it was copulation, in any case engaged nightly in some kind of a bumping, squealing activity. Disconcerted by the noise, I put poison down but then they used my bedroom floor – that is, their rat-run – for a mortuary which traded sound for a smell so dead-awful I had to keep windows and doors open to bear sleeping in the room. For one month I retired in gloves and scarf since I like to read in bed, though I found turning pages awkward and my nose ran a lot. Had the upstairs phone not been there, I would certainly have moved nocturnal house. Anyway, since the cat, the rat-run’s no longer used. He (presumably) eats the rats while they’re still downstairs. (Actually, the cat and his doings are peculiar. After all he arrived suddenly, obscurely and very persisently... “a hunter of shadows, himself a shade”?) An instance: one day the cat lost a nasty fight with a rat. Bitten on the front leg, he swelled up, became lame and then so septic he had to have antibiotic injections from the vet. A few days later when sound again, the cat looked for and found his revenge, but in so doing allowed me a glimpse of his real nature, a red if enigmatic sight. Downstairs, late on the night he re-engaged his virulent rat enemy – this time killing it. At the precise moment of dispatch he telepathed his kill to me upstairs in my bedroom. The transmitted picture was clear and so intense and vivid it surprised me wideawake out of a pre-sleep doze. Shaken, I put down my book to sit up and reflect on it, running it over and over again, so that when some half an hour later the cat appeared howling and yowling outside my bedroom door, I was primed to pay attention. As I opened the door the cat gestured me to follow, running back and forth, back and forth until at his insistence I arrived at the little kitchen downstairs to illuminate and gaze down onto the grisly sight of things pink, drawn, and quartered on the floor. Just inside the door, four naked, shiny pieces of meat laid out in a perfectly straight line with only one tiny tab of grey fur showing. Boned fillets of rat apparently, since they were of a size, and the cat sat there proudly howling, yowling, and waving his rat-damaged paw at me.

Ireland. Part 2. Never mind, 1977

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Previously unpublished, 1977. Baer made notes for a third part that never appeared as text but was ultimately the foundational material for figurative paintings.

Too soon after my arrival at Smarmore I stumbled onto a hidden imperative for one who would be an integral part of Irish country life, and the rule is this: all rural residents (save the old and the very poor) must own and tend at least one large animal. Dogs, cats, budgies, chickens or tropical fish do not count, although a goose or brace of Irish wolfhounds might deflect the charge of eccentricity. Respectable large animals are bullocks, heifers and cows, sheep or horses. (Since the ass, the goat, and the family pig have largely disappeared from my neighborhood’s landscape, one is not sure their presence certifies acceptability or merely qualifies it. Which is to say the ass, the goat, and the pig are rather more optional than mandatory). Be that as it may, my discovery of the large-animal-rule as a rule is a bit after-the-fact, for only in retrospect can I see that this unspoken law must have led me to the ill-timed, head-long and otherwise inexplicable purchase of a horse. Two days later I borrowed a donkey to keep the horse company. It was winter when animals need shelter from the cold. The Smarmore stables and yard had not been used in years, had no electricity or water and were too fallen down for immediate use. Outside, none of the fields or grass available to me had been fenced for horses. To make my predicament complete, there was no knowledgeable person in the neighborhood available for part-time stable work and I had cared for nothing larger or more exciting than dogs and cats. No matter. An Irish country house abounds in possibilities. For instance, adjacent and parallel to the stable yard was a strange and fallow place – the “haggard” – which had a bit of grass, more mud and a great many stones and odd artifacts lying about. It immediately became the animals’ temporary home, for it also had a usable shed to protect them from the weather. A haggard is interesting beyond its instant usefulness. To describe it is to recapitulate Irish farming methods of a hundred years ago, for its remains still indicate its former function. For past generations it was a farmyard (as opposed to a stable yard) where animals other than horses were kept, and hay, straw, and grain were dried. Then as now ours has high stone walls around it and forgediron gates with padlocks to keep animals in and thieves and foxes out. At one end there is a little stone hen house; across from this is a small walled yard with stone roosting holes for long-gone peacocks. Along one side running down to the other end are sheds, one of which goes all the way through to the adjoining yard to expedite the transfer of the dried fodder to stable lofts. Originally cobbled and terraced with dry stone retaining walls, the haggard also sported in former times a number of standing, shaped stone pillars topped

with odd, worked-stone caps which kept rats and mice from running up and eating the corn drying on top of them. In its day it must have looked like a giant’s field of toadstools. The pillars are all fallen down now and their hand-hewn caps have been moved to certain woodland walks where, as elegant stepping-stones, their original function is probably forgotten if known at all. Most of the other stones – risen cobbles mainly – have since been “picked” too, and piled to the side so that at present the haggard is a kind of paddock and even has a few practice jumps in it. A useful yard once more, to my interested neighbors in their inimitable portmanteau-style – where once a haggard, stands a haddock now. After our invasion and clearing of the haggard, more space and grass for the animals was found by improvising an electric fence around one of the wilder lawns out front of the house which allowed the animals to graze daytimes in constant sight of my kitchen and bedroom windows. What a pleasure it is to look up from kitchen chores to watch large animals at play, and what a number of scorched meals that view unfortunately produced. And while a young horse and donkey galloping, charging, bucking, and plunging down a hill chasing one another is certain to raise the spirits and appetite of one inside watching out, this same sight also promises terror to that same inexperienced one who must enter the field daily to catch said animals and lead them down the avenues back to their nighttime home in the haggard. From February until May this diurnal journey was accomplished, but not without incident, and after the first day, never without a young guard both morning and night. For both these animals – an “incognito” thoroughbred winner on the flat and a cob-sized, unbroken Spanish ass – were not only

Jo Baer’s horses, Smarmore Castle, Ireland, circa 1982


over and get above them to chase them back, but the animals by then are very small dots in the distance, and actually I don’t see Thomas again until the next day. Into the car and up the hills and finally the runaways are found on the road foaming, panting but stopped. Park the car, forget to remove the keys, get out and creep to the tail-end of the rope which I put my foot on while the horse fixes me with a sideways baleful eye, quivers and dilates his nostrils. “There’s a pet,” heart, “thump, thump, thump” and so forth as I inch up the rope. The donkey is eating nettles again and watching impassively for a change and so we depart for home, I with a firm grip on horse and rope while the donkey saunters casually down the center of the road blocking all traffic (which has unfortunately grown considerable). He kicks every-other-car or so that manages to pass him and I pretend not to notice. All the cars (neighboring farmers) seem especially friendly for they grin a lot as we negotiate these passings. I act as though it is quite natural to be leading a sweatdrenched horse and unfettered donkey while I wonder if anyone has stolen my car yet. But we finally arrive home and I place them in the haggard and swat the horse a good one but must settle for a yell at the donkey since he’s run away again, kicking his heels. (Advice from horse-people is often unreliable: I think it may not be true that unfettered donkeys always follow their horses everywhere, quietly). It should be clear from the foregoing that I had wandered way over my head into deep bogs, though the above describes the great adventure more than the routine event. But there were, in fact, a great number of horse things I did not know about or know how to do. For instance, the long rope I carried, properly termed a lunging-

Jo Baer preparing for fox hunting, Smarmore Castle, Ireland, 1979


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

‘unappreciated’ at the time of acquisition, but were soon exposed as a miscreant, mischievous horse and an utterly incorrigible donkey. Over-coped, my tenderfoot days were pitiful. An evening parade went something like this: I enter the field with a long rope in hand and stalk the horse, buckle at the ready. “Thump, thump, thump,” says my heart about larynx level while “there’s a pet” manages to squeak past the obstructing clamor and issues from my mouth reassuring neither horse nor speaker. The horse watches my approach, moves off a bit to try me, finally comes to rest, and I put out my hand. His nostrils dilate, he wheels once or twice, the donkey runs away and kicks his heels. I catch the horse’s head-collar on the left (someone showed me fingers under, up and over, for if you catch fingers over, down and up you can’t let go if he rears and you will either rise in the air with him or you will break your fingers or you will do both). So far so good. I slip the strap through and buckle it, which takes a lot of doing (with shaking hands) but it is done and I step back and lead him slowly to the gate. The donkey gallops past us bucking to freedom and he heads for the lawns and rosebushes. Young Thomas the guard is ready for him and chases him off, unfortunately to another lawn but in approximately the right direction. The horse rolls his eye at so much promiscuous movement, so I begin to whistle a breathy little tune and we proceed to stroll quietly down the avenue. Denied the joys of cutting up lawns, the donkey is bored so he turns and runs back again behind us. The horse quivers, rolls his head back and forth and steps along a little faster. I lengthen the rope to make more space between the horse and me since I can appreciate the possibilities of that swiveling part which carries teeth and we proceed, past the lawns, finally, and to the curved walls which announce the haggard and journey’s end. Much relief and I am bursting with song which is a very great mistake because the donkey is still behind us, having stopped to eat some nettles which look good to him. The donkey suddenly notices the spatial discrepancy and rushes forward to catch up. Hooves flying and much to all our surprise he keeps coming and wedges himself between horse and me and grabs the rope in his mouth since he also likes to eat rope. We all tangle. The donkey bucks and eats the rope, the horse rears and stomps the donkey and I let go to get the hell out of there and whoosh – they’re off! donkey, rope and horse, down the back drive, up the avenue, out the main gate, right turn on to the road and on up the hill. I stand there staring abstractly and note the small figure of Thomas, age ten, disappearing down the avenue a long way behind and by this time I realize they are really gone and very fast, too. Hear no squeal of brakes nor loud sounds besides the clatter and clang of hooves on the road and wonder idly if they will come back. Thomas’ mother, a brief witness of the right turn from her kitchen window, appears running down the avenue and shouts to get my car, which I agree is a good idea. Thomas has disappeared into a field to cross

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

rein, has its excessive length for just such situations as I encountered where one gets out of the animal’s way by releasing the rope a bit then hanging on, releasing again and so forth. The bulk of the rope should not be a jumble in the other arm as I had it but rather neatly coiled in readiness for reeling and hanging on. In addition and alongside my considerable ignorance of equipments there were a number of fallacies, misconceptions, omissions, absurdities, delusions, figments, and fantasies which I held on the subject of equines, happily but gradually overcome in their own place and time. Did you know, for example, that horses do not like to run into people and will even avoid jumping on to fallen riders if they can? This fact allows people to catch horses. When a horse comes charging at you do not turn and run away but stand your ground and hold your arms out and he will swerve (you hope) and eventually you can drive him into a corner by such repeated acts of bravery. It is also said that horses do not like to step on people, but I have already seen too many limping, carpet-slippered grooms and riders to believe that one. (Although in all fairness a horse cannot see his feet, and the broken toes are probably true accidents). One fallacy of mine was really dumb: although I knew from seeing several riders quickly-made-agile that horses get down and roll on occasion, I somehow believed that horses always stood up otherwise, even to sleep. The first time I wandered into a field and came upon the horse lying on his side with his head down and his eyes closed I was appalled, and my ever-so-portable heart zoomed immediately to my feet for I was sure he was dead or dying. He was only sleeping in the sun of course, and he opened one eye and winked at my anguish before getting up to see what I wanted. Horses are indeed awkward in standing up and do take much of their sleep on four feet, but vague stories of horses lying down in their boxes and never getting up again (true of old arthritic animals brought in from grass or the occasional young one who “casts,” or breaks one of the delicate leg-bones getting up in a small enclosed space) must have formed my confusion. On confessing this ignorance to someone I was further informed on the subject that large animals sleeping on the ground are in fact not cold, either, but rather the reverse, since they “make the damp go down.” A puzzling statement which on repeated questioning yielded the fact that large animals have an oil coating on their hair which repels moisture and combined with a high body-heat, their repose causes the earth on which they lie to become dry and warm, hence “the damp goes down” – one usually views evaporation “up.” And it is certainly up when you are riding, for I’ve since spent six snowy hours in the saddle warmed only by a tweed jacket with never less than three inches of snow on my shoulders, yet have been sufficiently warm and dry via the animal’s bodyheat. I am, in fact, still amazed by the amount of heat and speed and stamina and size all amassed from the lowly blade of grass. Now most everyone knows that horses usually eat hay and oats in the winter and grass in the summer, but the prophylactic practice of

worming a horse following a summer on grass was new to me, and the engineering required to give a horse a “dose” or “drench” of a large amount of fluid was pretty novel, too. “You can lead a horse to water...” as they say. In olden days a heavy “drenching bottle” was put in the side of the animal’s mouth and most of the drench ran back down into the sleeve of the drencher instead of into the stomach of the drenchee. More recently the vet arrives with about five feet of rubber tubing which he threads up the horse’s nostril and down his throat to the beginning of the stomach. The tube has a funnel attached to its outside end and after the vet pours a quantity of pink, calamine-looking liquid into the funnel and it disappears, he places the empty funnel against his ear to hear if the stomach has opened to accept the medicine. If it hasn’t, the horse will sneeze and send all the pink fluid back into the vet’s ear and it runs down into his collar now instead of into his sleeve like in the olden days. When it becomes obvious the stomach won’t open perhaps some three earfuls later, the vet threads the animal’s other nostril, stops listening and now blows down the tube to try to force the liquid through with air so that when the stomach rejects this also he receives the pink stuff in his face and it runs down the front of his collar, which variety makes an hour and a half seem to go by quickly. When all the medicine is gone (somewhere) and the horse has a bloody nose, the animal has been wormed. Unhappily, much of the entertainment factor in the above has been foregone by the latest widespread use of all the new plastics. One now buys a plastic tube containing a glue-like sticky paste – full of wormer – and one grabs the horse’s tongue, pulls it out, squirts stuff on the back and Bob’s-your-uncle, he’s stuck with it: pink vets are no more or rarely to be seen. In their place one meets many a musing horse standing about with an oddly pensive mien.


First published in Art Monthly, March 1977, pp. 6-10. A dialogue with Seamus Coleman conducted for Art Monthly’s special issue on Ireland in March 1977. In the exhibition catalogue Jo Baer. Paintings 1960-1998, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1999, p. 52, the artist describes the dialogue as follows: “Coleman and I agreed to send one another ten questions (blind) to be answered. The resulting dialogue ranged from tax-exemption to dressage for everybody.”

[Coleman answers questions by Baer:]

Why must so many of her creative people leave Ireland and why are they more successful than those who don’t? D’Ego for work. Has Ireland’s unique tax-exemption for artists (both foreign and domestic) improved the Irish art scene or raised its cultural level as per intention? So far it hasn’t but it’s too early to judge. I’m not in favour of complete tax-exemption of artists as this only tends to isolate them from the community. What is needed is integration and a willingness to offer artists the opportunity to contribute more to society. Do you think EEC monies should have been given to a German man and an English woman (Beuys and Tisdall) to promote a Free University in an Irish city? And by the way, whatever happened to it? EEC monies for Ireland – yes. I don’t mind who sets up the shop; it’s how and what they sell I’d like to know about. What kind of logic informs an English art magazine (Art Monthly) to run a series on devolution and the arts in Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland? Put another way, why is Brit-vic a successful drink here? I can only tell you the story of Brit-vic in Ireland and hope that this will throw some light on Art Monthly’s intentions. The name Brit-vic was coined from the two words Brit, short for Britain, and Vic from how the Irish mhic (of a mhic) is pronounced. This is an old Irish term of endearment meaning “my lad” or “sonny.” The word actually comes from Mac meaning son (as in Scottish), devotee or descendant. Now, when Sean Lemass was Taoiseach there was an air of reconciliation between the North and South of Ireland. Lemass was a pragmatist and grasped the opportunity for doing something symbolic in occasion of the awakening friendship. Dublin recognized that the Northern Protestant has his cultural roots well planted in British history and when Belfast suggested the idea to produce an Orange drink Dublin quickly responded with the suggestion that it be called Brit-vic. The oranges are imported from

some hot country, squeezed and bottled in the Republic. Brit-vic has remained popular as a straight drink although you will find that some Irish people think it a wee bit bitter and add Paddy (whiskey) to it. How did Vasarely become some sort of cult figure in the Irish art world? In the early ’60s Cyril Barrett in collaboration with Denise René brought two Kinetic shows to Ireland. Both exhibitions were held in the Hendriks gallery in Dublin and the Arts Council in Belfast. The exhibitions were very successful. Two collectors I know who own Vasarelys will, I feel, have bought them in the same decent spirit as they tend to collect – they like the work and they would have wanted to support the pioneering efforts of those in Ireland who put on the shows. Vasarely was well represented though I can’t say if their paintings came through these shows, but the exhibitions certainly made an impact. How come every second person I meet at a Dublin opening is an archaeologist when every second one in NY was a shrink? I’ll have to think this one over – but in the meantime, would you ask them why ancient Irish art is continually sandwiched in a “Rosc” context. Lurks there some unrevealed Hibernian guild obliging all prominent Irish artists to design carpets? And why, once executed, do all these artist carpets hang on walls instead of lying underfoot as becomes a carpet? (In my day I have walked on Stella with some pleasure and on several Lichtensteins rather indifferently and none of us was the worse for it). Must you design a carpet someday and if so, will it lie on the floor or hang on a wall? What you call carpets, here in Ireland we call wall-hangings. Artists don’t make carpets, that lowly art is done by craftsmen. Those commissions cost a lot and have a birthright to a proper plane – the wall. I’d love to design a carpet. When you did a show last year in Belfast at the Ulster Museum, did you feel you had any effect on your viewers’ terrible problems beyond providing them with a non-war activity? Do you believe you should be effective in this regard? The installations for the show were executed in January 1973. Whether one shows in Belfast or in Basel the question is the same: what is the artist’s role, if he or she has a role, in a world which doesn’t respect essential human values, or, how many of us would continue to do what we now do in what we would call a just society? I can’t give you any quickie answer. Does your series of ambiguous figure (ground) paintings recently shown in Dublin particularly reflect an Irish ethos? … (or, Twilight gobbledygook and you?)…


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

To and Fro and Back and Forth. Jo Baer and Seamus Coleman in dialogue, 1977

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Would a childhood spent in a Co. Roscommon landscape affect or contribute to your present adult interest in perceptual size-constancy (i.e., “the diminution of the retinal image, instead of producing a shrinking of the seen object, may arouse the perception of its recession with conservation of its apparent size”?) Would Patrick Ireland, née Brian O’Doherty and also from Roscommon, evince a like interest? Personally I find the brightness-constancy more interesting whereby “infants, chimpanzees and chickens, when trained to select the white or darker of two objects, will continue to do so (even) when the blacker object reflects more light than the whiter.” I grew up in the grey-skied Pacific Northwest. What an interesting question. My family left Ballaghaderreen when I was nine years old and it was not until I was seventeen before I returned. I was utterly amazed to see how everything I remembered had shrunk in size during those years I was away. Even the back lane which I used to take to school had contracted. Then recently when Brian – known as Patrick Ireland and also from this town, exhibited a turf rick as part of his show at the David Hendriks gallery I was struck by (apart from other aspects of the installations) the smallness of the turf rick which I normally thought to be of a much greater size. Could it be that the artist intentionally wished to recall some similar experience of his youth? In this year’s Living Art catalogue I see that this piece is in you collection. Can you say if it was an undersized turf rick? And where is it now? Could it be the marvelous conversation available here which subverts action and meditation? It is often said “the unexamined life is not worth living” and more recently, “the unlived life is not worth examining”: have the Irish learned to talk their way around both with a resultant (and great) literary tradition the only possible outcome? Long ago the Irish accepted the latter in principle and the former in praxis. For the past 75 years science has been forced to include the “observer” in all computations and working of the “observed”: by extension, must a “questioner” be considered part of a “question” or should a question be regarded as an independent entity? The observed implies an observer and vice versa, and the question one who questions or questioner. A question is not a phenomenon of the order of physical causality but more an awareness of motivated rationalism arising from causal connections. How much money are we getting for this? A very good question and I don’t know the answer. Last question: please tell me (if you can in your Irish wisdom) whether the great plethora of sprites, spooks, ghosts, spirits, et al. who dwell so conspicuously in my countryside are fond of artists and their endeavours or are ill-disposed towards us? I don’t know their intentions and they’re driving me crazy.

First of all you will have to try and sort out what kind of spirits you are dealing with. Apart from ghosts, witches and so on, there are numerous Irish spirits. Briefly they can be divided into two classes: the sociable and the solitary. The first kind are on the whole kind while the solitary are a bit gloomy, mischievous and often uncharitable. The most common of the sociable kind are what are called sidheog. My feeling is that living as you do in the historic Boyne valley, these are the kind who are playing you up. They could of course be Pooka or even Lepracauns who are of the solitary kind. There is also a Leanhaun Shee (female) who is said to be popular in artistic circles. Apparently the famous Irish bard Carolan slept on a fia fairy rath and ever after the fairy tunes ran in his head and made him the great man he was. You must be very respectful and always refer to them as Gentry. I’ve heard it said that they are very touched if you leave out a drop of milk for them on the outside window sill at night. Try it.

[Baer answers questions by Coleman:]

To what degree would you say that patronage from private foundations in America (i.e., Rockefeller et al.) might have been a determining factor in the formulation of and the perpetuation of Western formalistic and apolitical art, or, how much are artists “...a bourgeois service organization working for the edification of the ruling class...” (Punkay, Fox 3)? There’s no such thing as apolitical art – and by the way, how can a “bourgeois service” possibly be “apolitical”? (Jargon makes such a terrible lot of work.) All modern art, American or otherwise, is patronized by a bourgeoisie both private and public and both American and otherwise. This “ruling class” buys entertainment, not edification – up to now, they know very well how to go about things on their own. Moreover, “formalistic” art is not the only art expressing bourgeois tastes (or talents); all art endeavours which celebrate or mirror the western status quo instead of positing operative revision (the list is long), and all those which pose conundrums, not problems, should be termed “bourgeois.” Once, when it was a very young and unsure class, the bourgeoisie invested heavily in portraiture to proclaim and reassure their presence but now, arrived, they buy to enjoy their effects. Functions change as a class and the mix of classes change. One can see a tangent example in the horse world (please forgive, I am living in horse-heaven and am into them heavily). In the 16th century the French trained their horses as collateral war machines. The levade, a controlled rearing where a horse raises his forelegs from the ground and sits poised on his hind quarters, was developed to stomp on fallen foe; the piaffe (trotting or prancing almost in place), was then used to mince him up and really finish him off; the manoeuvres (minus foe) remain in the modern Haute Ecole programme. With time and tanks and as the affected


How much do you control where your work is shown? Your new work is a radical departure from all your previous painting; suppose that your New York and London dealers don’t want to show it but that the local branch of the Irish Country-woman’s Association do, would this satisfy your ambitions for the work? To control anything requires strength, stamina, talent, luck and the ability to say no – or yes, on the right occasion. One controls a horse basically with the legs and hips which push it forwards, a way of conduct not unheard of in the art world (and I think I shall continue with the horse analogies; they are useful and less wearing than arttalk). The consummate control of a horse, however, is accomplished by balance and by the hands and head positions. If the head and hands are right (and the seat well-established – beware of the crotch-seat, it is very forward but most unstable), one will be carried proudly along and not bucked off into some Country Women’s Guild. My ambitions are in the Grand Prix line. An Chomhairle Ealaionn (The Arts Council) regularly contribute to the visual arts by purchases from publicly recognized art exhibitions. Would you say that the implementation of this kind of patronage can be effectively carried out for it to be beneficial to art? I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts, and feel art-purchase by committee-vote a perversion of the basic one-to-one response between artist and viewer. Public collecting and its antecedent validating processes (the galleries, art-politics, media and personality putsches) reduce art intentions to the product level, which will never benefit the arts but will certainly benefit some artists. Collecting is a distribution problem and the “collection” of a horse is a much sounder endeavour – it results in balance and the restitution of natural movement to the animal, an outcome so far improbable for the artist or community in the “collection” of art. Since nature did not particularly intend horses to be ridden, the advent of weight on a horse’s back flattens him out and divides him suddenly into a separate front and back with the front taking up all the work; “collecting” a horse is a long schooling process which compensates for weight by teaching the animal to lower and bring his hocks under his hindquarters where his power originates, and to round his back and curve his neck so that his forehand is raised and coordinated with the new, posteriad centre of gravity. It is an integrating process which, when accomplished, allows the animal to jump very high and do right turns and sudden transitions without falling over. The only horses left “uncollected” are flat-race horses who literally run flat-out for lots of money, cross-country animals who don’t have to jump very high, and plough and cart beasts who suffer the yoke but

not the weight. There’s a minor parable here for anyone who wants to sort it out – or perhaps it’s just a parabolic curve. In view of the high quality of your work in the field of recent American painting and in spite of a recent show at the Whitney in NY, I feel your work has not yet received the recognition it deserves. Do you agree, and if so, what single factor would you accredit for this? Has Ireland received you and responded to your work with appropriate cordiality and understanding? If one chooses to work in a difficult, media-resistant manner one’s bound to travel through rough ways to the stars… in my newest work, however, I’m attempting to mitigate this through a direct approach, visible to any viewer learned or naïve, in order to avoid the media distortions so intrinsic to elitist work (and am finding this endeavour far more difficult to accomplish). Did you know there are only around 40 people in the world who can do Grand Prix riding? It is extremely difficult to perform, and in the English-speaking world there’s an audience of around 40, too, although in Germany, Russia and France it’s big doings and very popular, so not intrinsically elitist. Compare this endeavour with the race-track, a multi-million dollar industry where jockeys need ride about as well as a “monkey-ona-stick” and whose audiences, with media boostings, number in the millions. As far as the Irish art-world goes, people have been most cordial, but Irish racing is notoriously crooked, stacked and very inside – I do wish they’d invite me to participate in a least one Irish show, but so far I can’t even get near the track. Can you answer – “Apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?” (Pinter). “That’s cabbage warmed-up a second time” (Juvenal). Look between the known and the unknown and not apart from them, and surely the boundaries, gradients, overlaps, interspace and interfaces, edges, joinings and periods are of some interest? To research the evolution of the horse is to also address the evolution of grass – and how and where shall we draw their boundaries? Kasimir Malevich has said: “The artist who wants to develop art beyond its painting possibilities is forced to theory and logic.” Would you contribute a similar statement? Even good Homer nods sometimes... if one goes to theory and logic one does not develop art, one develops theory and logic. Moreover, all paintings contain (in fact are never free of) theory and logic, although “p horseshoe q” may not be printed on the face (or just might be these days). When you are actively engaged in painting do you notice any change in your breathing? Pardon my obsession, but a horse with broken wind can only be diagnosed after he has been worked; you can see his ribs perform a


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

classes rose and fell, the educated horse was changed from an instrument of property to a show-biz star. New class, same trick, new function. Options become apparent in the foregoing: shall we work to change our function or work to displace the class?

double beat as the abdominal muscles work close behind the lungs to expel that air which the diseased lungs can no longer push out. You must also diagnose the engaged painter after activity, for if he stops work to notice his breathing he no longer notices his paints, brushes and canvas. I find myself panting sometimes when I take a break.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

In his catalogue introduction to Rosc 71, James Johnson Sweeney wrote in reference to what I understand to be the choice of the work on exhibition: “the decision was not made with any feeling that novelty was an aesthetic quality.” Would you eliminate “novelty” per se from appertaining to aesthetic qualities? Novelty being the “new” must be distinguished from radical invention which is a horse of a very different colour (rather roan, I think). In the 16th century a “novelist was an innovator; in the 18th century he was a newsmonger. The word “novelty” also dates from the 16th century and so it developed concomitantly and now carries the sense of fashion and the very latest thing. As I recall the Rosc 71 catalogue and photos, the earlier sense of the word was certainly avoided. I feel that Frankie Byrne (she comperes Jacob’s Biscuits programme on Radio Telefis Eireann) should be credited with practicing a significant art form and that her work should be listed on the Arts Council’s Calendar of Art Events. Do you agree? Fine with me. While you’re at it, get them to list the Dublin Horse Show too. (Notwithstanding, we all know entertainment is an art. Is art an entertainment?) His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says that: “Transcendental Meditation is primarily a procedure for unfolding the full capacity of the individual to enjoy life and contribute to his or her community.” Do you practice TM, and if not do you have any particular reason why you don’t? If you have read me correctly in much of the above you will have seen I’m far more concerned with immanence than with the transcendental. As for proceedings below, all animals meditate (sadly) postcoitum (“a procedure for unfolding the full capacity”, etc.)… excepting roosters and women (Galen).

the larger unit so that the arts, like anything else, tend to reinforce the broader societal terms. Exceptional artists occasionally make inroads on insanity and other occasional artists explore the boundaries of the label in their work. It’s interesting you’ve neglected the criminal in your question; the insane, the criminal and the artist are necessarily intimate neighbours. Insane horses are usually considered criminal. Those animals which try to kill people, i.e., those who continuously buck and rear, go for humans, or run promiscuously through walls and houses are labeled “outlaw” and are shot or sold on to rodeos (or better yet, sold on to unsuspecting friends). Many people would like to know if you came to Ireland because of the tax-exemption for artists. Did you? And does living in a castle with so much suffering in today’s world conflict with any desires of how you would like to spend your time? I found the tax-exemption touching but not too useful, as I don’t make very much money. The rent I pay for my castle, however, is about one-fifth of what I paid for a loft in NY, so I am enjoying Irish economic benefits (which go immediately to horse and car, the only two things I own). As to suffering, well, one can suffer anywhere and quite handily in a castle: I suffer the cold and damp, and rats and bats – all good ghetto correlative – and lately and most unreasonably a plague of dwarfs who keep trying to come in (?). Still, you have me – here, the air is clean, the land is beautiful and the people are lovely, all qualities rare or non-existent in the urban alley, and I spend a disproportionate amount of time congratulating myself on having gotten out – from the mess in the cities, from America the rich, from under the sexist yoke. There is room to take a sight and stand here; need an (old) working artist desire more? Jean Sibelius said: “Pay no attention to what the critics say: no statue has ever been put up to a critic.” What’s the chance that things might change? I would give both eye-teeth to see a critic appear who was worthy of a statue. Most statues are of horses (and their riders), and so far that seems right to me. All honour to those who carry weight!

Read and answer this question carefully. What importance would you accredit to the role of “culture” in the labeling process of mental disorders? Every “culture” (in the anthropologist’s sense) always defines and sets out its particular ideas of mental disorder right along with its law, its correct moral behaviour, its ideals of beauty and so forth. If you mean “culture” in the art sense (and please put your questions more carefully – there are culture-heroes and cultured people and even a “culture” in the Petrie dish) it is generally continuous with


Baer and Robbins started working together in 1978. This text, co-written by Bruce Robbins in Smarmore, Ireland, Autumn 1979, was written as a press release for an exhibition that never took place.

The drawings above are not of or from paintings. Since photographs of paintings are not the best way of introducing new work, these views – a venture into advertising – are presented instead. They arose from material investigated in the course of looking for a common subject matter, a search which became necessary during a collaboration begun in the spring of 1978. This collaboration took the form of separate canvases painted in separate studios – a dialogue resulting in work which will be shown in the near future. Caveat emptor.

Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins before the opening of their joint show at Riverside Studios, London, April 1982

Beyond the Pale, 1982 This text, co-written by Bruce Robbins in London, 1982, was first published in Real Life magazine, Summer 1983, pp. 16-17. In the summer of 1982 Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins moved from Ireland where they had been working in collaboration for four years to London where they continued to work. The move from comparative rural isolation to an urban setting afforded the opportunity for questions on their work, the reasons for changing, the nature of collaboration and thoughts on living in Ireland. The following remarks were in answer to such questions.

Partial figures (being partial to parts of figures) abound. Figures that occur as part swift and part powerful haunch, turning haunch and turning hand, hung in flight, swimming fur; figures that occur as part twisted iron, coiled skin, cut wood; figures that arise as arched female of the night, the bending dragon-lady of the day; that are as diagrams from carved stone or curved sky. The objects are useful and unmediated. The animals are familiar and unfamiliar. The women bridge continuity. Drawings gather these into coherence, the space where the winds meet. The winds meet in a classical place where structure is of more interest than style, where there is stillness and contemplation is beyond contempt. The common ground… a particular use of space, a space which is not an illusionistic paint-space but alludes to a painted space, not a pictured space nor a fantastic (dream or nightmare) space nor a fractured (cubist) space. This is established by or combined with particular colour; of light and less light, of transparent seas, one stained light and delicate in appearance but hard and bruised in application, the other, a hard glazed light, dark and somber in appearance but applied with a gentle and bleeding hand. A severed hand… an island is a good place from which to judge distance: how far the American supermarket? How near the continental graveyard? How close Britannia’s empire? Moreover, how far popular expression, how near the nationalistic expression of indulgence, how close the Philistine? An island where far off is overheard the cries of the wounded, the grunts of that mating of the individual to the nation, the lonely sighs of the self-abuser. On this island the severed hand saw and heard all of this yet could move with impunity, and from this hand falls the spawn of internal dialogues, external debates and the conversation between created objects, get which are now abroad. Other generations: the notated eidolon from afar is not prohibited from being contemporary unless it is stolen as an antique. And sentimental time is not important but time to look at the trees and to watch the fire is. Connected with time is a feel for scale and scale is framing which is relational. Birth and death are always the same, never history despite being recorded, always framing, sometimes ostentatious, sometimes hidden… as subject matter gender is a more precise measure than sexuality. Matriarchy and patriarchy determine culture more than fucking ever did.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Collaborations with Bruce Robbins, 1979

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Salmon leaps or Utopian plunge? Steeplechasing from point to point: from razor cut to smudge, open to closed and close to open, titanium to mars, opaque intellect into sensual clarity, from Citroen’s fabled suspension to Cadmus’s sowing the dragon’s teeth. These are workaday oppositions, take-off and landing points from which to make saltatory leaps lacking illusions of continuity. Alternatively, the idealistic plunge replete with diving heroes: romanticism projects a state with the unfortunate belief that it can break free from its own mortal place. And equally all at sea is the materialism that has forgotten its birthright: its heritage of depth in favor of either the flotsam of its objects or the jetsam of its ideas. On offer, classicism… always a prisoner of a state, unfortunate, but none the less true. Turn and turn again, all that’s left is to turn under by fooling with the footing. Beneath the feet of the statue is not only a pedestal but the notion of a real woman inside the cast. In objects more contemporary than statues of the goddess there is still thought to be the nonfictional structure of the world enclosed by or encased in the cube, square and circle. Most recently, it is thought that using identifiable consumer objects and images (whether consumed or consummated) maintains a reality borrowed from those represented goods. This belief in verisimilitude is inherent in literal representation. It is a use of language which is always nonfigurative and a use of figures that are never used figuratively. Things and events in themselves cannot be repossessed; they can only be alluded to for art is a deception not an illusion, a pleasure and not a purchase. And what better way of dealing with deception than by using that which is illusion… Painting, the many husbanded Queen. In 1978 a new and an old world accent repaired to the third world to learn songs of The Internationale in a Pan-Atlantic dialect; that is, the raven and the panther entered into intercourse and interchanged. Shifts of figure and space spinning between equivalence and correspondence are bound to be a proper subject for painting.

Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins Sired in ’82 (Busted), 1990 charcoal on paper, 78 x 106 cm / 30.7 x 41.8 inch


First published in “The ’60s in Abstract: 13 statements and an essay,” Art in America 71 (October 1983) 9, pp. 136-137. On the occasion of the exhibition Abstract Painting: 1960-69 at P.S.1, New York, 1983, Maurice Poirier and Jane Necol interviewed the participating artists. Besides Baer, they were Agnes Martin, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Al Held, Sally Hazelet Drummond, Ralph Humphrey, Marcia Hafif, James Bishop, Will Insely, Lee Lozano, Robert Mangold, Agnes Martin, David Novros, and Doug Ohlson. (Tony Smith, who died in 1980, was also included.) Rather than answering the interviewers’ questions, Baer sent the following text from London.

Modern avant-garde art died in the seventh decade of the 20th century. What began a hundred years before in pats of paint ended in a clutter of performance, pronouncement, photos, memorabilia and smashed utopias. Ironically, it is commonplace to describe this decade as “optimistic.” A cold look at the high art of the ’60s shows instead a deep-set pessimism out of which came works programmed in an intentional flight from history, ethos, and significance. (At the time the high-flying appeared both brave and bold. At this time it seems merely naïve.) The major events of the ’60s were televised elucidations which remain unforgettable – assassinations, race riots, police violations, and that indelible Vietnam from which the committed absurdity and atrocities reverberate still. Phenomena of less consequence were rock concerts, drugs, democratic idealisms, and an enormous single-age group who felt theirs would be the efflorescent domination of the future. The charge of “optimism” for the decade arises from this hide-thick glitterskin which coated the basic events, while beneath the sparkle, an undersurface generated and succored both Pop Art (that banal genre wherein Surrealism became Americanized) and Color Field painting, wherein large scale decorative stains carried the day. Skins and bone were in disjunction. So too the painters and radical sculptors. The radical ambitions of the Minimalist sculptors, which arose from that understanding of the ’50s which eventuated in the ’60s and which their works anticipated, were formed and undertaken before 1963, when the long real nightmare began and everyone’s fears began to come true. (Later, around ’67-’68, some of the seminal artists noted further writings on the wall and promoted their ideas into Concept Art. More of that later.) I am at pains to give this chronology because, while art surely begets art, and a reaction against the expressionistic painters was due, exactly which art would obtain was always another matter. That the Minimalists chose the pre-WWI extreme abstraction of Dutch/German/Russian movements, gives the efficacy of a parallel time when apprehensions of vast, irreversible events were foremost. Not surprisingly, they made changes: the modern sculptors reversed the European idealism into a materialism (a simple case of American metaphys-

ics), and they also forced the former’s mystical absolutes into a mathematical logistics. The result was utopian. The painters strictly associated with the Minimalist movement were Stella, Mangold, and myself. Jasper Johns should also be declared. Johns’s targets, flags, bronzed beer cans, and coat hanger drawings (’58-’60) married subject to object in a model influencing, nolens volens, all who followed. The marked change from Stella’s black paintings to the subsequent metallic ones is probably due to Johns’s example. After the black paintings, Stella’s work of ’60-’64 was unique (if unsung) in its influence. His purple, bronze, and aluminum series were geometricized pictures of sculptures: he painted a gallery of “specific objects” showing others the way before he went on to more colorful fields. Like the object-makers, who came after, Stella had almost no illusions, which is why these paintings are so impeccably correct and why they are so implacably boring. Unlike the Stellas, the Mangolds of around ’66 – the sectional, quartered, halved, pie-shaped ones – are painterly objects which, clearly paintings and clearly objects, remain among the best works of the period. My paintings from ’62-’75 also engaged and occupied a strong position in the dialectic of object versus sleight-of-hand. In part my work was congruent with the sculptors’, especially in their focus on objecthood, then a primary and timely concern. This act of looking long to the nature of the object and into its specific organization stood for a hard look at integrity and the motions of deceit – an inquiry which further projected a quasi-political, visionary stance. But paintings, while objects, are not sculptures: flat and round are different intentions, and painted space is definitive deception. There can be no mark within a painting’s format which does not deceive. The sculptors preferred isometric drawings and fabrication by nonisometric, straightforward measure: instead, I painted my straight edges curved to make them look straight (entasis) preferring an open dialogue of illusion/physicality to simplistic, onedimensional fiat. Even more disrupt, my use of color was disreputable, being neither grisaille, nor unaccompanied nor uniform. Choosing instead color worked in a context – with others or with black and white – I obtained duplicity through color’s standard double-face. In these and other ways my differences with the sculptors were more than esthetic: to face illusion boldly is also an ideological act, for illusion necessarily exists in reality as much as in art. Programmatics, aside, the real challenge in painting was to make poetic objects that would be discrete yet coherent, legible yet dense. Double-dealing, double-edged, the elegant course was through color. Mention of painters in this obituary would be gratuitous but for the differences between painting’s use of illusion and the sculptors’ innocent rejection of it. When in 1966 Judd attacked illusion in painting he neglected to explore or even question its presence in sculpture – their aim was an “objectivity” to be derived from the “making of non-illusionary specific objects” (via numerical concept


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

I am no longer an abstract artist, 1983

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

and a mundane restraint against philosophy’s “secondary properties” – i.e., they used prefabrications, metals, geometric forms, bricks, mirrors, lamps, car paints, uniform colors, etc.). Sculpture’s basic, scandalous fiction went unregarded. All sculptures pretend to contain the real. From the living woman anciently trapped within the marble up through today’s arrangements of discarded plastic bottles and other detritus, sculpture always solicits its importance with or through this illusion of reality. If we allow that any object can become sculpture, to ignore its reciprocal – that any sculpture must be an object vis-à-vis the historical deception inherent in the art – did not continue to serve the Minimalists. Twenty years on, to a new generation lacking the relevant media propaganda, these carefully engineered works have reverted to hollow boxes, playground equipment, end tables, lighting schemes and peculiar dance floors, while questions of set theory, prime number, or serial proportions are replaced by wonder at their presence in museums. A nonillusionistic art, where not impossible, is a nearly meaningless art. Rejecting metaphor, symbolism, and “hierarchical” relations leaves only an organizing principle plus combinative rules to work from. To put 64 bricks in a line on the floor or arrange four light tubes into a square is to attack significance and the world it inhabits. The shock effect of such reduced meaning, however, has a handsome pedigree. The prototype comes from Russian futurist poets and continues, ad nauseum, through the French, so that by 1960, speaking, say, 64 sounds in a line was a cliché. The difference is one of violence: 64 bricks in a line is brutal, as brutal as the time bespoken. What appalls in the ’60s was the pervasive feel of normality. The ’60s attempt at “business as usual” subsumed conflicts and contradictions which deserved 64 bricks through a window, which in part it got. When, toward the end of the decade, the Minimalist sculptors became coopted, their “reduced” works chic and fancied and bought for enormous sums, the tactics of confrontational avant-gardism were over. From this point on, to act as though innocent showdowns could be staged against the ideological weight of the market was tantamount to the belief that a fish can ride a bicycle. The paroxysms of the avant-garde were not pretty. American Concept artists of the late ’60s-’70s made the ultimate reduction and dematerialized the object after the “brutality of the brick” was understood to have failed. In their freedom from forming, most unfortunately remained trite and true to the well established manifestos: they posted 64 cards or telegraphed 64 ontological messages to prove a passage; one photographer arranged 4 sunbeams in a square. Many painters took to exquisite attenuations. Monochromaticists reappeared while Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman were ratified by LeWitt’s evanescent wall drawings (ephemeral paintings of a sort). All these were tailings-off, decorative or clever increments of a further futility. Between the quick and the dead, Concept Art in its mechanical, unrepentant “distantiation” and in its wandering

appetite for meaningful subject matter had buried abstract art and admitted high art figuration. I am no longer an abstract artist. My description of abstraction’s demise is more than a disputatious recounting; it is a conviction I have acted upon. I began painting figuratively in 1975 and since 1978 in a collaboration with an English artist, Bruce Robbins. We have been working to construct a radical figuration which differs considerably from other new figurations recently seen in the galleries and museums. These others have been quick into the breach, the Schnabels, Clementes, Baselitzs, et al., transacting the swing of history’s pendulum – over-scaled, indulgent, loose, fast, gaudy and shallow, they are also traditionally baroque – “individualists who directly address the world painting melodramas or tragi-comedies with eclectic, episodic brio.” The ready reaction of these artists to mannerist Minimalism is part-for-part, so that one doubts the ongoing validity or interest in such painting: symmetrical reversals go as far as their models and can never be radical. To construct a radical figuration is to reject the preeminence of either image or space to correspond to the parity of subject and its locale. This proposition was touched on, picked up, and dropped by the early Cubists. Today, (unseduced by modernism) it wants a nonillustrative approach that puts the emphasis on the glossary of structure rather than on trends towards fable, and a nonexpressionistic manner to avoid tantrums, pandering, and the distractions of matériel. A radical figuration further requires a subject that is akin to myth but not the mythological. Myth is a form of discourse where the subject remains invisible. Where the subject is a retelling or illustration of a mythology, the unit of meaning is closed and therefore inconsistent to discourse. To enhance discourse is to paint and draw in fragment, which is an open adventure; it is having paintings talk (as opposed to talking about parts of others’ paintings). The topology is not complete until the contours and coastlines are arranged upon a coherent surface enforcing a cleaving together of those chosen fragments, split from former contexts and deformed into a new unity of meaning. Twenty years have seen some changes.


Unpublished essay on Ouverture, the inaugural exhibition of the Castello di Rivoli, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Turin, 1984. Baer wrote this text on a “borrowed typewriter from the Looiersgracht,” shortly after arriving in Amsterdam. She was represented in Ouverture with her painting Renvers, and Bruce Robbins displayed his Wing.

If today’s political climate with its continual motions to the right has had any beneficial effects at all, one of them would be its destruction of some rather quaint idealisms relating the artist to the state. By misadventure (or design, perhaps) the covert power of the state to control the arts has recently come into clear view, overriding the aggressive political aesthetics of artists of the ’70s with considered, state-originated aesthetic policies. For the first time in the West since the ’30s, deliberate and visible manipulations can be seen which project preferred audiences and sanction certain kinds of artists (making a change from when the artists, and still in some parts of the world the students, thought they were running things). Along these lines in Southern Europe, December 1984, conservation and the radical met and once again joined, this time in an alpine modern-art-palace where beauty, quality, the elite and the classical, classics of painting and sculpture (but not of classicism) regained their old hegemony and charisma in a superb exhibition mounted in a somewhat recent castle somewhere on the outskirts of Turin, Italy. This event was directed, begged, borrowed, and curated by the 1982 Documenta director Rudi Fuchs and inaugurated the Castello di Rivoli, Italy’s first contemporary art museum. The show remains intact and in place for one year and selected works will be bought from it to begin the Castello’s collection. Given the high art quotient of greater Italy, the words “beauty, quality, classical” in this context are not surprising. Given the city of Turin’s initiating Communist government, these same words bewitch the optimist and fascinate the casual visionary in their implications for one possible future’s shape. Listen to the Assessore alla Cultura della Regione Piemonte: “Rivoli Castle is… planned and pursued as a flight from provincialism or fashion, as a challenge to the merely temporal… to create an Italian museum of modern art… that refuses to glorify the ephemeral…” It is ironic that Fuchs was the chosen instrument for this high cultural policy. At around the same time and in his own Social-Democratic Netherlands, his Dutch compatriots (unexpectedly) declined to appoint him the new director of Amsterdam’s prestigious Stedelijk Museum because of these same high-flying commitments to quality art and exhibitions. During the electioneering he was, in fact, accused of a partiality for beauty, for the artist, for high art and for the high-brow. (Clearly high performance can be high risk these days). The rival appointee, Wim Beeren, lately from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, was voted in in particular contradistinction for his his-

tory of popular, crowd-pulling shows: i.e., Sonsbeek, Holland’s When Attitudes Become Form three years on; large Beuys demonstrations; numerous Graffiti incarnations and other such delectations to the public’s taste. Beeren has also said Pop Art will be a part of his new program, and one can’t speak more plainly than that. Tastes aside, the contrasts between these two men and their intentions are unfortunately less pretentious than portending. Directors who do quality first-class shows know they must also make popular ones (attendance figures do tell tales). Directors who only do popular shows think they’re already doing quality first-class shows (for them attendance figures also tell tales). As everyone knows, the Dutch people regard culture very seriously. Sadly, I doubt that’s the same as art. The perils of Democratic-Socialism aside, what is of particular interest in these continental doings is what might be called a coulisse in time (Thomas Mann’s phrase), a temporal place wherein opposing points of view suddenly slide together to pose clearly as future markers against our present world backdrop of reduced living standards, creeping insolvencies and ubiquitous political moves to the right. The issue is quality. So, what is quality in art? Is art elite? Where or how or even does beauty come into it? What does “classical” mean today and what constitutes a classic? A close-up, hard look at Fuchs’s Italian venture could well supply some of these answers. If Fuchs’s Documenta VII was for many people a German opera– a kind of Wagnerian Putsch – then his Castello di Rivoli show (entitled Ouverture) could be seen as his Italian opus. Fuchs calls it “my Don Giovanni,” a riposte more telling than the immediate chauvinism admits. For the Mozart opera’s libretto is after all a cautionary tale, its moral (denouement) the chilling scene where Don Juan is thrown down to Hell for his promiscuities (i.e., his continuing refusal to discriminate with regard to certain standards. And oh! The good old days when Art was potent: it was the statue, the sculpture-come-to-life wot done ’im). There is little promiscuity in this present Italian production however, and certain standards are certainly kept, even emphasized. Fuchs will not go to Hell for lack of discrimination nor even at the hands of potent artists, for his standards render this show classical – which is not to say minimalist or constructivist or conceptualist or any of the other “cold manners” so often confused with classical – but rather classical in the more correct sense of balanced and of the first rank. (The wider use of the term “classical,” formed in the 17th century, has often been set against “romantic,” a romanticism meaning “extreme,” “excessive,” “asymmetrical” and “wild”). Since a great number of works in the Rivoli show are of an inarguably romantic nature (works by Schnabel, Pistoletto, Rainer, Chia, Clemente, Cucchi, Dahn, De Maria, Immendorf, Kirkeby, etc.), and many others arguably romantic (depending on how romantic you consider


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Castello, 1984

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

a Penck, a Richard Long, a Robert Ryman or for that matter an Oldenburg or even a Lawrence Weiner to be), this show is indeed – including the minimal and conceptual roster–a balanced one. But not all balanced shows can be called classical. Most in fact are called extremely dull (and are chosen fairly by balanced committees, one assumes). So it is the primary meaning “of the first rank” to which we look, and in this case, superiority means a lot of good art in a manifest, productive installation. We are obliged to leave the Castello now to say a few words about “good art.” I have heard it said there is no such thing as “good art” or even “bad art,” there is “only art.” This musky idea is half-assed Victoriana, lazy bull-shit seldom encountered in adult company because when seriously put it eventually depends on an excluding definition of what art is, and I’ve never heard any grownup even think about completing such a definition. In its place today’s accepted proposition – Duchamp’s “anything any artist says is art is art” – cannot be seriously challenged, if only for reasons of parsimony and a respect for future imponderables. Now if anything can be art, no longer does the decorated ceiling, the painted altarpiece, the monumental statue or any other specific object or activity define it. Modern art has become and is now an abstract position projecting a preferential, prescriptive, evaluating mechanism par excellence. For once the rule “anything can be art” is granted, its corollary differentiating mode must come into existence: genetic demands of information, language, and physiology require it. So we have – nolens volens – good art, bad art, art “I like,” indifferent art, high art, that weedy perennial – kitsch – being a deliberate and self-conscious bad art, etc. To indulge an additional paragraph on bad art (because there’s so much of it), I’ve found each country I’ve lived in has a characteristic brand of it, not too surprising once it’s realized that bad art almost always depends on some kind of indigenous unconscious wish or nostalgia. In Ireland, for instance, one saw masses of gentle landscapes – paintings of the quiet, soft Irish countryside. What charming souvenirs of that pleasant, low-skied land whose rolling green contours have contained, still give rise to, and have witnessed more red bloodletting, bad blood, bloodthirstiness, bloodcurdlings, flood-drenched bloodymindedness, blood-feuds and fuckings of blood relations than nearly any other pasture in history. Or take the present bad painting in NYC playing the fool: dumb, simple-minded, mechanical. Behind it one senses a nostalgic longing for that familiar celluloid never-life – when kids could be kids – a time of “no culture” predating any necessity for sophisticated moral commitments on nuclear, military or show-biz politics. Back to Europe and in Amsterdam (my new home town) I’ve noticed an abundance of awful paintings of a kind which I take to be aboriginal Dutch. These paintings are exceedingly colored, sort of segmented, tight, patterned, always centered, palette-knifed semi-abstract figures gaily bursting from boards on boats and as signs and baby bill-

boards on buildings, bopping in museums and baying from gallery and shop windows. If the nostalgia in this badness isn’t simply for recycled Karel Appel or other Cobras, perhaps the very large range of freedoms granted now in Holland triggers memories of more state strictures and something rougher and more colorful to live in than this paradise of pure, permissive consumption which the Dutch have managed to create. England had the worst bad art I’d ever seen, so bad in fact one feels their wish to kill art dead and be done with it. They have, I suspect, very nearly managed it. Had I lived in more countries I could no doubt find more flowers particular to each garden. If a wishful nostalgia is the operative force of bad art, what then is good art’s special characteristic? On reflection, its most striking and important quality appears to be its loud and clear voice. It speaks to a purpose with an intention to say, to ask, to propose, to state, to wonder. This art-speaking is never a direct message, however, nor is it the purported subject or the content of a piece. Rather, it is its raison d’être –a pervasive structural necessity built into the work itself from its very beginnings, a sort of gathering up of mute qualities so organized they suddenly speak and transcend their own silent origins. When art lacks this voice we call it decorative; when there is a voicing but of the literal, unmediated variety it is propaganda; highly exaggerated expressiveness is most often art of the insane, while works with voices in the normal register which we hear but can’t begin to parse are ones such as primitive masterpieces. Imitators make a sterile jumble of things because they fail to notice any voice at all (i.e., the intention of the work), reproducing only its outward appearance, while derivative artists – all those good second-raters – do get, then carry, someone else’s message, only damping it down to add in their own, well-modulated voices. Now the usual good art show will have a lot of good art – speaking-pieces – in it. Castello di Rivoli has that. A great art show, however, is one where the good art (the numerous good works) are so placed and organized that they become super-articulate and no longer blow only their own horns but also take part in duets and dialogues where they engage in argument-bantering and playing (in visual ensemble) programs symphonic, chambered, top-twentied, even brass-banded. The Castello di Rivoli is mostly like that from room to room, work to work, wall to wall, artist to movements, country to country, times to times. This recital of metaphoric/metaphonic tintinnabulations should not go unchallenged by example, however. Picture a room on whose four walls hang four Gilbert and George photo-mosaics, red and black, floor to ceiling. In the center of the room is a Judd blond, square, wood box, open-topped with a false bottom mid-way down its depth. On the walls the Gilbert and George figures pose in four separate melodramas, their theatrical postures – a trademark since their early days – both expected and usual. Surrounding the Judd, however, they immediately make clear the peculiarly American, the-


up the immense distance between this inside and that outside and exaggerating the brutality of the imported randomness hidden in Long’s format of romantic nature in his usual souvenir presentations. The checker-board floor also emphasizes the circle – sign of early sociality and culture – set now against this floor’s advanced, baroque, high artifice. Due to this setting, Long’s work for the first time has been made to seem more than just romantic whimsy for me. There are two other large, circular sculptures in the Castello, each as different from one another as from the Long, and their differences also provoke insight. Updated Surrealism lives in one large, splendid central room where Mario Merz contributes an enormous black spiral of 25 or so curved, abutting end-tables, each one dressed with its own tall-stemmed, crystal goblet plus hangings and some neon on the walls. Down the way in still another room, an interesting contrast – foil almost – for Merz’s very European work exists in the American Bruce Nauman’s large, low, cast-metal ring of segments – a circle which sort of rises up to hover mysteriously over its own interior shadow on the floor. In respect to each work’s genetic background it is well known that Surrealism is a particularly European form which was never tenable in the New World because Surrealism needs the comprehendable, traditional and cleanly jointed societies of Europe for its disjunctions to be read. Merz’s mechanical (i.e., analyzable) compendiums – native to Turin – read as well as any. On the other hand the Nauman, as with much of the best American art, deals with complexity rather than complication: with submerged dynamics, not with mechanism. Because the gigantic scale and immense mobilities in the Americas provide their own surreality – disjunctions and absurdities a priori – it is not possible for any artist working there to understand much, never mind to shock or dislocate the ideas or objects more than the already present reality does. So instead of European logistic with its slippery magics, in America objects of a sort of inexplicable, seamless immanence are made. Nauman’s circle, which has a kind of self-devouring, imploding activity about it, reads as true as any. The more I write about it, if I liked sculpture at all, I’d probably like that one. All the talk so far has been of sculptures which here appear far more vocal, more telling in their meanings than in any other installations I’ve seen them in before. Usually I think sculpture is precisely as Ad Reinhardt described it.1 Perhaps, aside from the show’s intertextual and intervocal relations, a certain part of this additional access to meaning is due to the building itself, which gives the works their own intimate spaces – their own rooms – at the same time challenging their meaning level through the thrust of architectural, decorative contrasts. (Italian baroque is very tacky and it is this sweet seediness, this sort of gaudy, meaningless looseness which so suits the modern art. One cannot imagine the same sculpture thriving in a comparable French baroquerry.) Another possible reason for the unseasonable loquaciousness of


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

atrical posture of his work: that blank, flat, homely, mid-western deadpan now shows as affected, stock and theatrical as any other good play of manners. It is not the rude sculpture he so wishes for and wrote of (nor are the G and Gs, for that matter). Both share an elegance and the vigor of the square – flat or in space – which helps make them “art,” but due to their juxtaposition, both also (unexpectedly) indulge a profoundly, nationally specific image. In this room one can suddenly see why Brits and Yanks so seldom like one another personally. On the four hands the English with their traditional hatred of “making scenes” making scenes – brittle, hot, florid, literary. And in the center the American expressing that well known Gary-Coopering love of the great unsaid: naïve, modest, honorable, cool – a surface stance hiding concepts knowingly but unadmittedly appropriated from the most sophisticated European sources. Here the American hides a paucity – the lack of cultural history – by denying history itself; while the British histrionics hide their hiding of that nasty English paucity, their lack of fellow-feeling (bar class or patriotic folderol). So, though both sides of the Atlantic express a concern over lack and with faulty expressions, the actual subject for each is quite different and is neither opposite, complimentary, nor even competitive but simply at cross tangent, with little to do with the other beyond each one’s apparent hypocrisy. In politics and spy stories they call this the “special relationship.” A different relationship in another room, where the square is far from being adventitious and is in fact so special it is nearly the only subject. Here one finds Carl Andre’s large square, gray steel plates in the middle of a floor with Marisa Merz’s numerous, small-mesh copper squares stretched, tacked, and sometimes layered on two of the room’s adjoining walls. Between floor and wall the only subject appears to be the visual one of contrast and mutuality. The effect is smashing, however, and although I doubt the value of Merz’s very beautiful but fragile wall-work outside of this particular context (which is possibly intended), an Andre will seldom be seen to better advantage. If your involvement with art is of the “beautiful experience” sort, then this room is for you. For a person of some few years like myself, however, it is also provocative to see and realize how two decades can change the most radical art of its time –Andre’s single file of bricks for instance, which sabotaged every other sculpture in the Primary Structures show of 1966 – into a mute artifact, a sort of lovely carpet of “beautiful experience.” Still pursuing the right angle we can find Richard Long’s large stone circle directly downstairs in a high chambered room. The circle is set on a floor of black and white marble rectangles. Unlike Long’s usual installations on wood, concrete or other visually discreet surfaces (where his accretions read like bits of stolen or misplaced nature), this floor’s intense black and white stone parquetry plays its highly artificial geometry – the right angle never appears in nature – against the ragged natural edges of piled rock, so pointing

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

these particular dumb objects is the deliberate siting of them in rooms with a view, which straddles one of contemporary sculpture’s greatest problems. Most of these works are too insignificant, too “inside” to live easily “outside,” yet inside they must often waste their discursive time in not being furniture, that is, in using their spaces in competition with either other sculptures or other objects, thus reducing their capacity to render, say, a painting’s higher level of discourse. With views of the out-of-doors now available, this intermediate siting admits in a nice, controlled bit of the “natural” world, allowing the sculptures an infrequent dignity by permitting them to appear to be some part of it for a change (instead of being isolated as peculiar dance floors, displaced tombstones, bad-joke tables or monstrous columns). It is interesting that one of the two installations I found wrong in the show was the Rückriem. His truly beautiful piece of work is installed in museum, minimalist fashion unlike anything else in the show or building. There are blank, empty white plaster walls around and behind three sides of the piece, which is a low, stepped-stone carving with a longitudinal band of natural red color running through it. It’s a very dramatic (if one-viewed) stone throne, and there are some Richter paintings on the adjoining walls in front of it, that is, between oneself, the Rückriem and the windows. (These facing, flanking paintings–bunches of green bandings – also effect a fairly happy consanguinity with the sculpture). But the paintings’ interruption and interference with the window view loses the richness of context otherwise possible for the sculpture and throws the piece entirely on to its own resources. Too bad. Like most minimal art in such circumstances, it becomes attenuated and trivial, for both sculpture and paintings have been reduced to decorative salon art (quite different from one of Rückriem’s outdoor works I’ve seen on a German college pathway, where it performs a dual function as art and friendly bulletin board). The decoration of the building also affects some of the paintings in the show and I will get to them shortly. But first I think a look at the Castello itself, its views and siting, is in order because the place is unique: it recollects a modern Xanadu of the West, a kind of art park or art-Disneyland for adults. Doubtless with this function in mind and while restoring the building, the architects tucked in a cantilevered perspex viewing platform amongst the rooftops so that the intrepid, non-agoraphobic can also venture forth to enjoy breathtaking views on three sides of the Ligurian, Maritime and French Alps. This encompassing panorama is natural yet at the same time it is another aesthetic package, an art-derived fantasy of landscape where Alps like the sharp-edged mountains familiar from Chinese painting are set and interrupted by a Japanese art’s mists and conifers. Around the corner the building has, of course, a fourth, unemphasized view which looks out towards the Po. It is a clear scape of a Rivoli suburb and beyond (footnoted by a Medieval church and tiny stone village still clinging to the hillside directly

below the Castello), providing ample witness of the ubiquity of urban sprawl which still pays for and supports the other, superb views from the top. A rather nasty sight but no surprise, and to quote the wise professor from a current bad novel: “There are many languages on this planet. Many frontiers. But in my experience only two nations.” We must conjure now with the “elite” – the view from the top – and remember that although both local patricians and plebs pay for and enjoy the Castello di Rivoli, the travelers from elsewhere will be “haves” only – Turin’s not exactly on the way to anywhere else. (The old professor’s homily could do with an intermediating, third estate – the cognescenti, who will share statistics as audience with those others rich enough to travel especially to Rivoli to experience the art). But let us look beyond this obvious rendering of audience. The matter of art and elitism occasions some far more interesting particulars and speculations. For instance why, beyond this tautology, is the best art elite? As the word “elite” comes to us via 18th century French – “the pick” – out of the Latin verb “to elect,” from this little history one can thereby see “elite’s” original connection to both politics and religion (one can be elected to Heaven as well as to a ruling class) and also see its later, aesthetic association. For all art has always been made of worth and choices – is about value, that is – even before its present, complete restriction to the market place. By value one means, here, both a how-muchness and a hierarchy of qualities, both a situating of priorities and an evaluating capacity in action. This picking and choosing process, art’s primeval function, its original task of ordering, selecting and placing can create – through judicious proportion or color or other sights, sound, tempi, etc. – productions which may then (mysteriously) transpose observers and partakers to higher spiritual planes. Until modern times these acts of upwards transposition were always confederated with the sacred: with the church, the rite or the ruler whose powers reinforced (if not employed) this elevating faculty, this peculiar ability to transform, to change, to slide, to wrench, in a word – to move participants into the sublime. A generic human activity, it is high art’s inestimable worth, and to speculate with Plato and even to agree with Aristotle, perhaps the basic process imitates by shadow play some ideal molecular sublime encoded on the cave-walls of our brains. Outside of agreement or speculation, however, this action of good art is also thoroughly real and is certainly elite. Feel this in the Greek and Roman Parthenons’ proportions, hear it in the Athenian tragedies, sense the flow and share identity with aurochs, horse or bison in the caves, march with Hammurabi, die with the pharaohs or with the wounded Assyrian lioness, contemplate with the Buddhas and regard their Mayan opposites, ascend, rise up, up China’s painted mountains, hear Pan in Bach’s flutes and the voices of God in various Dies Irae and read of your condition (very human) from Homer through Rabelais and


Note 1. It’s something you trip over when you stand back to look a painting.

Jo Baer interviewed by Barbara Flynn, 1987 Previously unpublished interview with Barbara Flynn, Amsterdam, January 23, 1987. The exhibition at the Castello di Rivoli that Baer refers to in the interview is Ouverture, the inaugural exhibition, 1984. Paintings from the Past Decade 1975-1985, Baer’s exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, took place in 1986. An untitled 1964 painting by Baer was loaned to the US ambassador’s residence in Budapest from July 1968 until February or October 1969 by the Museum of Modern Art’s Art in Embassies Program. Established by MoMA’s International Council in 1960, the program was superseded by a similar project set up by the US Department of State in 1970.

The flag colors in the painting Red, White and Blue Gelding Falling to its Right suggest political content. I’m of the opinion that if you wish to be political you can do so in a direct way – work for political parties, work in the streets or anything you want. In art I think that one can make political allusions, but I don’t think it’s good to make them straightforward. That’s propaganda. When I use flag colors I’m really alluding to national characters. All the big countries with red, white and blue flags are democracies. France, America, Britain, Holland – it’s peculiar. It’s nice, neat, true color. And working with it, I find that it floats. Do you mean that it floats visually? Yes, it comes forward. It’s very amorphous compared to the red, black, and yellow of Germany and Belgium, or Ireland’s white, orange, and green, which are very dense and specific. I think nations play a part in selecting their colors. I don’t think they adopt them randomly. What’s neater than red, white, and blue? People feel good about these colors. They just fit. It’s the good guys. I can’t make a scientific statement here, but behind all of this is my superstition that what works or is true in a painting is also true in life. I use paintings to find out about things – how things work, what they are like. As I’m working with those sets of colors, the combination of red, white, and blue floats. It can’t be nailed down – just like a liberal democracy. Whereas the combination of red, black, and yellow sits there hard. They have to. Now I have learned something, and I can take it back to the political arena if I choose. The people who chose these colors can’t have been aware of these implications. Of course not. These things are all very subconscious. The British flag is the only one with a double cross, which seems very appropriate. I’m going to subtitle the Red, White and Blue Gelding painting “Double-Cross Britannicus / Tri-Color Hibernicus.” Where does the expression come from: “to cross and cross again?” Treachery. Now, if you want to call that political, fine. Or social research.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Quixote to Faust all with your neck-hairs (if not your spiritual level) raised up. Remember? High art is about all of that (and if lovers are never democratic, how then could art be?).

Why approach that kind of content? Because I’m interested in the differences in people and their ways. I’m not living in my native country, and I’m trying to deal with the strangenesses. I don’t understand why the Dutch people are one way, the English another, and the Irish another. Whenever you compare differences you have information. You don’t have any information if it’s all the same.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Is this one of the reasons why you left the States? Did you come to Europe knowing you wanted to make a different kind of work? Did you have to be away to do that? Yes. I felt that what I was doing – abstract painting – was finished as an inventive thing. You can go on refining it for many years, but I think its meaning is becoming more and more attenuated. I wish to work with more meaning. Since you’ve been abroad you’ve felt comfortable in certain places like Ireland, whereas here in Holland I have the impression that you’re feeling unassimilated, sort of homeless. Very much. The Dutch are very interesting. I don’t think they’ve changed in three hundred years. They have made a policy of opening the country to foreigners, but they don’t want to talk to them. They are not a generous people, but they’re exceedingly generous in their laws. They spend a lot of money on social legislation, but in person they’re rather mean-spirited. They don’t give to each other, never mind to strangers. It’s a small country that’s rather tribal. Ireland is small and tribal, but it’s used to strangers. It’s also very poor, and poor people are different from rich people. So, being here in Holland doesn’t really help your work. Well, it makes me angry, but anger is not a bad thing to work from. I’ve been having such pleasure titling this next painting, which I think of as Holland and Belgium. It’s called “Secret Chauvinism.” The Dutch are secret chauvinists. They never brag about their country, but they’re convinced that there’s no place or other people in the world who compare to them. Belgians, of course, are another thing altogether. I don’t dislike the Dutch; I just can’t relate to them very well. Their ideas of art are terrible relative to their ideas of social engineering, which are marvelous. They have no concept of quality, so that leaves somebody like me in a great deal of trouble. They don’t like contemporary art. They like culture. They have marvelous old music and things like that. They value any art of the past. Rembrandt had a problem with them also. It’s nothing new. As I understand it, you use flag colors to direct attention to the political realm, to point out the pervasiveness of politics and the relationships among countries. Not to touch on it in the paintings would be making art that is out of touch, not at all topical.

I have ideas of life and death and things like that. There are cultures and nations that are about life in death and death in life – I find these contrasts. Right now in the painting I’m using the architecture of ancient Crete and Egypt because I’ve discovered that their architecture and theology are upside down to each other, and also complementary. In Crete, columns were shaped like trees – bigger at the top. They did this curious thing of including the leaves with the column. Mythologically and archaeologically the Cretans were great ones for hanging things like fertility dolls from their trees. So, it’s a hanging thing, like a crucifixion, and it’s associated with snakes. By contrast, all the Cretan goddesses stand with big skirts – they’re wide at the bottom. At the same time the Egyptians were building A-shaped architecture, the opposite of a crucifix, and their gods were getting bigger and bigger at the head. They wore big headdresses ornamented with birds and jackals and whatnot. Their architecture’s inverse formal relation to their figures is opposite to the Cretans’, who lived at the same time. Now, Egypt was the land of death and dying. Crete was certainly the land of life. What do those things mean? Do they have political implications? I’m going to test it on modern countries. I can do it with France and Germany, another set of cultures. The more authoritarian countries are Egyptian in some way, and the red, white, and blue countries are societies like Crete. I can’t speak of left or right, exactly, but I can speak of liberal or authoritarian. To make a political comment you’d probably have to be intent on depicting something in a very clear fashion. But that’s propaganda. These are structural things which I haven’t seen anyone else even notice. Incidentally, Egypt and Crete were neighbors in Mediterranean waters. They were competitors. There are bad neighbors and good neighbors, so I’m using that and bringing it into modern times. Holland and Belgium share a border, and so do France and Germany. I’m talking about nations, cultural groups and the competition. And that it’s timeless. Yes. And that neighboring countries always seem to co-exist along these lines. What are the chances of someone making the connection to a historical model just by looking at these paintings? I don’t think they can. So, finding that link is not part of what you expect or what the experience has to be? It’s there, but I don’t expect it. I think work should appeal in many layers and levels. I wouldn’t want to impose a particular meaning on it. It’s just my experience that if a thing is right, it’s right for a great


If you were trying to make a clear political statement, which you’re not, the drawing would be different. I’m interested in the way you’re rendering forms. They’re often faint and sometimes broken. Why do you make forms that open onto other forms? For various reasons. Often it’s a question of not allowing any form to dominate. There are different ways to achieve this. You can introduce the form as a fragment or you can open it up so that it won’t hold the field, so that it relates to its ground or to the adjacent form. There are many ways of doing that: you can make it transparent, you can make it open, you can take the color outside it, space inside. Those are technical things, but they’re all useful in trying to keep any one form from being illustrative or dominant while allowing it to remain legible. I try to keep it recognizable without closing it down into “there it is only,” which is what always happens when we picture something. The aim is to keep the image fluid and relate it to other images. Now this was picked up at the beginning of the Cubist period and dropped again, because it’s very difficult to do. You mean technically difficult to make a picture work? Yes. One that holds together using a number of different forms. The Cubists abandoned it in favor of style, but I’ve picked it up again. I’m using whatever I can get my hands on, whether it’s color or surface – whatever looks right. The effect it has on me is to keep my eye roving around the painting, trying to get deeper into it and understand it on various levels. It’s not easy to grasp. Why should it be? In fine art, you should be able to look and look again for a long time. You should be able to find interesting things that say different kinds of things. Something interesting that has meaning. In the image of the falling gelding, is the horse out of control? The horse is about to fall over. I discovered an old book called The Reforming of Dangerous and Useless Horses that features page after page of horses that cow-kick, fall over backwards, bite, and what to do about these problems. I became fascinated because these horses were treated as criminals, real rogues. Criminal animals? Yes. Outlaws. The illustrations are tiny photographs from the 1920s or something like that. I’ve made outlines of those images. I particularly like that specific image because it gives a good view of the horse’s belly. You very seldom see the underside of a horse. I like the fact that the sheath is visible and the whole underside of the horse.

It’s like the views of female forms I use – they aren’t the ones you normally see in paintings. I’m tired of reclining models and horses shown standing on four feet. Why not look at the belly of the horse and how it works? I also like the idea of the animal falling. Politically, falling to its right speaks of Thatcherite England falling to its right. Especially relative to Ireland, England will always fall to its right. Marx said that England would be troubled until it solves its Irish problem. I made a connection between the horse and the seated female torso on the lower right. They come into mind at the same time. Yes, because people sit on horses. There’s also the underside of a saddle depicted in the painting. A saddle’s shape is one way to a horse and another way to a rider. It’s a mediating layer. The shapes in the painting really mount. I chose them for this. When is a horse’s belly a woman’s knees? Our image flow is constantly changing. The shapes of things flow into one another all the time. You can’t really grasp them, but for a minute this is related to that. And then it’s gone. But, in fact, it is related to that. And then it’s gone. It’s a comment on reality. In the drawing Love and Money, with the pair of images of horses and coins, I keep thinking about the two faces of the coins. I feel that there’s a relation between the symmetry of the pair of horses and the flipping of the coins. I chose them as contrasts, actually. I was working with a biological phenomenon that occurs in some mammals: they become symmetrical when they’re in love – not when they’re sexual, but when they love each other. For a while they parade around in totally symmetrical ways. So, it’s an expression of love. The coins’ symbolic value has nothing to do with love – it’s a non sequitur. Feeling. No feeling. No. It’s something that’s put up in between. Money is an abstraction. It’s a metal thing. It’s the opposite of the organic. It’s another force altogether, and it’s asymmetrical. A piece of paper for a pair of shoes: can you think of anything more unnatural? Money is ridiculous. You labor and get a piece of metal that has a horse’s image on one side and a face on the other in an attempt, perhaps, to make it convincing. Think of the centuries of propaganda that went into convincing people to use coins. It was Alexander’s head, so people trusted it. A great deal of propaganda and thousands of years of saying “look” – actually because it’s gold and silver. So it’s also using money as an organized… Social phenomenon. Yes, but life is a social phenomenon. Again, I’m contrasting the two – how could they be so different? Real love amongst horses – suddenly it happens, and there’s no separating them until they decide to part. Very peculiar. You wouldn’t get any


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

many occasions and for a great many people. That’s a superstition, incidentally. It’s not necessarily true, but I would like to think that it’s true.

money there. Rats do it, too. I’m trying to get pictures of this behavior in rats, but it’s a little harder. People aren’t terribly interested in rats in love. I think drawings are different from paintings. A drawing is fast and, to me, almost thoroughly conceptual. You can see an idea in a drawing more clearly than you can in a painting, but I don’t think the drawings are very interesting. I’ve made them into little paintings with color to make them a bit more interesting for myself.

But he’s not saying it very much. He’ll say it in about five paintings and then he’ll go off to something else. That’s right. When I was on my way to the Castello di Rivoli in Turin to hang a painting, I took a taxi with Ulrich Rückriem. Neither of us had seen the show. He refused have his work in the same room as the Polkes. None of the sculptors wanted to be in that room because the Polkes were soft and they subverted the hardness of the sculpture.

Do you see connections between the paintings that you are making now and the earlier abstract paintings, or do you feel that this was a complete change, technically as well as in terms of subject? I certainly brought a great deal of knowledge from one to the other. You would know those were my paintings, more or less, if you knew my old work well – the way color is used, line, how the forms work.

Did Rückriem say that explicitly? No, he didn’t say a word. No sculptor would. As soon as I saw the paintings I was terribly amused. Polke is a trickster and a marvelous artist. I find him very interesting, but he isn’t doing what I’m doing. I’m pleased to see that he’s taking on what could be troublesome for me. He’s saying it’s okay even for men to paint soft. So then I’m all right. Soft painting is certainly disliked by people who were brought up from macho expressionism.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

So, the way a color is used rather than the particular color or colors? I don’t care about particular colors. Any color’s just as good as any other. I like them all. What about your use of muted color? I don’t particularly like it, but I have to use muted color to get from one image to another, without having anything too dominant. You can use bits of vibrant color, but the minute you use it in large areas, you’re stuck with using all bright colors, and then you have no color. Then the color cancels and it’s the drawing that counts. It’s really a question of using as much color as I can, to get from one place to another and stay relatively flat, without cutting into space and perspective and all kinds of old-masterish things. But these are very difficult shifts. Your eye will be attracted to the brightest or the darkest colors, and so you have to be very careful how you use them, because you want to preserve the integrity of the whole painting surface. At the Venice Biennale I saw works by Polke that reminded me of your palette and even your application of paint. To me this was an interesting coincidence, and since then I’ve seen a couple of other paintings like that. It’s possible that it’s a reaction against hard abstraction. Artists are allowing themselves to create soft appearances without thinking that it’s degenerate or effeminate. I took a very big chance in that sense, particularly when I was first starting to work in a soft way. I was told that I was a very feminine artist. It’s practically inevitable that a female artist who works soft will be told that she has made feminine paintings. It happened to me in a billion places. But my early work, which was very hard, very bold, and very masculine, quote unquote, protected me from charges of being some slender, fluffy thing. I think Polke does mean to be more feminine in what he’s doing. I think he’s saying it’s okay to be soft.

What is your relation to your colleagues in Europe? Are you working now in a kind of context? I met Penck, who unfortunately was introduced to me as Ralph Winkler, and so I didn’t make the association right away. He clicked his heels and gave me a little bow, but I didn’t know it was Penck until later, and then I went to talk to him. I haven’t met many of the others except in Turin for that exhibition. They were with Michael Werner. Konni Fischer’s people were there too, and they were all there snarling at each other. All these Germans with their shaved heads, their leather and gold and their American cowboy boots. They’re my age, a lot of them, having this delayed macho, menopausal adolescence. So your coming to Europe didn’t have anything to do with wanting to embrace another kind of art. Or, you’ve not had much contact. I’d love to have contact, but I can’t seem to. No one will deal with me for whatever reasons. But yes, coming to Europe and staying in Europe has very much to do with what I wish to do in work. I think that in New York there is always very strong pressure to do a certain kind of art, and I don’t like the art that I see there. It’s meant to be dumb, and there’s nothing more stupid than bright people trying to be dumb. It’s been going on for ten years. Marcia Tucker’s comic book shit and all the rest of it… Here at least you’re allowed to stay as smart as you are. There’s a very deep cultural background here that I can explore any time I want. And even in Amsterdam, one side of the city is totally different from the other side. There are real differences, whereas in the States there’s a very homogeneous quality. You have twenty-six choices all the same, so to speak. Here I’m still finding the degrees of architecture, culture… I don’t like it personally, but I’m using it. I like that it’s necessary. So, yes, I’m in Europe because I think the environment for art is better.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 The Old Year, 1974-1975 oil on canvas, 122 x 152.5 x 10.5 cm / 48 x 60 x 4 inch collection of the artist


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Cleaving (Apart/Together), 1979 oil on canvas, 213.5 x 152.5 cm / 84 x 60 inch collection of the artist

Turning (Into/About), 1978 oil on canvas, 213.5 x 152.5 cm / 84 x 60 inch collection of the artist

Facing (Towards/Away), 1977 oil on canvas, 213.5 x 152.5 cm / 84 x 60 inch collection of the artist


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 Demi-Pirouette (Half Turn on the Haunches), 1981 oil on canvas, 244 x 183 cm / 96 x 71 inch collection Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Love and Money (for Henry), 1984 one from a series of five drawings, contĂŠ crayon on paper, 76.5 x 114.3 cm / 30.1 x 45 inch collection of Nicolas Logsdail, London


But for you there are different problems. What was it like living in Ireland? I loved it, but I can’t go back. Ireland gave me the room to make up my own mind. People there knew me as Mrs. Wesley, so I was quite free, and nobody was allowed in my studio. I was free to do a lot of bad paintings and to try things, which was great. I think the work I did there is very Irish. In what way? It’s rural, I think. As I said, I find I’m angry in the city. Since I moved to England and now here, the work has changed. There’s less of it, first of all. But aside from that, I’m using somewhat darker, slightly heavier color, and it’s more ambitious. I’m more cut off from my surroundings. I’m not leading as nice a life. I’ve got work to do, that’s all. I work and mutter to myself. Whereas in the Irish countryside there’s magic and madness, a peculiar enchantment that’s totally different from anywhere else. How are we doing? Have you got about fourteen more questions? I’ve felt that the works of the last few years aren’t strictly figurative, that this distinction doesn’t really apply to them. Some of the work that I see among the younger artists in New York is also consciously straddling the line between abstraction and figuration. To me, it seems to have become gimmicky. The year before I went to Ireland I asked myself, “Why am I an abstract artist, finally? What is a figurative artist?” I’d been looking at Scientific American or National Geographic and had come upon the cave paintings. Never mind the beautiful horses and bulls and whatnot, what I discovered were the abstract symbols in the caves. All through the whole place – and as old as art – there are these funny signs. I started messing with them originally because they did seem to bridge abstraction. I did some research and discovered that they’re not abstract: they’re counting signs, calendar signs. This midway thing between abstraction and figuration has always had a meaning, and you can find it. It’s built in. It’s like poetry. If the poet says “thrush” he means “springtime.” If he says “robin,” it’s Christmas. He doesn’t simply say “pretty bird.” The language is very specific. In the painting called The Old Year, I took one of those signs and really began to work it. That’s when I gave up abstraction as an intellectual pursuit. Reinhardt and Rothko once wrote to the New York Times to say that there’s no such thing as abstract art. All so-called abstract artists always have a tissue of meaning. I always did. I knew very well what I meant. I meant layers. I meant boundaries. I meant

very specific things, always. But either by taking it into the figurative or to that midway point – the works can mean something even more specific that somebody wishes to put forth. In other words, since you were always referring to something anyway, you decided to stop making works that look stringently abstract? I wanted to be more specific and to include more information. I wanted to include more images, really – to talk to more people. I wanted to be able to range around and deal with any kind of subject. I got tired of being in a very restrictive situation. I could have developed it into a baroque mode. I started to. Some of my very last abstract paintings began to break up the structure and become more ornate. I think most of my contemporaries became decorative. They began to take their own work and decorate it. But, really, I wanted more subject matter and more meaning. There was an awful lot going on in the world, and I didn’t just want to sit there and draw straight lines. I was bored with what I was doing. Why couldn’t I do more? I was talking to a Dutch museum director at the Kiefer opening in the Stedelijk and mentioned that I was working figuratively and had had a show in the Van Abbemuseum that no one saw. He said, “I saw it. Pfft! You sold out. You betrayed everything. You and Jenny Holzer with her green light. We loved the beautiful work you once did and we understood it.” He went on like that and I started to laugh, because these nice, discreet ladies are suddenly out in the world, and they’re not being so discreet. She’s got a green light and this one – me – is sexual. But there it was: somebody who knew all about abstract art and why didn’t I stay abstract because people like him loved my work. It’s a reaction that you’ve gotten a lot, right? Never quite like that. I answered it immediately. I found it funny. I wasn’t even angry. I meant it when I told him I’m glad not to be working for people like him anymore. Charles Saatchi wouldn’t buy my work because he said it was sexual. Now when I see Saatchi putting on shows that are only twenty years late and his pronouncements as to who’s important and who isn’t, I’m very pleased not to be associated with him. Nor with the CIA’s program of sending art abroad. Was that part of your decision to work with images? Yes. To make the work unavailable for the likes of those. I found out that a painting I loaned the Modern to put in the US embassy in Budapest was intended by the CIA to prove how free Americans can be. I find that terribly disturbing. I don’t think they’ll ever use any of the recent pictures that way. They won’t use me for propaganda again. The Dutch museum director also said that I had terrible personal problems.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

I now have the most enormous respect for Picasso and other great European artists because the sense of tradition here is so deep and so strong that you have to be very convinced and very talented to break from it.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

He deduced that from the paintings? Yes. He had no idea about the work’s sources and decided that I was painting out my severe sexual problems. I’ve heard that in England lots of times also. Nice girls from Oxford, Guardian readers, with “Support the Miners” badges pinned to their tweeds, who say, “Your work is despicable. There’s nothing there and it’s full of sex.” Which is marvelous. They’re good liberals. I dislike them thoroughly. I mean to be just rude enough to offend exactly those people. And I do. It’s very nice.


Red, White and Blue Gelding Falling to its Right (Double-Cross Britannicus/Hibernicus), 1988

Jo Baer

In Godes minna mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the minan willon imo ce scadhen werhen. Pro Deo amur an Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit

Might not paintings map sophisticated surveys of situations and states? Maps portray extension (a property of matter by which it occupies a space). This painting surveys elements through diagonals: via severed neck to sundered head, and from spiky grasses up to green leaves, or, following a shorter circuit, from red sheath to three-fold ensign; through horizontals spread across the middle as equatorial bandages; by verticals reiterated through the middle, the axes around which figured curves revolve. Maps also render place. From fictive intersections of the vertical and the horizontal, locations are given: a point, a site, more peculiarly a cross. (Though we could say, instead, “x marks the spot” – a sign, the criss-cross – which stands as well for “10,” an “unknown quantity,” or even “danger”... crux of idiosyncrasy). Immediate, static marks these spoor signify mostly through symbolic, special histories. In the broadest sense, however, maps describe entities and their limits. Such forms, manifested as nations, are of ‘special interest’ here, for their consequent contacts and contiguities – a mainstay of topography – become more interesting still: due to shared boundaries, all geographical neighbors (both earthen and painted) are necessarily caught in a reciprocating, mutual bondage. Obligatory interactions, these bindings spawn diverse conjunctions, each specific to its own circumstance. One combination, mated principally by geophysics, is Britain and Ireland. Both dissimilar and unequal, theirs is an association of parts in a union which is, thereby, adversarial. Encompassed yet opposed neighbors, unavoidable transactions and crossings essential to both exacerbate the differences between them. These in turn effect automatic, constant distrust increasing mutual suspicions of betrayal. Back and forth, criss and cross again, over time and in a bounded space mark the double-cross. Is it an irony the flag of Britain is so made? (British Imperialism: cross-breed Roman procedures with Saxon ways and eventually reap a policy which is a “classic example of that kind of insincerity in both foreign and domestic affairs which pretends to aspire to peace but unerringly generates war; a policy of continual preparation for war; a policy of meddlesome interventionism. As this is neither a warrior nation, nor a military despotism, nor on aristocracy of specifically military orientation there is only one way to an understanding: scrutiny of domestic class interests, a


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

First published in In Godes minna mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the minan willon imo ce scadhen werhen. Pro Deo amur an Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit, Manchester 1990 (self-published).

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

question of who stands to gain.” This quote is actually an historian’s interpretation of Republican Rome (circa Punic Wars to Augustus) rather than a portrayal of Mrs. Thatcher’s or the century-and-a-half of her predecessors’ Britain. Yet for Britannia the issue of class interests still pertains, as do unrequited yearnings for lost empire. Of interest, another historian – Karl Marx – once wrote that British domestic harmony could not be free of class hatred nor entire until the English solved their “Irish problem.” Nevertheless, addicted to melodrama and mesmerized by its imperial past-on-a-pedestal, Britain continues to cow, bully, and ride rough-shod over its Irish neighbor and so exists, in a manner of speaking, a gelding as ever falling to its right). (Cross over the water now, the Irish Sea, to one of the world’s biggest pastures where Roman law and Roman roads never came to pass because the Roman legions never did. Here its all back-roads – meanders and circuits spreading like nets as devious and overall as their builders’ and users’ customs. And here, until the twelfth century and British invasion, women were equal to men in property and law, and kings and queens were still chosen by their people. In this place everything’s in odd-numbers: the flag tripartite, existence in three acts, their emblem three-leaved. Not for the Irish the foursquared grid and balanced perspectives of their English neighbor, where dominion’s all with obliquity and undercurrent outlawed from sense and taste. Joyce dreams, Beckett waits, and during all the seven years I lived in Ireland I never heard one Irish person answer with a “yes” or “no.” Presumably, the straight-forward particles of desire do not exist in the Gaelic template that they use to translate to the colonially imposed, spoken English. Or maybe it’s just one more posture in their national charade). To return to our Atlas and images: if you turn a saddle over and look at its underside it becomes a giant, three-leaved clover. This is, of course, a totally adventitious happenstance: a saddle’s purpose belies it. (After all, one cannot sit on a piece of grass-stuff). But in paintings or out, shapes mount, our image flow constantly changes, and in all visual systems which comprehend movement the shapes of things continually flow into each and become one another. As saddle changes to trefoil, so too a paleolithic, profiled female reverses a horse’s quarters, stifle, hock. Out of scale, yet this... for a minute... is related to that and then, excepting deliberate constructions, it’s gone. This order of image referral is (like the cross), an immediate one-dimensional analogy, dense with recognitions. However, (like the double-cross) a saddle is multi-dimensional, a transforming shape which mediates time/space dissimilarities. One side fits an animal, the other – next/side, next/time – fits a rider. As such, seen formally as eidolon, we might read it as a sort of pliable differential which couples bottoms of tops with tops of bottoms. (A further, if poetic aspect: the curved top side of a saddle, according to Einstein, is infinitely open and spacially impossible of a mathematical clo-

sure. Alternatively, a saddle’s bottomside is also open but is, on the contrary, flatly circumscribed as well as channeled for a horse’s spine. Now as the end crowns the work, might not mundane saddle, inter-linking high and low, subserve dialogues twixt spheres and gutter?). Notwithstanding, and spheres real or imaged, a saddle posited implies a sitter: the seated torso is reminiscent, once again, of clover, trine, triskelion and crotch. All these shifts of figure/space and figure/figure endure or spin between equivalence and correspondence, so that “Who’s in the saddle?” “Which the real beast of burden?” and “By what means are these relationships maintained?” pass into concrete decisions between clear or mixed color, interrupted or binding line, fragment or ambiance. The red, white and blue of liberal democracy flies against an orange/ green antithesis idealized in synthetic white... banners distinct but apposite, of rival island and isle. How could transitions in their admixtures come to anything but mud?


First published in In Godes minna mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the minan willon imo ce scadhen werhen. Pro Deo amur an Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit, Manchester 1990 (self-published).

Paintings will sometimes confound time. When images chosen from a mix across the centuries are gathered onto a single surface, new dialogues occur which were – in other forms and at other times – denied. Assembled in this way with a view towards useful contemporary comment, and though, as a poet has said: “‘Nowadays’ is a civilization in which serpent, lion and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon und boar to the cannery, racehorse and greyhound to the betting-ring,” we may still – via paintings’ unique perspectives – revive our trite and ravaged icons (if only in the space of a picture’s breadth). For time’s lost beasts and clichéd images will gain modern and valuable, commutative meanings when re-deployed to opposition and context in configured plans... non-narratives from which – out of scattered histories and cultures – we might yet shape new and timely scenarios. A cockatrice is a fabulous serpent hatched by a snake from a misshapen cock’s egg. Its glance is deadly. The glance of the cockatrice, the gaze of the hawk and the down-cast eyes of the runner stitch a horizontal line across the painting. The broken-necked horse’s head – aligned below – turns scrutiny about and back around the painting’s rectangle. These glances – iterated and confirmed above by the dancer’s stare – provide the painted space with direction and a definite subterrain: La-Bas. Above and below – beyond the sky and under the earth – are profound orientations in every society, but Bronze-Age Crete and Egypt – with roots in the same copper-colored Mediterranian race – show extraordinary preoccupation with them. Pit, canopy, and cave – in deity, rite, and state – both lands seem bewitched with aspects of verticality. For as it happens, pre-historic Egypt, even before the days of “upper” and “lower” kingdoms, was peopled by nomad hunters so anxious and occupied with zenith and nadir they buried their dead standing up in pits, i.e. lying upright in the sand. While at the same time across the sea, Pelasgian Crete (attested site of eucharistic, ritual murder in the name of the Great Goddess) not only buried its corn-dolls in the earth below, but hung bell-shaped, jointed dolls with wind-dangling legs high above in the tree-canopy as fecund, aerial death charms (and as miniature reminders of other, bloodier pendants). Intense obsequial pre-occupations with the “over-head” and “under-foot” appear indigenous to both peoples. However, on this side of the grave, too, deep vertical concerns occur which

emerge as illustrated précis of power and authority: is skywards or below the place to seek canon or conduct? Who rules? By what fiat? Hierarchy, heaped hands of the slain, and Pharoh’s absolute mandate are proverbial in the Egypt of the Great Pyramids. But this disposition was not a fait accompli and can be traced from proceedings in earliest, pre-dynastic ages. Then, animal symbols – as gods of the tribe – led their followers into battle and fought for them. Eventually over time, chieftains became identified with the god; a divine animal’s paw is often shown as a human hand which grasps a weapon to slaughter an enemy. By historical times – via escalating, anthropomorphic encroachment and up-welling – nothing of the primitive animal is left except for the head surmounting the body. It is this remnant “god-head” which travels down to Pharoh at his coronation: the “ka” or royal double descends from above in a stream of light, in the form of a hawk. In the eyes of the people, Pharoh becomes priest, god, and state – image and power one top-heavy fact and figure (and there-by so elevated that no one dared utter his name. They called the king the “Great House,” which is “Per-o”), Authority in Aegean Crete rose, conversely, from below. Chthonic and of the earth, power issued from the matrilineal tribe up to consorting king and from deep down in the sacred caves, from oracular serpents supposed to be incarnate ghosts of the dead. Here in these hallowed dens entranced priestesses and bands of dancing priests uttered and served the Ancient Ones with revealed edicts and oracles. And hereabouts, also, women and every-day household goddess wore tiered, bell-shaped skirts to honor and emulate the ancient Great Goddess (whose earliest image was simply a white cone or pyramid – the marble triangle which enclosed, on every side, her royal son’s tomb... as well as his figurative birthplace). At a later date – a time when Minos was the title of the Knossian dynasty having a sky-bull for its emblem, the expression of power continued underground. The legendary Minotaur now secured the “Labyrinth,” a basement maze below the palace – probably an intricate, mosaic floor used as an arena of hostage sacrifice – where Crete danced and killed to ratify its maritime hegemony. (Used as a trademark – coins of Crete with the Labyrinth pattern have been discovered well beyond the island – the Cretan maze has even advertized itself cut on a rock-face in Cornwall, England). The cone and pyramid, however, are the real and wide-spread sign and relic of the Goddesses’ domain: white clay votive cones have been found in large numbers as far away as the Babylonia of the ziggerats and as far back as the Neolithic caves. Therefore, because of this primogeniture and the wide dispersal of her forms, some say patristical Egypt’s real architectural birth-right is the high obelisk and not the squatter pyramid. For the obelisk with its square base tapering to a pyramidical point reaches directly above to the zenith, the hottest point attained by the sun, thus asserting dominion over the four quarters of the world and its apex – a Sun-God’s warrant and a thoroughly Egyptian claim. It was a later, vaunting


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Tis Ill Pudling in the Cockatrice Den (La-Bas), 1989

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Egypt that appropriated and monumentalized the Goddessess’ pyramid. In the same way, respectively, a much later, Imperial Knossos abstracted and inverted Pharoh’s shaft. The Goddesses’ collateral sacred pillar and tree became that instantly recognized singularity, the upwards-spreading Minoan column which – rather like an umbrella and most unlike the grandiose Egyptian productions – gave to Minoan interiors the sense of overhead protection (the ceiling as tree-canopy), insuring ongoing interest, no doubt, in the intimacies of earth’s users and the powers below. These geometries and their exchanges speak of a remarkable pattern and infra-structure: whereas Egypt’s soaring, topless or pinnacled architecture is up-side-down to its top-heavy state and deities, Crete’s earth-straddling rites and deities are up-side-down to its over-hanging architecture. Such an inversion is curious enough in one people; but a reciprocal and reversed occurrence in near-by, competitive neighbours must point-up and underscore an essential, matching structure between them, a kind of composite... underhanded unity of parts both equal yet opposite. Analogy across centuries never finds a precise match, but “similitude” and “comparable” are valuable even so. Accordingly, in likening the “incognito” unit Crete/Egypt to a modern counterpart, Holland/Belgium, differences do occur. The most obvious difference is a reversal of the covert unity of the former to the explicit, if only sometime unity of the latter: the occasional, troubled marriage of Low-lands appears based on scale, sea-level and propinquity rather than on a specific ecology. For maritime Holland, surrounded by waters, is more island than inland while “below the rivers,” in Belgium, development and culture is essentially riverine. Nevertheless, sometimes there are two Low-countries, currently three, sometimes – everything else being equal – only one. The saga of this join and split of alluvial plain and basin – of Belgium and Holland – can be traced from the Copper-Age and points up not only evolving contrasts between neighbors but also some pre-established patterns similar to the Mediterranian model. Following is a brief “C.V.” of the area and its peoples. At the dawn of its history Mesolithic forests in the region served transient hunter-gatherers; later, the first community site found in the area (of Banderkeramik remains, Europe’s earliest farming culture circa 6500-4000 BC, at Elsloo in Drenthe, Holland), yields a cemetery consisting of 113 graves including a variety of grave-goods whose distribution of items “shows no evidence of a hierarchically organized society”... a singularly, “proto-Dutch” arrangement one could say. By 3000 BC, however, in the Copper-Age, the historical die was cast. Overlapping western ‘Beaker’ and northern ‘Corded Ware’ settlements and burials are found at the delta as well as on both sides of the Rhine and along the shores of the Zuiderzee. It seems the entire sector had become a melting, transitional area for two distinctive cultures: passing time increased dissimilarities.

Around 500 BC, at the north-westernmost edge of the Germanic world, early Holland built its first villages, called “terpen”. These settlements were raised up on mounds of garbage and layerings of clay to elevate the village and housefloors above flood level. Coincidental with this level of technology and consigned to surrounding bogs, corpses have been found which appear to have been ritually murdered by hanging, strangulation, decapitation or stabbing – shades of Aegean counterparts. In a counter tradition across the Rhine, 1st millenium early Belgium stood as the north-easternmost outpost of the great Celtic heartland, a long-standing civilization long-established in its precincts. Iron swords, chariots, Druids, aristocracies with great social distinctions and “oppida,” – large settlements prefiguring the later towns of medieval Europe – were its characteristics. (This civilization is reminiscent of an earlier Egypt though lacking Pharoh, and with long barrow-graves in place of pyramidrical sepulchres). Namur in Belgium was one known “oppidum.” Manifestly unlike, this difference between peoples of “oppida” and “terpen” – were seen and noted by Caesar on his way to Britain around 50 BC. Tacitus comments, too, on the disparity of lands and people along the Rhine some 150 years later. Indeed, all through the 500 years of the “Pax Romana” the Rhine remained the frontier of the Roman Empire. On the one side there was “civilized” Gaul and on the other, the “wild” Germans. In Carolingian days the area reverted again to oneness: these lands formed a unified inheritance given on to others commencing with Lothair, hereditary Holy Roman Emperor. In later mediaeval times, Ghent and Flanders gained great prominence and fortune in the manufacture of woolens; but economic unity was maintained, however, as the neighboring Dutch found the quickest ways and means to central Europe’s granary to corner the market for corn, so that even though regions of different endeavor, mercantile and trading remained equally thriving and therefore still joined. But the great floods of the 14th and 15th century finally unbound North and South, reinstating, more or less, the old Roman frontier as a border: a wide new arm of the sea was created which signaled the definitive, modern break in Netherlandish history. This new body of water brought an end to the linking entrepôt role of the Scheldt estuary ports, disrupting southern Holland from flourishing Flanders. Subsequent political, economic and religious differences worked the rest. By the end of the 16th century many Flemish intellectuals, scientists and artists emigrated north to Republican Holland from the catholic Spanish Netherlands. In vain, some years later, unsuccessful ambitions were mooted (and once bruted) to reunite the parts. Although swamp and Rhine water cannot rank with the Mediterranean as a physical boundary, parallels across time and space – those between Egypt/Belgium and Crete/ Holland – are still evident, especially with regard to structures in their specific relations to authority and power. For, as the Cretan cone or bell-shape can be


While arch of sky and curves of cave and passage reflect and serve cultural proclivities, the symmetries and contrasts expressed above stem from either specific social dispositions or else specific geographies and contexts. The bond which particularly links Crete and Egypt, for instance, is based on a surround particular to that time and place where, as peers – during a thousand years – these two neighbors, the only mature powers within their region, exchanged alphabets, metallurgies and artistic conventions as well as embassies and diplomats. In fact the inverted, parallel development which

was theirs could only take place on such a mutual ground and one should view them as the same people, but in different site and situation. Obversely, the modern Low-Lands consist of different peoples at the same site (although their real differences derive less from race than from age-old, cultural divisions and usages wherein Belgium has often been thought of as an extension of France and the Dutch thought of as peripheral Germans). Indeed, the alliance of LowLands is based partly on their mutual defense against precisely those surrounding, aggressive, high-rise neighbors: both Belgium and Holland’s intentional dissimilarities with regard to big “brother” and “sister” reinforce the solder and racial melt which formed and undoubtedly shapes their modern identity. In sum, these relations of peoples and places with each other and to their surrounds points up an exemplary and useful geometry underlying cultural and historical national identities. Since the geometry of painting (the why and the where, form and composition) is also found in social and biological events, its place in our time-traveling explorations (in both paint and in print) should generate a serviceable paradigm or two. For although it has lost our mythical beasts, “nowadays” is yet a civilization in which computers can model and express geometries which project the effects of form, shape, and scale in the development of patterns on flesh and blood arrangements (from recent elaborations of mathematical “reaction-diffusion models” initiated by Alan M. Turing in 1952). One such modeling is based on animal coat markings and leads to some tantalizing propositions. Size and scale – of pigment to ground, a result of given, genetic prepatterns and diffusion rates – are of most consequence in the genesis of patterns, since they determine whether there will be any arrangement of marks or pattern at all: there are constraints and limits on size, whereby very small animals have uniform colored coats, intermediate ones may have patterns, while large animals are again uniform in color. One can intuit how – with only a few genetic codes operant or necessary for mammalian species – a pre-determined, size-to-rate of pigmentation which speckles the elephant will engulf the mouse. An absolute size can also be a crucial factor for social units: or in national terms, “large enough to assert itself as an independent force against its neighbor across the sea, but compact enough to be perceived emotionally as a unit (there is no point on the island which is further than 100 miles from the sea),” a description which could characterize Java or Bali, Ireland, Crete or even, in a modified sense, Holland. On the other hand, relative size – of marks-to-ground and their relation to an overall size and rate of development – can also affect organization. For instance, a single pigment patch of a particular size plus its lack (black and white programmed in a fast, short gestation period) can produce a two-toned animal like the Valais goat which is divided equally down the middle, the front half black and the rear all white, (or, change the start-


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

seen as more than just a goddess-skirt (let it also mean a statistical distribution of intent: a curve or survey of individuals rendering a “norm” or average consensus), the democratic mode – though a rare tradition in the history of Europe – has a very sturdy pedigree in Holland. And since “like situations” often give rise to “like responses,” perhaps the sea-faring, insular nature of both Holland and Crete engendered and built-in similar co-operations and communal boundings – agreements reached out of deep respect for the horizontal imperatives of comparable physical worlds such as the horizons of encroaching waves, of seas, and of lands. In the same way (but turned about), Egyptian verticality and hierarchy with its controlling apparatus is mirrored by the Nile’s rise and fall, which controlled precise cultivating areas and all possible or permitted gradients from its banks (repositories of wealth?), so modelling rank, regimentation and the Belgian side of the equation, (“... Catholic between the wars and Nazi when there’re on”). For the Belgians have always preferred sovereigns (often absentee) but, unlike the miserable Egyptians, would seem to devote much of their energies – and find much freedom and pleasure – in circumventing and sabotaging their masters’ rule. One of their masters, Leopold II in 1885, (like a throw-back to Pharoh and unique amongst modern monarchs), financed Stanley the explorer to procure for Leopold’s personal acquisition the entire heart of Africa, namely the Congo, now Zaire. In reference books his full name, as distinct from other merely numbered Leopolds, is “Leopold II, exploiter of the Belgion Congo.” And as gold and the slaves mining it underpinned the wealth of the great Pharonic empires, so too, Congolese diamonds, slaves, and atrocities did for the King of the Belgians. Other correspondences exist: just as the Dutch functioned as shippers for Belgian goods, so too Cretan maritimers sailed for an Egypt which loathed the sea. One last analogue: in Holland since at least the 17th century, as in ancient Crete, women were almost as free as their men. (Outside royality, no one was free in Egypt). In Belgium full suffrage to women was granted in 1948. However, best not forget the testimony of subjugated Indonesians who recall that during Dutch colonial dominion – up to the 1950s when forced out in bloody encounters the Dutch “ruled and were to Indonesians cs Africaaners ore to Blacks.” “Apartheid” is not only a Dutch word.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

ing rates, proportions and powers and consider the effects on organization of transplanting the wee, centripetal, 17th century Dutch “civitas” – “to be Dutch was to be local, parochial, traditional and customary” – to the enormity of African sky, folk, and veld). In the main, the form and disposition of animal coat patterns is spotted, as in the leopard or giraffe or pinto pony. Spots are a contained and limited mark, bounded and essentially circular. When a flat skin on which they are carried must turn from broad, flat surfaces, however, to wrap about smaller, cylindrical shapes, spots – because they are closed – can magically turn into stripes. It is this mechanism of scale and geometry which rings the leopard’s tail overturning the old saying, “can the Ethiopian change his skin, or...” for the leopard can, and indeed does, change “... his spots.” But not his stripes. The phenomenon is not reversible. With animals such as zebra, tabby, or tiger what begins as stripe stays as stripe: whether wrapped around tails or making op-art junctions at hip and shoulder, these bands continue on their narrow ways. Specifically, “it is possible for a spotted animal to have a striped tail but impossible for a striped animal to have a spotted tail.” The basics of geometry – line, point, plane – are once again to the fore. For stripes, like lines, are shapelimited on two sides – their edges – but may be open-ended front and back (or top and bottom) and can extend in those dimensions where they will; but spots, whether regular or blobbed, or large or small, are static passengers moving only from their centers out, an extension rather more aggrandizing than journeying. To entertain rough parallels, it is the cohesive narrowness of a place and shape – a stripeness – that allowed the horizontal, liberal democracies of Crete or Holland. Relatively rare in nature and in society, this kind of organization exists as if there were no history: events mark it (like on a straight-edge) but do not change it, bar a total collapse via overwhelming assault. The US of A is just possibly a collection of “stripes” – the states – and if so, could be in some present danger. For as its pre-eminence in the world is lessening, the profound lack of a historical faculty in most Americans will prevent the adaptations necessary to withstand their changing status. All of this band are specialized states, coherent and cozy at home, but also greatly successful in and heavily committed to the export of something – be it sailors and ships, goods, influence or even emigrants. The more common, “spotted” communities seem less virtuous on the surface. The fact that “bounded” autocratic societies, when they are pinched into smaller segments can become outstanding liberal democracies in the reduced form, however, conjures up the spot-to-stripe phenomenon and suggests a certain optimism for at least the European future. After 1992 when the supra-state of Europe is a fact for both Eastern and Western nations, many bets are on the eventual withering of nationhood to be replaced by the numerous, smaller regions sharing common interests or historical identities. Adaptablility must surely be the reprieve of our planet in the watery wave of its future.

None of these thoughts matters a damn when looking at or enjoying the initiating painting. Rather, this should be viewed as a tracing out and following up of the formal aspects and implications which inhere in the veil which accompanies the visual presentation. For the challenge is to render exploration when “tis ill pudling in the Cockatrice Den.”


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 Red, White and Blue Gelding Falling to its Right (Double-Cross Britannicus/Hibernicus), 1984-1986 oil on canvas, 244 x 315 cm / 96 x 124 inch collection of the artist


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 Tis Ill Pudling in the Cockatrice Den (La-Bas), 1987 oil on canvas, 244 x 244 cm / 96 x 96 inch collection of the artist


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

The Rod Reversed (Mixing Memory and Desire), 1988 oil on canvas, 237.5 x 319.5 cm / 93 x 125.8 inch collection of the artist


First published in In Godes minna mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the minan willon imo ce scadhen werhen. Pro Deo amur an Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit, Manchester 1990 (self-published).

As paintings can act to trace dimensions and to disconcert times, may not a painting also play “magic carpet” as well, bringing forwards souvenir images from far afield, across the deep-drawing meridians and latitudes of earth? Paintings’ plane – defined and structured by the marks and images on its superb surfaces – is terrain rarely developed today past the one-dimensional. Recent generations neither see nor imagine much beyond the presentation of literal surfaces and illustration; they have declined a many-leveled structure of art in favor of simplistic and immediate propagandas. In so doing, the art of making and reading complex structures could well be lost to the barrage of feeble-minded enthusiasims, drop-dead decors, and fleeting, cheap shots which are now on offer. This legacy of the nineteen-eighties has left (and still projects) an estate of art-works comprised mainly of the grandiose and the trivial, of indulgent Expressionisms and naive Politico/Economics. For those who would sustain paintings’ potential depth and sweep, it is essential to stay this practice. One possible antidote would place strong and express emphasis, instead, on those structural relationships obtained between given images (a hard look at the who? and what? at where? and how? of a painting) along with particular attentions paid to their organization, passages and transitions. For with procedures whose contents are legible and transparent within contexts which are also clear, interrelating levels and connections – with their consequent “hints and allegations” – can newly act to inform digressive yet coherent, rich visual discourse. With the above in mind and meant more as specimen than guidebook, herein, below, is a table of images, sites and sources used in The Rod Reversed (Mixing Memory and Desire). blue woman On the left the blue female with the wide, triangular stance was an advert for the magazine Elle. raised wand The man across, on the upper right of the painting is from a newspaper photo, a tennis-player. His racquet-arm has been replaced by the arm and magical rod of an Etruscan “auger” from a wall-painting in the Tomb of the Augers, Tarquinia, Italy. The wand has an “eye” at its business end.

green bird The man wears a head-dress of a kingfisher-in-flight (an apparel informing my later discovery that “on his head he wore the sacred, flowing, green bird-plume of Aztec royalty”). This bird, however, is also from an advert... “the accuracy to meet the demands of speed” it said. All through time and all over the world men like to dress-up and emulate animals when they implement their magic. two snakes All over the world and all through time women like, however, to retain human form when casting spells, preferring the use and manipulation of the animals instead. The woman holds a pair of coupling, male snakes in hand. The snakes are Upper Magdalenian, engraved on a reindeer-bone baton from Montgaudier, France, and are thought to herald the approach of Spring... waking-up horny but prior to any awakened females. yellow stripe Women appreciate triads: the blue cone-shaped woman balances a third coiling snake on her left knee. The serpentine image is a 217meter-long earth-work found near Portsmouth, Ohio, USA, made prominent by an aerial photo. An artifact of the Adena people circa 1000-300 BC, there are indications (i.e. the serpent-image swallowing the world-egg) that these Mound Builders were related by blood or trade to the early Maya of Mexico. indian wing Across the painting, on the bottom right, is another New World image: the arm, hand and wing of a modern Pueblo Indian who is impersonating the Eagle in a ‘kachina’ dance. The ancestors of the Pueblo were also influenced by early Mexican culture: excavations in Snaketown and Pueblo Grande have revealed ball-courts and even rubber balls made of latex imported from Mexico. bird talk The large, spiral divining-rod drawn in the upper right-hand corner of the painting – bronze and from Etruscan Piacenza – made priestly magic of another sort. A man-made version of the serpent, the auger’s staff... through its legitimizing snake form and as an extension of the soothsayer’s hand... gave power and drama to his prophesies and interpretation of omens. [auger, <L. avis, bird + garrio, talk]. bronze palette Diagonally opposite, in the lower left hand corner, the blue woman stands on a bronze Etruscan palette depicting a sheep or human liver with the signs in the various parts which, after examination, would allow the augers to make their predictions of the future. The name of Saturn (Satre) occurred on the left or ill-omened side; I’ve substituted different texts, however, since – outside of names – no


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

The Rod Reversed (Mixing Memory and Desire), 1990

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

one can translate Etruscan anyways. It is a pre-Indo-European language (whether Lydian or aboriginal) and its untranslatability amidst the wealth of its inscriptions and texts has helped create the modern Etruscan mystique (dramatized by Gabriele d’Annunzio at the turn of the century and furthered by D.H. Lawrence in his novel, Etruscan Places, 1932). three walls The large building running horizontally along the top-left edge is, of course, part of the Imperial Palace in Peking. Built around 1400, this view is of the Military Gate of the Forbidden City – the Wu-Men, headquarters of the Imperial Guard. I’ve changed the roofs’ imperatorial yellow-glazed tiles to a semblance of thatch: the Chinese roof seems essentially arboreal and organic to me. The Chinese also take an interest in their roofs: a modern Chinese writes: “We have to build horns on our roofs so that the nagging once-people [ghosts] can slide up them and perhaps ascend to the stars, the source of pardon and love,” while another writer describes a palace roof where “stylized guardian-spirit figures sit on roof cornices to ward off evil. Evil spirits were thought to gain entrance to houses through their cornices.” In appearance, roof (and also gate) both try hard to protect and serve earth-bound, traversing ways. Nevertheless, though built from earth’s produce China’s roofs, in truth, address the magical sky. The painting envelopes the one in the other to emphasize the split and mix. building block Around the same time the early Ming emperors built their thricegirt palace in Peking, the Aztec emperors, Moctaezuma, inhabited and ruled an hydraulically-engineered floating capital in Mexico: Tenochtitlán, metropolis of 200,000 inhabitants was built on several islands in the salt lake Texcoco. It was linked by causeways to the mainland and further encapsulated around its other, lakeward side by an enormous dyke built to reduce the lake’s salinity on its agricultural shores. Within the city, the palace of 1510 AD – thricemoated and surrounded – was, before its destruction by Jesuit Spain and according to one of Cortez’ henchmen, Diaz, the ‘Wonder of the Western World’: he “wandered four times about it and yet had not seen it all.” It contained an aviary of gorgeous birds, an aquarium and a noisy collection of lions, tigers, jackals, foxes and serpents, etc. There were also hanging gardens on the roof and sunken bathing-pools below. Stepping from bottom to top of the painting’s right edge, is a view of one part of the Palace: the Chamber of the CouncilHall-of-War with Moctaezuma’s throne and dais at the top of the edifice. Taken from a drawing in the “Codex Mendosa” (an Aztec manuscript with Spanish texts), I have reversed and split off the lower right tier of this wing to reintroduce and stress its vertical piling-up from the bottom right-hand corner. Both Aztec society and its buildings were notoriously bottom-heavy and hierarchic.

buffer horse The up-side-down horse in the painting’s middle pivots and swings around the dialogue of images and spaces. (Clarity does not preclude ambiguity. Ask any physicist). Being centered, the animal serves as a kind of buffer-state between the two rival, larger organizations to either side of it. Consisting as it does of (comparatively) more space than objecthood, the weakened image acts as a transition, instead, which forces a further definition of each of its neighbors through their shared boundary lines: to the left the horse contributes its ventral, sexual characteristics of breast, belly and sheath, while back, haunch, and tail address the right. Paradoxically – after time – the very spaciness of the horse-image in its virtual continuity with the over-all space establishes a strong “quiddity,” a “thereness” to it which adds importance and influence to its telling qualities, i.e.: 1. its mutilated condition – headless and legless – colludes with, yet contradicts, the guaranteed impotence of its being merely spatial. 2. Hanged, the image rebounds the art-echoes of carcass-as-metaphor (i.e. Rembrandt or Soutine). 3. On a further, abstract level the up-side-downing of a middle, transitting term suggests possible reversals between the other polarities. These characteristics are all “primary process”, demonstrative functions which project affective qualities into the rest of the painting. Pictorial horse always carries heavy, emotional baggage. As well, this horse is a tracing from a book called The Reforming of Dangerous and Useless Horses, by Lieutenant Mike Rimington, (Late 37th Lancers), 1919. The animal is seen actually throwing itself down and falling over to avoid being ridden, in a picture entitled An Outlaw. flag theory It should be apparent by now we are concerned with the contrapostion of connected yet dissimilar clusters of behaviours, histories, and artifacts; that is, with a marshalling of differences. So yet another distinction is provided by the colors adopted in the flags of nations: here, it’s red, white, and blue facing black, red, and yellow, A referral to France/Germany will do. Red, white, and blue is a model landscape device, as any celebrant of sunsets including the evening Venus and/or the setting, crescent moon will tell... the Yanks summed it up in their completely literal red and white stripes of sky and stars in blue. The Dutch model eschews moon and planet, but accurately renders fiat or watery horizon and sky, while the French – an exceedingly sophisticated nation – flip the stripes upright into their abstract (non-referential) blocks of tri-color causing the Belgians to do the same (only in the colors of their German alter-ego). Germany’s use of black, red, and yellow is effective through the extraordinary weight


missing legend A painting’s title will also define and add dimensions: Mixing Memory and Desire could be a Thousand-Year Reich’s geneological fantasy or a French intellectual’s cri de coeur, a fabricated memory of history to rationalize unholy desires, or the constant preoccupation with desire to compensate bitter, historical memory (of the Ancien Régime, perhaps, which produced a starving peoples foraging the nation’s roads). The complete caption as I found it was “Mixing Memory and Desire: a Gatekeeping Function of the Amygdala”, in the Scientific American of June, 1987, page 70, which paid scant respect to T.S. Eliot, the poet and original author of the phrase, from lines 2 and 3 of The Waste Land of 1922. That poem also deals with places and people and history. Line 12 reads: “Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt Deutsch.” “The Rod Reversed” is political Milton, Roundhead and cautionary: they thought only of conquering when they should have thought of disenchanting... “Without the rod reversed, And backward mutters of dissevering power, We cannot free the lady that sits here...”

hand writing And finally text, too, earns a place in painting’s lexicon – so long as its tale is of echoes and ramblings. The organizer and first ruler of a proto-modern Europe was Charlemagne, but after his death that premature undertaking broke-up when Louis the Pious, his son, was deposed by his three sons (Charlemagne’s grandsons). Lothair, the eldest grandson, received the title of Emperor; the other two each received a kingdom. When, however, Lothair tried to take these kingdoms from his brothers Lewis and Charles, the assaulted pair met at Strassburg and took an oath of alliance before their assembled armies. Pro Deo amur, said Lewis the German, using the South Frankish tongue so that his brother’s French soldiers might understand, “an Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.” “In Godes minna,” said Charles the Bald, repeating the same oath in the language of North Frankland for Lewis’s German soldiers; “mit Ludheren in nohheiniu thing ne gegango, the minan willon imo ce scadhen werhen.” (“Out of love for God, with Lothair I will not willingly enter into any agreement which may injure this my brother”). These Strassburg oaths are the earliest remaining examples of the French and German tongues (842 AD). In the painting the German oath has replaced the sentences of the Spanish scribe which detail the Aztec palace. The French speech (along with the English translation) has been inserted onto the face of the sibyllic palette. Snakes and birds both lay eggs. Before today’s fast-changing, perestroik-ed Europe, the old Frankish double-union – in a brand new skin – seemed perched and ready for a fledgling reappearance in 1992. Would that it still re-emerges, if only as a balancing memory-trace to counterweight the new and coalescing, Continental structure. Images and their sources do not constitute a painting’s meaning any more than – the other way around – a common ancestor accomplished, single-handedly, the legless snake, winged bird and breasted mammal: although connected by source, it is really intention and changing circumstances, along with each subsequent decision, that shape essential natures and paintings into their eventual forms and meanings. Beyond stating this, I do not know how to further analyze making or interpreting art-works, for even the best intentions get modified (if not lost) over time to changed circumstances, and trade-offs replace exchanges. The process of ends and means then becomes so complicated, sub-terrain and recondite one might as well call it magic. I do: the ‘flying-carpet’ docks here.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

and sinister aspect of over-topping black next to pulsating red, both of which, together, compress the yellow light on the bottom: immanence contained and interior, as it were. Peoples of mountain or forest seldom valorize the open sky; they celebrate interior qualities, instead. Modern Germany’s interiorized color penchant is seen to be extraverted (although unconnected) by the distant and earlier Aztec nation. There, warriors of the highest rank painted half their faces red, the other half yellow; and whenever the snakeskin kettle-drum of the War God thundered, their ruler ceased being emperor to become the high-priest in plain black garments who tore the hearts out of multitudes of sacrificial victims with his black obsidian knife. Emblematic color, however, is not the only similarity between German and Aztec societies: the rise of sudden, abrupt nation-hood and power is also common and pertains to both. The name Aztec means “Crane People,” and was bestowed on those humble, immigrants to the densely populated Texcoco lake basin – arriving from the north about 1325 AD – because they lived like cranes in the marshes, fashioning frail houses of reed and rushes and living on insects and fish. In exceedingly short order, however, these lowly Aztec peoples, from their mountain-locked swamp rose-up, reached out and, conquering an empire which stretched from ocean to ocean, effected genocidal atrocities during their short regency matched only by modern Nazi efforts and efficiencies. Levi-Strauss speaks of “the example of Aztec culture, that open wound in the side of American history, whose maniacal obsession with blood and torture (a universal obsession, in fact, but overt in the case of the Aztecs in the excessive form that comparison allows us to define)...”

Jo Baer interviewed by Thomas McEvilley, 1993 Previously unpublished talk with Thomas McEvilley at Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, on the occasion of the exhibition Jo Baer: Recent Works, 1993. The conversation followed McEvilley’s introduction to Baer’s work. In the interview, Baer refers to McEvilley’s observation that she underwent a ‘crisis of conscience’ around 1975. In his introduction, McEvilley stated: “At this time she had the seriousness and integrity to bail out of the Modernist project, seeing that it was essentially apocalyptic and doom-ridden and in a deep way counterproductive to the goals and values of life as conducted not in a vague or unformed spiritual realm, but in a body, in a society, in a history. Looking at it from the outside, I see the deep structural change in her oeuvre as a sign of a crisis of conscience which represents a new stage of realization in the process of self-criticism.” Interviews with artists in the exhibition Abstract Painting 1960-69 in P.S.1, New York, 1983, were published in Art in America, October 1983. The essay that Baer wrote for this issue is printed on pp. 111-112 of this publication. The artist’s book that McEvilley mentions is Four Drawings, 1993, reproduced here on pp. 143-156.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Jo, how are you today? Old, nervous. When did you move to Europe? In 1975, directly after the Whitney show. 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. I think it may mean that I was interested in color. If your early work is Minimalist, I think it could even be called hot Minimalism. Thank you. 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. 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 handdrawn. 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. In 1970 you wrote that you felt it was the moment for political activism in the arts.

I said that one should always be politically active outside of the arts, but I felt that radical work was by its nature political, that actually all art is political. I don’t believe in propaganda in art. I don’t use the image to sell a point of view. Some artists do, but it’s not my way. Your transition from abstraction to figuration is a political statement. Let’s talk about that. I was interested in making work available to a larger audience. I didn’t feel that you should have to have degrees in art history to be able to relate to the work. I was interested in imbuing it with a degree of meaning. It strikes me that your deliberate shift from highly reductionist abstraction to figuration is a gesture towards humanism, towards recognizing the embedded-ness of the artist in society. The image of the prism that I used was based on a line from Shelley that goes something like, “Time like a dome of many colored glass, embrace the white radiance of infinity.” Your work of the early period seems to have existed in that white radiance of infinity, and your European work exists in the area beyond the prism, which has broken up the white light into the many real colors of the actual embodied light. Very nice metaphor, Tom. I also agree with what you said about the crisis of conscience. What you did before was so stunningly perfect. You must have had a strange feeling walking away from it as completely as you did. I didn’t just turn my back on it. As simple as it looks, it involved a great deal of learning and skill and technique which I still use in the European paintings. You did bring those things along with you, but in an ethical or social sense, in the sense of the crisis of conscience involved, you left something behind. Your transition from abstraction to figuration seems to be a transition from formlessness to form. Form is the real stuff of actual, embodied, everyday life. After the period in which so much art was affirming formlessness and the void, affirmation of form is a political statement. I never thought of my subject as formlessness or the void. I was working with light, and I still work with light. I’m not interested in forms in the sense of a triangle or of a person or something like that. I’m interested in primary language. I’m interested in using images that are available without trying to convince people that I’ve represented them. They only need to be recognizable. So I use partial forms, fragments and transparency to keep those forms from being dominant. I’m still really interested in what we call space, which to me means how you get from one place to another. I call this transition. It’s technical. It has nothing to do with what you’re saying, although I don’t disagree with you. I prefer speaking in painterly terms. I’m not at all at home with your words.


Seen against the background of the war in Vietnam, the American work, for all its beauty, was kind of death-affirming, like much 20thcentury abstract painting has been. The European work is very lifeaffirming. I think of the early work as utopian. I think utopian work always happens when things are really awful. You jump away from reality and say, “Here’s how it could be.” It’s a fantasy. Back in ’83, somebody resurrected abstract paintings from the ’60s for a show at P.S.1 and interviewed the artists. I read the interviews when they were published. Brice Marden was the only other artist besides myself who even mentioned Vietnam. I find that shocking. By the time the Whitney show opened, had you already made your decision to leave? Yes, I’d been looking to go for two or three years. So that show in itself must have been a strange experience. It was.

theories, of course, that they’re sex symbols or fertility symbols or calendar signs. I like that last reading in particular, but it’s just a reading. So one of the things that attracted you to paleolithic imagery is that nobody knows what it means? Absolutely. There’s a kind of a freedom there that is similar to the freedom of abstraction, which is also empty of content. Yet I’m a little skeptical. It seems to me that you use that imagery in a way that has content. I make content. You assign it. Of course, that’s what I want to do. I like the fact that there’s no certain meaning attached to those images. They’re common to all of us humans. They aren’t Greek, they aren’t Roman. We have no idea where they come from, and yet they’re very vital and obviously ours. I particularly like that. The work in this show contains Egyptian references also. I think I saw a snake from the tomb of Ramses the Sixth. That’s not a snake, that’s a cockatrice – or basilisk, Egyptian variety.

Did you travel to any of the caves in France and Spain? Never. I have the books.

Interesting. There’s also the horse-falcon. When did that body of imagery start to come into the painting? I’m very interested in very disparate things sitting next to each other. In Europe, so many different people live right next to each other. How do they do it? They’re so different. I was browsing through books and noticed something very strange about the Egyptians and their neighbors, the Cretans. Their religious symbolism is totally visually contradictory. Egyptian gods are big at the top and tiny at the bottom, while their architecture is big at the bottom and tapers upward. In Crete, things are the other way around. The divinities are wide at the bottom and narrow at the top – those beautiful women with their little boleros, big tits and great big full skirts – and their pillars and columns branch out on top. I suddenly had that clear insight, and then, of course, I began playing with that imagery because I think it says a great deal about people. These are visual signs of culture. I began thinking about modern equivalents, like the colors of national flags. Why is it that all democracies have red, white and blue flags? Why is the German flag so sinister? I started playing with these things because I think they represent something deeper. I’m not a scientist or a historian, and I’m allowed. If it works on canvas, there’s probably an element of truth in it.

It was enough to see the books? I didn’t want the real experience. I just really wanted to use those images. No one knows what these things mean. There are various

Going back to that mid-’70s moment again, it sounds to me as if you underwent a general loss of faith in Modernism. When that occurs, there are essentially two options available. One is a pre-Modern revival

To be showing this work, which you knew was great, but which you also knew was over for you. You were showing a part of your life that was signed, sealed and delivered, as it were. It wasn’t quite that clear-cut. There are a few transitional paintings that show the work changing. The Whitney exhibition, with the incredible purism of the white paintings, was in ’75. By ’78 you had already found a new spiritual home in the paleolithic and Magdalenian periods. I’d been looking at them for several years. The transitional paintings from ’75 use abstract signs from the cave paintings. I had started playing with them a year or two earlier. I destroyed a lot of that work. I messed around with it, made mistakes. Where did you move first when you left this country? I moved to Ireland, to the countryside. I lived there for seven years.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

1975 was a year of tremendous political turbulence in this country. That ambiance must have contributed somewhat to the change of direction in your work. Yes, I watched our country re-elect Nixon in a landslide despite the fact that everyone knew how corrupt he was. So I said “I’m getting out.” It took me a couple of years to do it.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

stemming from a belief that people in pre-Modern societies had figured things out better. They didn’t destroy their environment and eliminate their bio-mass and commit suicide on a mass scale as Modernist society has so conspicuously tended to do. The hippy movement and then the ecology movement in this country followed that line of thinking. I see this pre-Modernist revival as one of the Post-Modernist options. It appears to me to play a big role in your brand of Post-Modernism, which seems to want to re-establish connections with pre-Modern types of societies, with the feelings and spiritual dimensions associated with them. I really only wanted to look at them, I don’t want to relive them. They smelled awful, and the infant mortality rate was incredible. At the start of Cubism, there was a point where artists chose to go in the direction of Modernism. I have gone back to share that moment and to explore a different path. I wouldn’t know how to describe it properly, but I’m certainly not into arts and crafts.

develop an idea of why those cultures adopted those animals, and I assembled the drawings with this new subject in mind. I had so much interesting material and so many places that I wanted to take it that I decided to write about it. The writing came after the work? Yes. Since you associated the image of the horse with the invading IndoEuropean cultures, can one extrapolate from this to the work? Can one approach the image of the horse in your paintings with that in mind? Probably not. I wasn’t thinking about that until later, after I began to assemble all the tracings I used as materials for the earlier image paintings. These particular ideas about horse and lion cultures developed in tandem only as they were being built into the drawing series, and thence to the writing. But it’s still the same horse. After all, a horse is a horse is a horse… or is it?

Let me approach again this idea of the membrane that has always seemed to me to be so conspicuous in both phases of your work. The European work, which mixes images and motifs from the Paleolithic, the Egyptian, the Minoan, the Etruscan, reminds me of the so-called Akashic record, the idea that there’s an intangible and non-physically visible space in the universe where all events of all moments are registered as on a receptive membrane, like a photographic film on which everything mingles and flows. Your European work, with its veil-like, semi-transparent references to different eras, strikes me that way. What you’re saying is very nice, but I don’t work that way. I am inclined to locate things laterally on the flat surface, and not behind or in front of it. I’m interested in structuring a metaphoric world, and I don’t want any escape hatches in it. Nor do I want things falling out onto the floor. That’s my prejudice, and that’s how I work. Have you always written? Yes. I don’t write well, but I’ve done it. You’ve written rather a lot, I think. Yes. It’s surprising, because it’s very hard work for me, and I have no talent for it. I’m thinking especially of the book which you gave me the other day which contains a lot of your own research and interpretation of that research. You develop an idea about the classical confrontation between lion and horse cultures. Could you go into that a little? I was noticing that artifacts of Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples, who worshiped mother goddesses, tended to carry lion images, whereas the Indo-European people came in with the horse. Wherever these people were, you find the lion and the horse. It used to puzzle me, and I got more and more interested in it. When I was making the drawings that are reproduced in that book, I began to


Four Drawings, 1993

“When Thou Cometh To Woman Bringeth Thou Thy Whip” This album of drawings and discourse probes connections between: some articles of use, the wild and the domestic animal, and woman. The human animal developed technology in order to achieve those tasks in which other beasts excel: ill-equipped to browse as effectively as a goat occasioned the sickle; unblessed with the hawk’s passage through the air gave rise to the spear; lacking the claws of a mole led to the spade and not having the strength of a lion’s paw gave need for the club. As a matter of course, with fabricated, flakedstone versions of the carnivores’ flesh-shearing carnassial teeth, the human hand could even butcher the leopard’s kill. Emulations such as these served humankind well for millennia on end. Much later a different kind of augmenting tool evolved to extend the range of touch: the rope and stick or subsequent whip, rein, and bit, and to complement the balancing art: the seat tied to a horse, the supporting stirrup, the stick elaborated to walking crutch and cane. Such power tools became significant only after humans learned to create surplus – the origin of wealth – where this new facility helped forge opportunities to be master of the (his) world and the things within it. Of this were born certain inequalities. As background, some fauna (amongst them ovine, equus and bovine, but not the unremittingly smart swine) had already learned to survive through the long cold-snaps by maturing quickly while not becoming too grown up; preparing themselves, (as it were), for a much later place at work and table. In the foreground and aided by such good fortune, a societal shift towards a more mobile and opportunistic life would give, by its features. Plough and husbandry thereby entailing the enhanced position of the male in the productive economy. This turn of the wheel would cause posterities to celebrate a wildly different line of consanguinity – no more alone the mothers’ child, instead the patrilineal heir. In effect, this advent of reformed clans with their increased wars generated a decline in the stature of craft, ritual and herself: operators ripe for dominion. Hierarchical civilizations peopled by the tamed, the feral and the fantastic provide the grounds upon which this seed is broadcast, these lines are drawn.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Jo Baer Four Drawings

This text, co-written with Bruce Robbins, first appeared in a selfpublished work of the same title, Amsterdam, 1993. It was published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, 1993.

seat of power

splendorous “blond” beasts

Beneath the women there is a saddle which sits upon the horse. It was not always so…

Originating from agricultural settlements and not confined to latitudinal growth – at cross purposes to the new pastoral society – the citadel appears.

… and whose hand still holds the whip.

vaulting horse

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Indo-European, pastoral warriors carried en route, with the assistance of their newly-tamed horse, a germinal tongue which has long remained, (its linguisitic descendants now embrace nearly half the population of the planet). This language which the nomad spread along the horizontal axis of his quests – for land, resources and controlling influence became a vessel for his values. Amongst such values, those that he sought in husbandry led to breeding a horse that was not just a source of food but was also an able servant. Envisioned as a means of transport, the nomad selected those animals that were fleet of foot and well able to carry their burden. In complementing the slow-paced ox, the revamped horse tamed for draft, war, plough and herding enabled that swift burst out of the Pontic-Caspian homeland to penetrate India, Persia, Turkey and eventually all of Europe and much of Asia. Husbandry and breeding always require some attention be paid to the sex lives of servants. Successful domestication requires the controlling of desires as well as the where and when of seed deposit.

Taking care to wall out the wild, the citadel simultaneously brought the wild within to perform her less mundane tasks. Amongst other beasts, the leonine goddess was summoned to ensure internal order. In this office she flourished while settled life, with its more efficient production and defenses allowed the populations to increase. Now, with its increased occupation of the earth, the city no longer walls against the wild but creates, instead, artifacts that incorporate remnants and souvenirs of the savage: the zoological garden, the parkland sanctuary, the boxing ring and the emblematic design.

horse headed sceptre The medieval follower of Christ no longer held the same place for the Lioness. None the less he needed to bestow some of her qualities onto his horse. Displacing his fear of the truly feral upon the synthesizing Unicorn, he rendered this fantastic beast as “strong and cruel as the Lion”. The domestic need to tame desire in woman perversely instituted the status of the virgin (that age from the onset of woman’s ability to reproduce up to the time when she is then permitted to exercise that power). Alas, the Unicorn is captured when it lays its head, with penetrative horn, upon a virgin’s lap. Although sentient woman will always be wild, the fabulous unicorn (once hunted like the lion) remains only as fairy tale or chained emblem. So who is left for service?


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 Seat of Power, 1991 mixed media on paper, 100 x 150 cm / 39.4 x 59.1 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Vaulting Horse, 1991 mixed media on paper, 150 x 200 cm / 59.1 x 78.8 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 Splendorous “Blond” Beasts, 1991 mixed media on paper, 150 x 200 cm / 59.1 x 78.8 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Horse Headed Sceptre, 1991 mixed media on paper, 100 x 150 cm / 39.4 x 59.1 inch collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo




The classical confrontation between lion and horse cultures is shown in artifacts across the ages.

A lion attacking a horse, as well as being a zoĂśtic event, also bears witness to archetypal confrontation between peoples. It is shown on the ceremonial staircases leading to the Audience Hall in the remains of the palace of Persepolis, the seat of the ancient Persian empire. The importance of this particular iconography is seen by the placement of the subject alongside carvings of Median and Persian nobles at every entrance.

Lion attacking horse is also seen in an Etruscan wall painting from the François Tomb in Vulci.


Radical Figuration â&#x20AC;&#x201D; 1975-2010

The lion appears throughout the Near East and the Mediterranean in the lands where the Mother Goddess held sway. The horse as ritual animal is carried wherever the Indo-European settled.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

The theme continues to occur: through Roman sculpture, paintings by Rubens in the Baroque, Stubbs in the 18th century and Géricault in the Romantic period.

This same confrontation appears in 1st-century artifacts from the Steppes, where it is clear that although they were familiar with and understood the anatomy of the horse (it was after all horse country) the heavily stylized rendering of the lion displays little knowledge of it’s anatomy and is seen, indeed, to be a strange animal.



Of all the animals which are chosen for totemic use the lion most visibly wears its gender. A perversion of this can be seen in the entrance to a temple, Bungamati in Patan, Nepal, where two male lions (male in so far as both sport manes) guard the entrance. Yet both are sexed by inscribed genitals: the one on the left with a phallus and the one on the right with a vulva. These sexual parts are more human than leonine and extend to the “female’s” protruding, coloured breasts at chest height.

The visual differences between the sexes of lions led those who were perhaps less familiar with the beast to suppose that the male and female were of different species. Hyginus: “Fabuia” 185 records Zeus changing Melanion and Atlanta into lions because, as such, they would not be able to engage in sexual congress due to the fact that “lions mate only with leopards”. On the other hand, from classical Greek and Roman times until the beginning of the 18th century, no European language had technical words for the human females’ ovaries or vagina. Gender was unsexed, the females’ genitalia being merely the withdrawn (and therefore mysterious) inverse of the males’. Herophile (3rd century BC), in his anatomical dissertations, called the ovaries “dydumos”, the name for testicles. Later Galen (2nd century AD), further elaborated this, theorising that women were essentially men but lacked their “vital heat”, which was the reason for their internal retention of the genitals. Men had enough “heat” to keep them outside. In this view, the vagina is like an inverted penis, the uterus like the scrotum and the ovaries, testicles. A Phoenician plaque – illustrating an Egyptian legend – shows a lioness eating a man, and since these plaques were mass-produced and traded widely throughout the Middle East, the lioness would have been understood by some as a female lion, by others as a distinct species of feline.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Another instance of pointedly sexed lion occurs in Egypt with the lioness-headed Sekhmet, goddess of vengeance and punisher of the damned. She was a member of the Great Triad of Memphis (which flourished between 3100 BC and 2000 BC) and she is goddess of war. The leonine attributes of the deities were understood as aggressive and warlike powers. Although the horse was used in battle chariots by Egyptians by 1800 BC, they apparently had no deities employing the horse despite using countless other animals.


A statue in Madrid recalls the primordial mode of transport used by the goddess Cybele: a carriage drawn by lions. The notion of a chariot being drawn by lions is obviously fantastic for there is no way that a lion would undertake this task other than for a god or goddess.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Cybele, the great mother goddess of the wild, lived upon mountains (often in a cave) with lions as faithful companions. Although Cybele is usually associated with the Phrygians – who are classed as IndoEuropeans – she is actually a continuation of an older order that survived in inaccessible regions where invading influences took a less complete hold. There is a moment in all of these cultural transactions when the ikons of gender must interpenetrate one another. Becoming briefly hermaphroditic, once upon a time God created both Adam and Eve in “his” own image. A 600 BC relief from Delphi depicting the war of the gods and giants, shows a chariot drawn by lions with, Cybele and Hercules (who has muscled in), side by side, now of equal standing.

A further decline in stature of the lion deity is illustrated in depictions of the “tamed” lion pulling carts and being ridden: a 15th-century Greek mural shows St. Mamas riding a lion. Wistfully, in legend, the savage lion often appears as the non-feral friend and helper of man.


the subject horse

The extent and progress of invasion that riding made possible is displayed and ranges from Uzbekistan petroglyphs (dated 3000 BC) showing horse-drawn vehicles to simultaneous evidence in the Netherlands of the tamed horse and the wheel. As well, the dramatic effect of a horse-borne warrior is demonstrated by the bestowal of supernatural status: one instance, the Centaur. So it is surely no accident that the horse became identified as a carrier of souls to the underworld, personified by the goddess Aganippe, or as a harbinger of death personified by the goddesses Demeter and Epona. Where the goddess survives in horse culture it is in the role of the creator/ destroyer. Later visions, such as death on horseback show the rider as a skeleton and therefore, to all intents un-sexed (unless it is possible to count the ribs?). A common type of horse shrine, where the skin and head of a horse is suspended on poles, always takes care to include the hooves, for even in symbolic incarnations: ‘no hoof, no horse’. Remnants of the symbolic importance of the horse span from the mountain villages of the Khas in Nepal – where the event of selling a horse is second only in importance to marriage (despite the horse having no discernable practical use in such a landscape) through to Britain – where important servants in the Royal Household hold the titles of equerry (despite having no discernable duties involving horses).


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

It is evident that horses were being ridden in the Pontic-Caspian regions by 4000 BC, some 500 years before the invention of the wheel. Riding certainly led to the extention of long-distance trade and communications across the grasslands. The hostile worlds of the steppes and river valleys then became a conduit for war and trade accompanied by a marked increase of hunting prowess: (it should be noted that to sit upon a horse affords speed, strength and a view of the landscape that is truly revolutionary. If you doubt this, try it). This advantage led both to an enriching, dispersal of culture while encouraging, at the same time, the growth of defensive concentrations of sedentary farming populations.

trading places

An Assyrian frieze from 645 BC, displays in register lions being killed from chariots and horseback. At the top, Ashurbanipal (the king) faces a lion released from a cage; in the middle, he comes up behind a lion and pulls its tail, and at the bottom he pours libation over his kill. When the horse is ridden, the natural relationship between the horse and the lion is reversed. The lion thereby becomes prey and the horse becomes part of the predatory activity.

Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

imaging magic

By the 15th century AD there is an attempt to synthesize the lion and the horse. The horse, by now a well-known, domesticated animal is accorded wildness in the guise of the unicorn. A manuscript from this same time doubles the savage attribute disclosing a wild man riding a wild unicorn.

Another contemporary manuscript shows a wild man taming the lion. Although the beast has become a diminutive dog- or cat-like creature, the lion is still perceived as wild if less potent.


A Cluny tapestry from the same period illustrates a heraldic use of the virgin flanked by a lion and a unicorn. Here a large lion holds a banner as he does in many subsequent emblems.

(We have found no commentary on the protruding tongue of lion and unicorn as heraldic device. But as a regenerating mechanism or equation in ancient hunting [shamanistic] magic, its use is clearly seen: animal bones, skins, and skulls were collected and stuffed with wood shavings, a stick-like tongue protruding from the skull so as to permit the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;god-resurrectâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; access to the animal, allowing it to be reborn and hunted another day.)

In the Royal crest of England the lion has a crown while the unicorn is chained.


Radical Figuration â&#x20AC;&#x201D; 1975-2010

The virgin makes an appearance with both lion and unicorn in a 15th-century manuscript from Sienna where she is flanked by a tiny lion and a sizeable unicorn.

facing down

In a 15th-century Renaissance painting by Massaccio, St. Jerome (who is always depicted with a lion and a sacred text) has the lion “resident” in a bottom corner where, in this diminutive form, it resembles a small dog.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

A later painting from the early 16th century by Corregio also shows St. Jerome, but the lion, although large, now has human features.

Such anthropomorphizing of the lion’s face continues through the 20th century (vide the Trafalgar Square lion), while the lion’s form continues to diminish or become dog-like (e.g. the Pekingese “lion”).

Now that all mortal animals are enslaved, hypostatized or extinct, might not the anomalous Phoenix rise once more from the ashes of redundant technologies to herald a new world order?


First published as ‘Jo Baer. An interview with Linda Boersma’, Bomb, Fall 1995, pp. 59-63.

You’ve had three careers as a painter: a very short one, during the time you worked in Los Angeles, from 1957 until 1960 – Abstract Expressionist work, which I heard you destroyed… Well, I kept a few. From 1960 to 1975, the years you spent in New York, you were considered a minimalist painter along with Mangold and Stella. Your third career started around 1975, when you moved from New York to Ireland, where you began your work on “radical figuration,” in which, as you define it, there is no preeminence of image or space. It seems your work changes with the places you live. Why did you come to Amsterdam? I have a lot of work in the museums and I’ve done shows here. I knew that my work was appreciated even though I didn’t know anyone. You’ve stayed already quite a while… I can’t get out! [laughter] Don’t have enough money. I’d go to Paris in a flash if I had the money! No, they’ve been very, very good to me, the Dutch, exceedingly good to me, and when I’ve had no money they’ve given me a grant for work, so I can’t complain. It’s also a very nice city to live in. So your primary reason to stay in Amsterdam was the opportunities you had here. Yes, of course. I do the best thing for my work, always. I read that you had majored in biology, and in 1952 you were studying at the graduate faculty in physiological psychology in New York. At the New School for Social Research. That’s an unusual background for a painter. How does it influence you as a painter? It doesn’t, but I think a university background is marvelous for intellectual clarity. All artists should have had the kind of education I had, not particularly as a scientist, but certainly intellectually at the university level. I notice that many artists who come through the art schools – their abilities in logic and clear thinking are terrible. I had been trying to teach perception, how the visual system works. And I found that young artists and even adult ones, are scientifically illiterate. I’m very grateful that I can still amuse myself by following various sciences and I find it a rich source for materials.

While you were working on perception and Gestalt, did you have ideas of becoming an artist? My mother was a professional artist and she was very competitive, so I stayed out of art as long as I possibly could. She got wild with jealousy and very nasty when I really became an artist. She screamed at me, “Your child will grow up to be a criminal. And you can’t move to New York; it’s full of Communists.” Then she went and died of cancer, secretly. My mother was very talented, but stupid. I discovered at least I wasn’t stupid. But I discovered that my personality and talents were not really those of a scientist. On my way home from an interview at Yale for my Ph.D., I saw a little Matisse drawing in a window; I burst into tears and I never went back to school. It became a question of what to do, and finding the courage to become an artist. I was asking about your study of perception because in your minimal works you talked about Mach Bands. Mach Bands, named for Ernst Mach, occur whenever there is a change from light to dark between two areas: on the light side of the edge a lighter strip is seen, and the dark side a dark band. Yes, they’re there. I was always curious why the color on the palette was different than the color on the painting. I knew what I wanted something to look like, and I found that the means to do it were so different than the end result. And then I was very pleased to discover the reasons why. So I did some writing on it. At the time, concept art was very important, and they seemed to want to discuss things constantly. I was never a concept artist. According to Gestalt, we see in patterns. So what? Try not to see in patterns! There’s so many things that science analyzes which are valuable for a conversation with an art historian or a critic. If you have to make yourself look intellectually respectable it’s very handy to have, and it helps to organize your mind, but you don’t need it for making your work. On the other hand, being able to read about perception and think about this kind of thing is very valuable in making work – damned if I could tell you why. When you compare your work to that of the other minimal painters, in a way yours looks different… I remember Sol LeWitt saying to me, “Why are you using a piece of color in there?” I had to tell him I was a painter, that’s what painting’s about. And I had an awfully hard time with the sculptors, because no one would even consider paintings then. And as you may have read in my writings, I feel that all the intellectual apparatus necessary for those sculptors had already happened in painting. They were taking their sculptures from what painters had already invented, and they weren’t even aware of it. A lot of the sculptors were failed painters anyway, and I’d seen their old paintings; they were right to move on. But I was discriminated against as a painter, much more than as a woman.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Jo Baer interviewed by Linda Boersma, 1995

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

That was my second question. No, I didn’t have any particular trouble as a woman, until feminism became an issue. Then I started being asked to be the token woman at meetings, which I declined. I discovered a group of men were meeting with Dan Flavin and Bob Morris in a move against museums. They asked me to join and make statements. I’m not even sure what it was about, because they had already had three or four meetings. I told them that and they said, “Yes, but we need a woman.” I said, “Well, get someone else. Obviously, I’m not important enough to have been asked in the first place.” I have been included in shows I more or less should have been included in, not because I was a woman but because of my work. Did they think that your minimal work looked different because you were a woman? The only time I saw that happening was when I was given the cover of Artforum, and instead of printing my name in the usual black or grey they used lavender. [laughter] And a certain museum director wrote about what a fine poetic sensibility I had. The feminists had a problem with me; they used to call me a female man, because I was successful in the male world. I wasn’t painting vaginas like Judy Chicago. The work was different because I was interested in working with black and white, that is, light and dark, and color. Prior to that time there was color-field painting, which was all about color, and there was black and white painting, which was very abstract and tough. I’m not interested in that kind of Cartesian dualism. I felt that you needed both in the work. Sounds like a very rigid system. But that’s how it was. Read Clement Greenberg at the time. He was saying that black and white painting was on its last legs. Practically the best American art had been in black and white: Kline, De Kooning’s black and white paintings are superb, the Motherwells… It was a market thing, I think. The minimalists were placing themselves as Puritans against the hedonists. Around 1975 you moved from New York to the countryside of Ireland. And in that same period your work went through quite a radical change. Yes, but that was intentional. You mentioned that it changed with every country, but you know, it would change with every new studio. I accept that; it’s built in. You see the world differently – your view out the window, your space, your ceiling height – everything is different. So even at that level your work will change. I moved from New York in order to change the work. I showed you a painting I started in New York and could only finish in Ireland. The pressure of a place like New York is very strong. I wasn’t terribly fond of the direction I saw painting going in when I lived there. It was going into its dumb mode, where the dumber you work was, the better. I

was not about to go into cartoons. It’s easy to stand outside and be sour, but it’s very difficult to build anything new. So, I was looking for a place to go, and Ireland was perfect, except that nobody came to see the work. I became very poor. But then when I came to Amsterdam the work changed again. Dutch art affected me; I became much more formal. I have to work hard to stay off the center and to not frame things. When you’re an expatriate you do bring your own terms with you to the place, and then you can back out a little. I’m not that closely related to the art world here; they really would rather I wasn’t here. It’s very competitive. Is there an explanation for this hostility? Maybe they don’t want people coming in from outside. They give all their funding to their friends. But so many of the very best European artists were also expatriates – Picasso, for example. It’s almost a necessary thing to do. I find that most young artists here don’t understand originality. They don’t understand when I object to a kind of work I’ve seen for thirty years. They say, “Yes, but I’m doing better.” I say, “You’ve had thirty years to practice; why wouldn’t it be better and who cares? Better is not the point.” They don’t understand art as a living language, that you must destroy things in order to build new things. This is the general characteristic of European artists, Dutch certainly. So for these reasons, the Dutch are antagonistic to me, probably because I’m the ranking foreigner in this country. They can’t push me around too badly, because I do have some international prestige. But some of them have been very, very good to me. They are now going to start putting me into shows with Dutch artists. It’s good for them. I brought some very good things from America. I brought “I couldn’t give a damn about what anyone thinks.” I brought the notion that I would like to be European, but not Dutch, not English, not Irish; at least I grew through those things. As far as I’m concerned I’m about half-European and half-American, and I will be Dutch when it suits me, or when it fits well. In 1983, in an article in Art in America you state very clearly that you’re no longer an abstract artist. Right. You start the text by saying that modern avant-garde art died in the seventh decade of the twentieth century. Why do you think it died at that time, and how could you be so sure it was death? It died of old age. The world changed in the Sixties. We understood that revolution was no longer possible in 1968, that multi-nationals ran things, that Marxism as we had understood it did not work, that social justice was not imminent, that the optimism, which was the whole thrust of the twentieth century, was no longer current. The work in the Sixties was utopian. We already knew it was over and we were saying, “Yes, but…” I think that was what characterized minimalist work.


You mean that the forms are exhausted or meaningless in a changing world? They’re no longer relevant. I find that most abstract art is pure décor now. It isn’t communicating. And it only speaks to a very limited audience: those who understand how it’s made. Art is always elite, but this is too small an elite. So it separated itself from the world and had its own language and preached for its own parish. Yes. And that’s why you have enormous amounts of corporate money coming into that kind of art. The big businesses want to keep it at the decorative level; they don’t want things speaking and they don’t want any challenges. Do you know the article “Minimal Art and the Rhetoric of Power?” According to Anna C. Chave, minimal art has exactly the same ideals as multi-nationals: they look industrial, impersonal, powerful. They are impressive and look as if they can control the world. The organic part was controlled and replaced by industrial science. This Art in America article of yours… Let’s call it a polemic. I exaggerated it quite a bit in order to write it. What was the art world’s reaction to it? None that I know of. I have a blessing that’s a curse: I’m ten years ahead, and I find myself stuck, really out there, with no one to talk to, no one to argue with, or even play with. Nobody knows what the

hell I’m talking about. Now, almost twelve years after the article it seems normal, but at the time no one could relate to what I was saying. They thought I was a troublemaker or a crazy woman who ran away somewhere anyway – what do we need her for? None of the Europeans understood that I wasn’t attacking the process of abstraction; I was merely saying that we have to broaden what we do as artists, and that making installations, spreading out in space, is not the way to make things different. I adore being a painter because it’s in one place. It has so many traditional aspects, you can forget about new technologies unless you need them. And you can work out really complicated ideas in painting. It’s easy to make an object that’s desirable. I see a lot of “good” sculpture in that sense, desirable objects that I don’t mind looking at. I see very few good paintings. You’ve been working on a construct you call “radical figuration” since you stopped painting in the abstract. What exactly do mean by “radical figuration,” and how is it different from traditional figuration? Radical means that you don’t allow any particular image to dominate the space; you’re not doing portraits, or storytelling, or illustration, but using images to convey meanings. I use fragments of images, transparencies, scale, and other various things to weaken the image. I use as much real drawing as I need in order to convey the name of the image – this is an arm; this is half a woman; this is an object of some sort. The figuration is radical in the sense that it’s always partial, in one way or another. A lot of American work is just a single image relating to its space. They do it the way old Abstract Expressionists did it, by playing with edges and lines, which I do also – I’ll do anything I need. But, if you’re using a number of images in a complicated space you have to get from one to another, so the transitions become very important. But if you compare the way you use myths or historical developments to Anselm Kiefer, for instance, who works with German history and also goes back to non-written art, in what way is there a difference in figuration? Some of those early Kiefers are marvelous paintings; they use radical figuration. I don’t mean I’m the only one who does it. I just mean that figuration must be different. I don’t bring in myth to raise the prestige quality of the painting. I’ll only use myths that I think people will recognize. It’s working with clichés that people can understand and relate to. There’s an enormous vocabulary from the past that we can use in our own ways. You choose elements from different historical times and assemble them on your canvas. You’ve said that if you assemble them with “contemporary commitment,” it might be possible to revive reverenced icons or even trite icons that can communicate meaning. But I’m not interested in the resuscitation of old images.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

But what exactly was utopian about it? Utopias always happen in situations where the world has become too terrible to contemplate. We had Vietnam and all manner of things that, to my generation, were unthinkable. Every decent leader was assassinated: the Kennedys, Martin Luther King… the whole world was coming to an end. So art went into the utopian ideal; it avoided the reality. There was an enormous amount of political naivete. Art was quasi-political, not truly political but not without politics, by any means. Ambiguity is a real thing: art should be as complicated as the world and our world can no longer be parceled into “either/or.” Yet from the end of the Sixties on, abstract and concept art became more and more attenuated, decorative, and intellectual. You could feel it wasn’t saying what was necessary; it was speaking to wishful thinking – that you can fix the politics by making propaganda for people who already feel and think the way you do. Most of the concept art – especially the political part – was useless because worst of all it made people feel good, as if they’d done something. And of course, they didn’t do anything. Nobody could do anything; nobody understood anything in the Seventies. And so you could feel something else was coming and was going to happen. But certainly not these old ideas. They’re from the beginning of the twentieth century and they’re finished.

But what is their meaning then? The meaning is incorporated in the whole, in the total canvas. Single images don’t mean anything, other than naming themselves or their activity. I choose things and I structure them to get new meanings. You’ll have your own readings.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

But in your latest work, there is a definite message. Several, probably. But I also think it’s necessary to say propaganda is not very good art; decorative stuff is not very good art. We all have an understanding of things that are alive in our time, that speak to people in our time, and for time to come. Good art will always have this peculiar quality that it carries through the ages. It really does change people, their mindsets, their emotional sets; it speaks in very complicated ways. But please don’t ask me to explain it. You say you don’t want to be a storyteller, but your images are very evocative. That’s exactly what I mean. I consider it mandatory to be rude in every painting at certain points. It’s important to include some of the less pleasant aspects of life, like death and shit. And also to make sure your work doesn’t become kitsch. If I could place a precise definition on my work, it would no longer be very effective and it would certainly go out of style in six months. I was wondering, when I was looking at the minimal paintings and the work you’re doing now, to what extent this radical figuration of yours contradicts the minimal work. Would you say there is a contrast? Well, you can’t sum it up, it depends. I was wondering to what extent both kinds of work could be seen as a result of a fascination with what a painting is. Painting should remain self-conscious and formal in the sense that Greenberg once spoke of it, and I still believe in the shallowness of the space. I’ll fool around with bits of perspective, but it’s very shallow, and obviously artificial. I’m using the same kind of information in these figurative paintings that I used in my minimal work, which was about light and edges. I’m still concerned with light, and sensitive to edges of line, forms and canvases, but I’ve broadened the vocabulary considerably. You are speaking about the formal organization, and the parallels between the minimal work and the work you’re doing now. But I’m thinking that the content of both works might not be so different either. Well, I’d be interested in hearing about that, because that’s something I don’t know about. In the Seventies you wrote some clear political statements. There seemed to be a parallel between the formal organization of your work – the relation of form and the surrounding space in a painting and a

political content, the question of invading territories and extending borders on land. This political view seems to reflect both your abstract and figurative work. Yes and no. In the Sixties we were much more interested in selfdetermination. Certainly there was a sort of political content to the minimal work, as far as I am concerned. But it really seemed to be about identity and the rights of individuals to maintain themselves as individuals. I now contradict myself and say I’m not sure just how many rights any individual has outside of the true context of the society and the world. It’s much more complicated and that’s why I’ve been characterizing all the minimal work as enormously naive. If there’s any real change that is necessary, it’s to get rid of that naivete. Naivete is dangerous in the real world, especially in American politics. You said that images and their sources do not constitute a painting’s meaning. Then you said it’s the organization of images by the artist or by the viewer which produces meaning. Both, either. And changing positions and circumstances shape forms and meanings. The forms in your paintings come from very evocative systems. You say you don’t want to be a storyteller, but I wonder if this might be a contradiction. In the 1993 catalogue of the Moore College of Art, you talk about a specific meaning, or a certain figuration, such as the lioness and the horse. Yes. But that was a parallel text. The work had already been finished when I wrote it. This specific meaning is only alluded to in the work in a few places. I found the subject so interesting that I wanted to explore it in writing. But you don’t need that text in order to look at the work. The painting is the vision of what I’m trying to say. Looking at the work you make now and then back at your minimal work, I suddenly had this association like a slide-projection screen. Thomas McEvilley said it’s like the back of a projection screen that has flipped forward. These are all very interesting ideas, but they’re not mine. Perhaps you take the images too seriously. For me, it’s difficult not to do so. They way the series is composed – the woman, the horse, the saddle – it’s not pure coincidence. Of course not. The saddle sits on the horse, and the woman sits on the saddle. The saddle is an invention of control. Being able to control animals and the world around you are the effect of surpluses, of civilization reaching a certain place where we begin controlling each other. You have slaves and servants, and animals. And women fall into that capacity in certain levels of civilization. I don’t know why you bring that up. Because of how I structure things, of course. If you’ve got a horse


around you might as well have a saddle. Or, you might have a whip, a plow, or a chariot. These are choices that speak. The fact that I combine it with a woman shows that I was interested in what it means to domesticate something, the difference between the wild and the tame. Does your last work have a title yet? Yes, it’s called, When Every Lamplight’s Spent. It is a diptych. The two panels are titled separately, underneath. The square one is The Sardana Becomes Infernal, and the second one comprises the rest of the lines: And a Shadowy Lucifer Descends on a Prow of the Thames or Hudson or Seine, Thrashing Bituminous Wings, Half-Shorn From the Effort to Tell You: “It’s Time.” That’s the title. To me, it looks like an evolution diptych. I don’t see why.

Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Well, there is a globe on the left side, “three hundred million years,” written under it, all these animals, and a mixture of Egyptian culture and contemporary buildings. On the other hand, there is this idea of doom, a black bird descending, and a nuclear U-boat. I’m mixing organic, the new and old, and the mythical. The bird is a harpy, a carrier of souls. The one on the left side is about messengers; the other one is the message. When I worked as a minimal artist on a diptych, I used iteration and made them identical. But in this case, I’ve made them different sizes, connected but different, so they evolve. The painting is about time – but not time in the evolutionary sense, it’s about time spans. So I’m not saying pyramids became modern buildings. As with animals and dreamers, in a painting there is no such thing as a future or a past tense. The painting is also about light and dark and space. The panels are no longer identical because the world is no longer that simple. Will that satisfy you as an explanation, or are you still unhappy? No, let me put it this way: do you think that there will ever be a return of a live abstract art? Anything’s possible. I don’t see why not, twenty or thirty years from today. But I think what the twentieth century invented was style, and that’s what we have to get rid of. I’ve used all kinds of styles, but twentieth-century artists used style itself as their overriding theme – trying different ways of organizing very complicated materials, figuring out one overall concept in order to handle it. We can now see that that doesn’t work. But there’s no real reason why what was done in abstract art can’t continue to be done just as well with images, instead of triangles and squares.


The Diptych, 1997-1998

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Written for the exhibition catalogue The Pursuit of Painting, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 1997, p. 52. In August 1998, the text was expanded for the catalogue Jo Baer: Paintings 1960-1998, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 26-27, as reprinted below.

When I was working as a minimalist painter in the ’60s and ’70s I used the diptych form as an iterative device, which is to say that saying something twice or more can reinforce what is meant (or for the viewer, practice makes perfect). Chasing “essences,” I became interested in the differences between the singular, the doubled and the many, whereupon I came to realize that single paintings objectified the unique, doubled identical ones spoke of entity, and three or more under or within one rubric implied sets, series, and continuums ad-infinitum. These concepts served me well as simple thumb-rules for much of that body of work. Today, thirty years later, I again find the diptych form efficacious, but now use it to embody relational propositions rather than assigning it to redouble entity and its specifics. Augmenting this shift, current diptychs have also become asymmetrical in size, configuration, and matter. Three recent large works produced in this new up-dated approach investigate three particular but related courses: coupled panels now delineate association of conjunction, alternation and the conditional. Conjunction is a mode of composition which joins elements to make a fuller compound entity. In the painting titled It’s Time, one panel, When Every Lamplight Spent, abstractly lists images of incorporated lines of poetry itemizing illustrations, while its larger sister panel, The Sardana Becomes Infernal, depends instead on colour, composition and a variant yet similar set of images to treat the same text. In other words, in this single work the diptych form allows two separate ways of presenting the same material at the same time: in form, a “this and that” exposition. A “this or that,” alternating use of the diptych is seen in the painting Vision and Prayer. Here the two-part division performs a linkage in which, although each panel addresses opposite moods and intentions, together they still speak of their one implicit subject, “Creation,” in both its dark and light adoring modes. This kind of ordering, an “and/or” or “or both” set of alternatives, allows an expansive and varying view of complementaries (and hence complexities) for rendering broad gists or motifs. A third use of doubling can be seen in the painting titled The Old Lie, an “if this then that” conditional orchestration, wherein the horizontal panel Slaughter shows some contingent effects arising from the posits of the vertical panel, Holy Oil and Holy Water. The painting’s signifying texts, in a loose use of the relational proposition, have been reversed in each panel vis-à-vis its images, so allowing each part to also be re-read singularly in a “this from that”

manner. As the truth of conditional statements is essentially timeneutral, that is, is indifferent to the tense of its indicative verb – “Mix,” in this case – by using this causal short-hand, past or future dimensions are available as well, for a reading usually denied to the tenseless primary-language of painting, dreams and animals. Inclusions and parsings of poetry along with the divided format would seem an odd or even bizarre avenue to follow in the fabrication of paintings. Yet through inclusions of texts plus assays of their logistics, I find I can greatly extend the prospects of possible meaning in a discipline which has latterly become trivial and almost exclusively a decorative art. And while both “headlining” and “doubling” in one’s work require some care with a close attention to grammar, syntax, and content, results can be rewardingly broad. For instance, the premise of the painting mentioned immediately above rests intrinsically on its verb “mix.” The “mix” is dogma and power, its effect, carnage, a subject, action and predicate implying “War.” Outside of such a focused reciprocating duet, this is a leitmotiv which more usually appears in paintings only as stillborn description, metaphor, or strip illustration. The nod to logic need not unduly surprise. The conjugation of logic and painting offers several things in common, amongst which one finds both endeavours able to present huge subjects via the command and manipulation of the finest details. For just as logic’s operant marks exist to specify the most exact relations occurring in its scrutinized sentences, so too, it is painting’s precise surface marks – no matter how general, fuzzy or oceanic an artist’s chosen concept – which must finally specify and deliver the work of art. Equally, where logic’s primary objective is to sort out and render the truth or falsity of statements, so too must a painting’s raison d’être reside in placing that other form of truth, authenticity, before the viewer. It appears that the well worn idiom holds good yet once again. Whether early or late, as tautology or paraphrase, the diptych has granted my undertakings a productive framework imparting identities of both instance and sort. Plus ça change…


Letter to a Young Artist, 2006 First published in: Peter Nesbett, Sarah Andress (eds.), Letters to a Young Artist, New York, Darte Publishing, 2006, pp. 89-90.

I am both an insider and an outsider, and there is nothing more dangerous. An interview by Ines Doujak, 2008 First published in Sarah Kolb (ed.), Jo Baer, Vienna, Secession, 2008, pp. 25-28.

Dear Young Artist:

Sincerely, (signature blocked out – mass production could prove damaging) Jo Baer Amsterdam

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? 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!” 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? 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 from Amsterdam kept 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.” Do you get strong reactions from the public? Actually, yes. I have one friend, a woman, an old hippie, who was one of the first people I knew here. She saw one of these paintings, it was called The Old Lie and it had a picture of the Vietnamese girl on fire, running… And she came up to me and said: “If you were still married, your husband would not let you do this!” And, “I had no idea, you were so depressed.” I could never speak to her again. “If your husband…!? If you were still married…!? Your husband would not allow you to do this!?” Can you believe it? And this is a woman from the ’60s! ... who grew up with feminism, and women’s liberation… Yes! So, apparently, there is something in my work that reaches people. Even if it’s offending. That’s why I know the work is good. It


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

Art world participation could spoil your “integrity” and “freedom of thought”? You talk tosh. Only you – on your own – can do that. Furthermore, anyone employing the word “tainted” in regard to the art world should either grow up or else content themselves with amateur productions. If you intend to make work that you want others to enjoy or appreciate, the [commercial] art world will be part and parcel of your universe: the best art must always be grounded in its contemporary reality, both in its production and in its distribution. Ivory towers are only for the very young, the menopausal of both sexes, or the dissatisfied or disgruntled. The best art seldom resides there. Lots of gallery opportunities exist for young artists because their work is cheap and thus easy to invest in. If a good gallery is interested in you early on, the only real reason to shy away from showing is the risk that early successes might box you into continuing a praxis that works (i.e., sells), which could then be parlayed into teaching positions, etc., restricting further developments of your work (if you let it). But there’s nothing wrong with any of this: it’s a pattern common to the greater part of the artists’ world. On the other hand, time to explore yourself won’t get you much farther than what you like and dislike. The best art is not based on self, but rather on what’s important to imagine – and how best to cogently articulate this. Then again, if you genuinely want “time to develop a true sense of self,” I would suggest you take time off from the art world to travel and work abroad to learn how other people think, or perhaps consider gaining a university education (or both). The art world’s not going away. You can always get back to it. Although my own university schooling preceded my art, I have always valued its imparted sophistications, which were critical later in sizing up and deciding my work’s trajectories. Knowing a lot about your world, and how things really work over the long run, is a hell of a lot more useful than keeping up with the galleries. I wish you good luck illuminating your future career’s “sublime and invisible mountain” (a Rilke quote perhaps?).

speaks. It’s one of the first things you ask of art, that it speaks to audiences. The problem is, people don’t quite know how to handle it, and they don’t let it speak very often: don’t show it or buy it, sell it or send it around. And I was thinking nowadays they really should, because there is certainly a very big market for painting. Even though most of it is very bad painting, they should at least try mine out, and allow me in.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

What are people afraid of? I don’t know. You’re asking the wrong person. I do what I do and it all seems absolutely proper and easy. Well, not easy, but correct. It’s hard work to get it right. This is not production line stuff. Like, with minimal art, I could hire people to do the work, and I did. You know, I mix the colors, and hand them to art students and I go out and do my shopping or whatever. But this, of course, I have to do myself. So I don’t know the answer, honestly. Maybe genuine art is no longer useful. You once said in an interview: “You have to be rude, otherwise, you don’t get anywhere in this art world.” How do you get a mule to do anything? You take a two-by-four piece of wood, and soak it in machine oil until it gets very hard. And then you take this stick of wood and you come out and you hit the mule on the head. [laughs] and then you have his attention. This is what I mean by rude: You really have to hit them on the head first to get their attention. So once you have it, you have a bit more leeway I think. But every now and then, you should get the old two-by-four out... Again, this is a queer thing, it isn’t a personality thing. Being good isn’t enough. Being talented is not enough. There is a point where you simply have to deal with getting work into the world and must get their attention. Yes, you have to establish a need for your work. You have to play with your image. I have a nice tough image in that art world that doesn’t know me personally, and it all goes to hell when they do get to know me. [laughs] I was in a Whitney annual with a painting like the minimal diptych that will be in the Secession. My students couldn’t believe I did that. They could not put together the person they knew from teaching – the person you are speaking to right now, being capable of doing that work which was very formal, very tough and very strong. The other day you mentioned that minimal art was expected to be hard and then you talked about the softness… Well, can you think of any minimal art that was not hard-edged or hard? Most minimal art was sculpture anyway. So that’s always harder. Now you have things like process art, where artists like Anish Kapoor and Eva Hesse made things from soft materials or did piles of powdered colors. But they bothered to distinguish them-

selves from Minimalism as a reaction against it. So they went soft. But in terms of painting, the idea of doing soft work was anathema. If you had suggested to my fifteen or twenty-year-old self to do such a thing, I would absolutely refuse with some contempt. It was a nono. Soft (tonal painting) was “feminine,” and bad manners on top of everything else. So of course I did it. It was a revelation to me. I didn’t persist with it very long, because it’s a lot of trouble to take the edge away. It requires a certain kind of touch in doing it that’s not really in my being. But it was nice and useful to know that soft is all right, too. When I was preparing for the interview, a lot of antipode pairs caught my eye. You have these very dark paintings and these very light ones, your works are very gentle and subtle, and at the same time hard and bold. I found all these dichotomies and contradictions. Yes, obviously it’s in my nature. I am an extreme person. The middle often baffles me and I have trouble getting from one place to another since I am quite intense wherever I am. It’s a structure that I was born with. There’s nothing wrong with that, if you can manage it. But to be extreme actually calls for a classical art. My work is about balance. Always. And that’s classical art in the true and full meaning of the word. I am not a romantic artist. (The problem is I am sometimes a romantic person.) Do you ever imagine your viewer, the one who looks at your pictures? I always understood who my audience was. When I did the lowhanging paintings and the ones that went around the sides, it was to make the viewer walk around, to move. I don’t like the idea of the contemplative viewer, the one who sits in one place. To me this is a kind of person whom I really do not wish to appeal to. So it was my great pleasure, to say: if you don’t get off your ass and move around, you don’t get it. I actually operated deliberately against a certain kind of audience. But that audience, looking back historically, can’t believe I would do anything so truly simple-minded. This all sounds like I am very anti-bourgeois. I am not in the long run – only in feeling but not in true fact because I know they are the only people that keep us from the savages. And in that I am on their side. Please let them stay, and their collections and their money come my way, etc. That’s my art world political position. I take great pleasure when these people come into the studio in being quite formal and distant. They are afraid of me. And I like reinforcing that. They should be. I am both an insider and an outsider, and there is nothing more dangerous. You just said, you like to reinforce the fear in a certain kind of audience. How do the galleries react on the significant provocations/changes in your career? Well, they have barely shown the image work in the US until this year. I was invited to participate in the Paula Cooper Gallery 20th an-


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010 It’s Time (Eugenio Montale), 1993-1994 left: The Sardana Becomes Infernal right: When Every Lamplight Spent... diptych, oil on canvas, overall 425.6 x 370.8 cm / 173.7 x 151.3 inch collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam


Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Vision and Prayer (Dylan Thomas), 1996-1997 diptych, oil on canvas with silkscreen, overall 365 x 426 cm / 167.8 x 143.8 inch collection of the artist


Radical Figuration â&#x20AC;&#x201D; 1975-2010 Shrine of the Piggies (The Pigs Hog it All and Defacate and Piss on Where From They Get It and With Whom They Will not Share. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s It), 2000 oil on canvas, 183 x 153 cm / 72.1 x 60.3 inch collection of the artist

Testament of the Powers That Be (Where Trees Turn to Sand, Residual Colors Stain the Lands), 2001 oil on canvas, 183 x 153 cm / 72.1 x 60.3 inch collection of the artist



Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

The caves? The paintings were made from images of artifacts or drawings on the walls that I played with. And no one knew what to do with such works or what to say about them. They had no idea. So, I was very out-of-step: painting that was going on at that time was Lüpertz and Baselitz – revisionary expressionists – or early Schnabels (which I think were as good as anything. He understood the right thing to do). But of them all, I only really liked the work of Anselm Kiefer. Do you relate to other artists? Very little. What would I relate to? I did notice a few years ago that a Jeff Wall giant kodachrome thing was trying to do the same thing that I can do easily in paint. He used a number of disparate images but it doesn’t work in photography. You can’t get from one place or image to another, except by dissolving or something. You said once, you don’t consider most photography as art, because it’s… I can’t say that. And of course, if somebody says it’s art, then it’s art. I am not going to argue with that. I just don’t think it’s very good art. I mean, there is good art, and then there is bad art, and then there is some art nobody cares about, or I don’t. I feel that way about photography, and I feel that way about performance. I wonder why they are not doing it in the theatres or showing in the art galleries. But that doesn’t matter. Who am I to say what is art?

Do you think that pictures communicate with other pictures? Yes. I would say paintings, if you don’t mind. This is what Rudi Fuchs was a genius at. I have never seen a show like the one he did at the Castello de Rivoli (Ouverture. Arte contemporanea, 1985, Torino). All the work spoke to the other work. All was in dialogue, it was absolutely extraordinary. Well, he stopped doing that, after a while, but it’s a pity. He showed what he loved and what he understood and could play with it. Do you think it’s important to be recognized as an artist? Oh, I love it when people understand my work, but that’s rare. The problem I am having even with galleries is that they don’t understand the work at all; they don’t understand the paintings. Sometimes I have to name all the images and things, something which does not lead to any real understanding. Work is about its internal structure such as the manner, modes and vehicles of the images in their spaces, as well as their relations to one another in their surrounds and contexts. Can say something about the choice you made for the show in the Secession? I chose these two big diptychs, because they are museum-quality works. And I chose two works because I was asked to choose one favorite: as I have done two very distinct and rather different bodies of work, I don’t see myself choosing between them. I know these two pairs work well together, and assuming the space was right, they would make a beautiful show. That’s all.

But could you define good art? No. I know it only when I see it. I would say, though, that it’s elite. Out of necessity. Art deals with values. And an art work is a record of decisions and choices made, where the value of this is greater than the value of that. This is built in and necessary. As for me, I end up, I would say, pretty high up, I would call mine a high art – not necessarily avant-garde, but certainly high – and that is elitist. But it’s like saying: “Look, mathematicians and cashiers, both work with numbers, and I am a ‘mathematician’, working at the highly conceptual end of things.” I don’t apologize for it. Other artists can see my work, other people can see it, and they can take ideas and feelings from it, just as many people take ideas and useful info from mathematics (only money comes from cashiers). In other words, there are levels of generalizations, and I belong to a high level. I can’t even do the low stuff.


Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

niversary show in 1988 (since I was in the first show of her gallery), so I sent her one of the image paintings, and although it was shown it was sent back, no comment. I also did a show in 1983 with the very first of the Irish paintings, at my son’s gallery, a public space (112 Greene Street, which became White Columns). I got a little review in the New York Times, because I was a name. And they said: Well, these are from the caves…

A telephone interview by Brian Evans White, 2009

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Previously unpublished interview.

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? 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 transparent, 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 without dialogue isn’t useful these days. I find that’s what’s wrong with most of the young painters, they paint 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. You use history and flat imagery like maps and constellations in your work, as well as cave imagery and artifacts. What is your goal in the arrangement of these ideas? I wish to use image language that is available. Going to other cultures – the caves, Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans, whatever – they’re interesting images, images that are not usual, not part of every magazine or billboard. If you can just ditch their historical context, halfway maybe, they’re all recognizable as to where they come from. However, if you use several from other places you’re saying these are human images. They’re specific but they’re speaking different languages, and why not? Our behaviors and interests go all the way back to the caves, many of them. There is a singularity in your early paintings and it was important for them to have no loose ends. Your paintings now feel like it’s all about creating loose ends for the viewer. Yes, I’m leaving it for anyone to construct the painting. It’s halfstructured. Loose ends, I like that. Do you find it more or less difficult or satisfying than the minimalist works? Painting minimalist is horrible – you have a canvas on a pair of saw horses. It’s idiot work. On the other hand, finding a color that works exactly is quite gratifying. Those are not simple paint-

ings. It’s very precise and if you get it wrong, it doesn’t work and it’s just like everybody else’s blank canvas. I was working essentially with color. It was interesting how I could make colors do all kinds of things just in that format and I could induce moods even. It was a lot of trouble to make. It was dull but it had its interests. Precision was not exactly it, getting it right is. You get this finicky little white line on the edge coming around the top of the edge onto the black, but if that isn’t there the whole painting is lost. It becomes a cut-out thing of black on the wall, a piece of stationery, a menu, whatever. All of your paintings have a strong sense of staring back. [laughs] Thank you. They are very multi-stable. It’s interesting how recently they have a similar effect through the use of ideas rather than just a visual effect to take in. Well, yes, I’ve broadened and I’m using everything I discovered when I did the minimalist work; one doesn’t throw away anything they’ve learned. I wanted to expand what I was doing, I wanted to expand my audience, I had a terrible feeling about the art elite. In the transitional works – the wrap-around paintings, the very low ones, the narrow ones that wrap around the sides – I decided to make the audience move around. This idea of sitting trance-like in front of a painting offended me [laughs]; I found it very bourgeois that people had the leisure to do that. There’s definitely something wrong with that kind of thing. I wanted them off their asses and moving. Mark Godfrey was brought in to do a lecture when I had my show at Dia. The lecture was quite amusing – he talked about those paintings and how you can’t see the whole thing at once. You have to remember one side and get to the other, you can’t see the damn thing and you get pissed off. He was asking, “Why would she do that? Surely it can’t be as simple as she wants people to move?” But of course it is. But he’s British, they have another view on what is simple and what is proper. We Americans, and I’m still somewhat American, we are that simple. We take pleasure in it, because simple ain’t simple, ever. When did you move from New York? I moved to Europe in 1975. “Negentienhonderdvijfenzeventig,” in Dutch. I lived for almost ten years in Ireland, and in London for three years (I hated it) and I’ve been in Amsterdam since. Its comfortable and I’m an old woman and I have a beautiful studio. I started running 25 years ago when I quit smoking. I run a couple times a week with my iPod and my Nike computer program, and podcast from DJ I’m afraid if I stop I might rust. Do you keep in touch with your peers from New York like John Wesley, Richard Serra, Dan Graham, etc.?


John Wesley is an ex-husband as you know. I was married to him for eleven years. I have a painted lamp that I bought from him as we were separating. I was getting a grant from Washington DC and he didn’t, so I bought it – it was my reading lamp. I’ve just recently put it in his Prada show in Venice. My son tells me I could get $150,000 for it so I‘m sort of in touch with John Wesley in that sense. Dan Graham visited me in Ireland, as well Walter De Maria. Sol I was close to. Smithson I really liked, we were good friends but he died a long time ago. Judd and I became enemies of a sort and Bochner also. Andre, I see when I’m in NY, and we’ve become friends. He’s very strange. So am I, I guess. Serra I saw in a restaurant a few years ago when I was doing a show at Dia. I was with the curator. I went over and said, “Hello Richard” and he said, “Who are you?” [laughs] He knew very well. I liked his earliest work much more than his monumental works. He did some great flowing work. He poured a plastic to look like pig skin with hair sticking out of it, I’ll never forget that. He was actually a very a good sort of surrealist until he decided to get on the high art Judd bandwagon. He was all right, Judd was better I suspect. Well, Smithson was better than either of them.

I was doing these great big paintings and I hadn’t been selling very much of this work. Any work that had sold was by myself or for museums. I suddenly decided that I really needed money and I would make smaller paintings in a series that would be more available, I thought. I halfway went back to minimalist rootes as I decided to take images that mirrored the stretcher bars, and a urinal is a good rectangle. I also think toilets are interesting. I do believe in being rude at some point in a painting; it’s necessary to ground it. The paintings have a way of being in several places at once. Often between vulgarity, intellectualism and elegance. You’ll see one side immediately and soon after the others reveal themselves and interact with one another. I am elegant by nature, but I pride myself on being vulgar and I don‘t mind showing that. In terms of painting I think it’s necessary, you don’t want to get co-opted. Someone came in here once, a friend of Robert Miller Gallery, he knew me and wanted me to show with Robert Miller Gallery. He came by for a studio visit and I had one of the big paintings from the Van Abbe show, with a black man hanging on one side and some dancers on the other. He looked at that and said, “You can’t put something like

I wanted to be sure to ask about the title for the painting, Shrine of the Piggies (The Pigs Hog it All and Defacate and Piss on Where From They Get It and With Whom They Will not Share. That’s It). [laughs] Titling is fun, it’s the only part of making these paintings that’s any fun. Isn’t that a good one? The quote in parentheses is a friend of mine, a New York artist, a fourth husband type, who I’m still close to. I sent him an image on the web when it was finished and at first he didn’t get it and then he wrote back ‘Oh! “The Pigs Hog it All and Defacate and Piss on Where From They Get It and With Whom They Will not Share. That’s It,”’ and it was so good, even misspelling ‘defecate’.

Radical Figuration — 1975-2010

How do you feel about their choices to remain with a single artistic voice throughout their whole careers? They were men earning a good living. They were having a pissing contest over who earned the most money and that sort of thing. I had a different need – I was a woman successful in a man’s world. The feminists called me a “female man” because I was successful. They wouldn’t even have anything to do with me, until the past five years. Now I’m a role model, which is much better. I felt I had a responsibility to be more ambitious than the men. The men were comparing Cadillacs in the parking lot. I have a very special position as somebody equal to the others of my time while still carrying a very great load for the women and showing that it’s possible to do all this. You have to do the right thing and to do the right thing you have to change. Otherwise it’s just dishonest.

Altar of the Egos, working version, projection 7, 2002 digital image with colored pencil, 29.7 x 21 cm / 11.7 x 8.3 inch collection of the artist


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

that in an Exxon board room.” He was just so offended I was using a subject matter that no one could sell to Chase Manhattan. I was very pleased. Toilets are just not nice. I don’t mean to be pornographic, I just mean to speak about what’s there, and say “Listen, we don’t do Kitsch.” Milan Kundera, the Czech author had a great definition for Kitsch, “Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit,” and I could use that as a motto. [laughs] With the piece Memorial For an Art World Body (Nevermore) which stands out and beautifully captures all the concepts, rhythms and ideas of the fifteen years of paintings prior. Did you feel that you had found something you were searching for? I am wondering what to do now. It ended that body of work. I had planned to do seven paintings in a series, memorial, altar, shrine, etc. But since I painted my own death in a beautiful way I don’t know what to do next. [laughs] I’m just beginning to wrestle with subject matter. I think I’m going to make a very big change again. I can’t do another one of those paintings, so I’m off on a new adventure soon. I found a great deal of difficulty in that painting. Yes, I made a beautiful death for myself. I was very touched by that painting. To look at death as beautiful – not scary – I thought was pretty good. So what do you do after you die, rather, painted your own death? You have to do something totally different. I think I will go back to a semi-abstraction... I think. Or to a lesser use of imagery. What social context do you imagine the next phase of your career in? I’ve had a thought in the last week or two – from 1969 when Paris, Kent State, the Vietnam War and Corporation Globalization happened, we all knew that everything was finished. Gone. Nobody understood anything anymore. Where there was no intellectual agreement, art had to change. No one could speak an abstract language that could be understood amongst the people who cared. There was a social fabric that art lived in that had suddenly disappeared. Nobody knew what to think any more. Recently though (in the last year or two) it has finally reassembled itself. This need to paint explicit meaning is no longer there. There are no more subjects that are relevant or necessary to work from. They’re all clichés, everyone knows it. Why do I have to say it? I think its time to head back into something else, although I still don’t think non-objective is correct any more. I think we can be abstract again because there is enough social cohesion to sustain it.


Radical Figuration â&#x20AC;&#x201D; 1975-2010

Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Jo Baer, Amsterdam, 1998

1966 Jo Baer, Fischbach Gallery, New York 1968 Jo Baer, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne 1970 Jo Baer, Noah Goldowsky Gallery – Richard Bellamy, New York Jo Baer, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Jo Baer, Locksley-Shea Gallery, Minneapolis 1971 Jo Baer. Paintings from ’62-’63, School of Visual Arts, New York 1972 Jo Baer, Lo Giudice Gallery, New York Jo Baer, Warren Benedik Gallery, New York 1973 Jo Baer, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Jo Baer, Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles 1974 Jo Baer, Galleria Toselli, Milan Jo Baer. Paintings 1962-1972, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco

1981 Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins. Through the Summer, Lisson Gallery, London 1982 Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins, Mary Boone Gallery, New York Jo Baer, Bruce Robbins. New York / London, Lisson Gallery, London Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins, Riverside Studios, London 1984 Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins, Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin 1986 Jo Baer. Paintings from the Past Decade 1975-1985, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1988 Jo Baer, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam 1989 Jo Baer, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago 1990 Jo Baer. Paintings: now and then, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam

1975 Jo Baer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Jo Baer, Texas Gallery, Houston

1993 Jo Baer, Paley / Levy Gallery, Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia Jo Baer. Palimpsests. A selection of paintings and drawings, 1963-1993, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo

1977 Jo Baer, Lisson Gallery, London Jo Baer, Max Protetch Gallery, Washington Jo Baer. Paintings 1962-1975, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford

1995 Jo Baer. Paintings from the ’60s, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

1978 Jo Baer. Paintings 1962-1975, Scottish Arts Council Gallery, Edinburgh Jo Baer. Paintings 1962-1975, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin Jo Baer, Schilderijen 1962-1975, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven Jo Baer, Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin Jo Baer, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne 1980 Jo Baer, Paintings 1962-1975, Lisson Gallery, London Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins, 112 Workshop, New York Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins, Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin

1999 Jo Baer. Paintings 1960-1998 / Schilderijen 19601998, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Jo Baer. ‘The old lie’ (process and paraphernalia), Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam 2001 Jo Baer. Flush, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam Jo Baer, Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles 2002 Fall Show, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York Jo Baer. The Minimalist Years 1960- 1975, Dia Center for the Arts, New York 2005 Jo Baer. Amphora Prints, Rutgers Print Center, New Brunswick

2008 Jo Baer, Secession, Vienna 2009 Triotentoonstelling 2009: Jo Baer, Lynda Benglis, Jutta Koether, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 2010 Jo Baer, Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin Jo Baer and John Wesley, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York Selected group exhibitions 1964 Eleven Artists, Kaymar Gallery, New York Opening Show, Daniels Gallery, New York 1965 Artists in Sympathy and Support of the Faculty of Saint John’s University Striking for Academic Freedom, St. John’s Academic Freedom Gallery, New York Drawings, Leo Castelli; Tibor De Nagy; Kornblee, New York 1966 Systemic Painting, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 10, Dwan Gallery, New York 1967 10, Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles Art in Series, Finch College Museum of Art, New York Jo Baer, David Budd and Peter Young. Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York 1967 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York North Carolina Collects, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh 1968 Documenta IV, Galerie an der Schönen Aussicht, Museum Fridericianum, Orangerie im Auepark, Kassel Lannis Gallery Book Show, New York Jo Baer and Al Leslie, Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York Kunstmarkt Köln, in conjunction with Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Students Mobilization for Peace, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York Studio f im Museum Ulm. Querschnitt durch die moderne Kunst von Paul Klee bis Roy Lichtenstein, Ulmer Museum, Ulm American Abstract Artists. 32nd Anniversary Exhibition, Riverside Museum, New York

2007 Jo Baer, Alexander Gray Associates, New York


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

selected solo exhibitions

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

1969 Kunstmarkt Köln, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Kunsthalle, Cologne Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Ars 69 Helsinki. International Exhibition of Contemporary Art, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki; The Museum of Modern Art, Tampere 31st Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington Artists of the Sixties. Selections from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Other Ideas, The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Eine Tendenz Zeitgenössischer Malerei, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne Sammlung Dr. Ludwig, Suermondt Museum, Aachen 1969 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Recent Acquisitions 1969-70, Museum of Modern Art, New York Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York 1970 Selection from the Guggenheim Museum Collection – 1900-1970, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Klischee + Antiklischee, Bildformen der Gegenwart, Neue Galerie im Alten Kurhaus, Aachen Zeichnungen Amerikanischer Künstler, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Kölner Kunstmarkt 70, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Kunsthalle, Cologne 1971 Drawings, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Fünf Sammler. Kunst unserer Zeit (Sammlung Gisel und Helmut Klinker, Bochum), Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal Group Show, Noah Goldowsky Gallery, New York Kölner Kunstmarkt ’71, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Kunsthalle, Cologne 1972 Art for McGovern, 470 Parker Street Gallery, Boston Kunst um 1970, Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, Linz 1973 Options and Alternatives: Some Directions in Recent Art, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Arte come Arte, Centro Comunitario di Brera, Milan Recent Acquisitions, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1973 Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Sammlung Dobermann, Landesmuseum, Münster Prospect 73, Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf 1974 Five Artists: A Logic of Vision, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Painting Exhibition, Scottish Arts Council Gallery, Edinburgh 1975 Group Show, Lisson Gallery, London 14 Artists, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Hand Coloured Prints, Brooke Alexander Gallery, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco USA: Zeichnungen 3, Städtisches Museum Leverkussen, Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen. 1976 Art 7 ’76, Lisson Gallery, Halle Schweizer Mustermesse, Basel American Artists: A New Decade, Fort Worth Art Museum, Fort Worth; Detroit Art Institute, Detroit; Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids 1977 American Art ’45-’75, Works On Paper, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma Alternatives, Susan Caldwell Gallery, New York Less is More, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York American Post-War Painting, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 10 Downtown: 10 Years at P.S.1, P.S.1, Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Long Island City A View of a Decade, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Prints in Series, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Michael Berger Gallery, Pittsburgh American Art since 1945, from MoMA, New York, Virginia Museum, Richmond Radical Attitudes to the Gallery, Art Net, London 1978 Two Decades of American Printmaking, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester Lisson Gallery, London 1979 American Painting of the 1970’s, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Harbor; The Oakland Museum, Oakland; Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati; Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi; Krammert Art Museum, Champaign Generation: 20 Abstract Painters Born in the United States Between 1929 and 1946, Susan Caldwell Gallery, New York The Minimal Tradition, The Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield John Weber Gallery, New York The Reductive Object – Survey of the Minimal Aesthetic in the 1960s, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 1981 Art from the 1960’s, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne No Title, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford Opening Show, Oil & Steel Gallery, New York

1982 Nicht Bilder ist Verboten, Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf 1983 Abstract Painting 1960-1969, P.S. 1, The Institute for Art and Urban Resources, Long Island City White Columns Benefit (with Bruce Robbins), White Columns, New York 1984 20 Jaar verzamelen / 20 Years of Art Collecting, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam The British Art Show, City Museum and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh; Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield; Art Gallery, Southampton Ouverture, Castello di Rivoli, Turin British Arts Council, Serpentine Gallery, London 1985 Art Galaxy, New York 1986 The window in 20th century art, Neuberger Museum at S.U.N.Y, Purchase Linda Shearer selects from the collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1987 Generations of geometry. Abstract painting in America since 1930, Whitney Museum at Equitable Center, New York Rijksaankopen 1986. Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunsten. Werk van hedendaagse beeldende kunstenaars, Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft 1988 Collection Next-the-Sea, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague XXth Anniversary Exhibition, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York La couleur seule: l’expérience du monochrome, Musée St.Pierre Art Contemporain, Lyon Tekeningen/Drawings, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam 1989 Abstraction. Geometry. Painting. Selected Geometric Abstract Painting in America Since 1945, AlbrightKnox Gallery, Buffalo; Center for the Fine Arts, Miami; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Kunstrai, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam Vijf jaar aanwinsten hedendaagse kunst, Gemeentemuseum Arnhem, Arnhem 20 Years, Rolf Ricke Collects, Kunstverein, Cologne 20 Years Anniversary, Max Protetch Gallery, New York 1990 Post-World War II Art from the Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York


1991 Bezit/Bezet, Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst Het Kruithuis, ‘s-Hertogenbosch Das Bild nach dem Letzten Bild / The Picture After the Last Picture, Galerie Metropol, Vienna Q, Galerie de Expeditie, Amsterdam 1992 Verzameling aan zee II, Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague Gemälde aus der Sammlung des Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld 1993 Supervision, Räume für neue Kunst – Rolf Hengesbach, Wuppertal Aanwinsten / Acquisitions: Works On Paper Obtained In the Past 3 Years, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 1994 Tekenwerk / Drawing, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam From Minimal to Conceptual Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington L’orizonte: Da Chagall a Picasso, da Pollock a Cragg, Castello di Rivoli, Turin 1995 Karo Dame. Konstruktive, Konkrete und Radikale Kunst von Frauen, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau 1968, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Group Show, Galerie Vera Munro, Wuppertal Abstraction, Pure and Impure, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1996 Indem man schaut, erkennt man, Galerie Rolf Ricke, Cologne Max’s Kansas City’s 30th Anniversary Reunion, 65 Thompson St. Gallery, New York Bare Bones, TZ ’Art & Co Gallery, New York 1997 After the Fall. Abstract Painting Since 1970, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Snug Harbor The Pursuit of Painting, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Selections from the Lannan Foundation Gift, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Noch Nicht und / oder Selten Gezeigtes aus der Sammlung, Kunstmuseum, Winterthur Drawing is Another Kind of Language: Contemporary Drawings from an American Collection, Fogg Museum, Cambridge; Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Winterthur Envisioning the Contemporary: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Museum of

Contemporary Art, Chicago In de sloot..., uit de sloot. Voorstel gemeentelijke kunstaankopen 1997, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1998 Kunstmuseum Winterthur: Die Sammlung, Kunstmuseum Winterthur Envisioning the Contemporary: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Women Artists in the Vogel Collection, Brenau University Galleries, Gainesville Group Show, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle Dangleberry, Bill’s Studio, Amsterdam Winter Installation, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York 1999 Decades in Dialogue: Perspectives on the MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Editions, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam The Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection of Modern Art, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Drawings from the 1960s: Jo Baer, Lee Bontecou, Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin, Curt Marcus Gallery, New York The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-2000, Whitney Museum, New York Der Künstler als Kurator: Günter Umberg, Galerie Nächst St. Stephan, Vienna 2000 Drawing is Another Kind of Language, Connecticut College, New London Contemporary American Drawings from the SarahAnn & Werner H. Kramarsky Collection, Southern Methodist University, Dallas; Mary and Leigh Block Museum, Evanston 50 Masterworks from the Post-War Period, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Body of Painting, Museum Ludwig, Cologne Poésie, Love, Sneeuwwitje, Pfft..., Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem Peinture: trois regards. Points, Lignes, Plans, Galerie les Filles du Calvaire, Paris Von Edgar Degas bis Gerhard Richter, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Winterthur; Nationalgalerie Prague, Palais Kinsky, Prague 2001 Von Edgar Degas bis Gerhard Richter, Rupertinum, Museum für Moderne und Zeitgenössiche Kunst, Salzburg; Westfälisches Landsmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster; Neues Museum, Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design, Nürnberg Contemporary American Drawings from the SarahAnn & Werner H. Kramarsky Collection, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu Art Basel 32, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Basel Beau Monde: toward a redeemed cosmopolitanism, Site Santa Fe’s fourth international biennial exhibition, Santa Fe

Embodiment in Brakke Grond en de Bijenkorf, Vlaams Cultuurhuis de Brakke Grond, Amsterdam Unbreakable, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam 2002 Cycle Peinture: Trois Regards, Les Filles du Calvaire, Brussels Art Basel 33, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Basel Fall Show, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York Paintings from the 60’s, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York Raum für Malerie, The Painting Room, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld Geometric Abstraction, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma 2003 The summer of 2003, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam LeWitt’s LeWitts & Selections from the Collection of Carol and Sol LeWitt, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain Primary Matters: the Minimalist Sensibility, 1959 to the Present, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Group Show, Margarete Roeder Gallery, New York 2004 Art Rotterdam, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam A Minimalist Future? Art as Object 1958-1968, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form 1940s-70s, Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles; Miami Art Museum, Miami Minimalism and After III, New Acquisitions, Sammlung DaimlerChrysler, Berlin The Big Nothing, ICA, Philadelphia Singular Forms, Sometimes Repeated, Guggenheim Museum, New York Specific Objects: the Minimalist Influence, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego Editions / Artists’ Book Fair ’04, New York 2005 New Prints 2005, International Print Center, New York Logical conclusions: 40 years of Rule-Based Art, Pace Wildenstein Gallery, New York Black & White and a little bit of colour, Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem Drawing from the Modern, 1945-1975, Museum of Modern Art, New York Collaboration as a Medium, Edison Gallery, Washington, DC Wilder: a tribute to the Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles, 1965-1979, Franklin Parish Gallery and Joan T. Washburn Gallery, New York Some Painting, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam 50 Jahre/50 Years Documenta: 1955-2005, Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Künstlerinnen des 20 Jahrhunderts, Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

2006 Selected Recent Acquisitions + The Van Deventer Bequest, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo America/Americas: Modern and Contemporary Art of the Americas, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, Austin Postwar Directions: Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 19671975, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; American University Museum, Katzen Arts Center, Washington Plane/Figure. Amerikanische Kunst aus Schweizer Sammlungen, Kunstmuseum Winterthur Elemental Form, L&M Arts, New York 2007 High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 19671975, National Academy Museum, New York; Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz Das Kapital: Blue Chips & Masterpieces, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main What Is a Line? Drawings from the Collection, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Antes y después del minimalismo, Unsiglo de tendecias abstractoas en la Colección DaimlerChrysler, Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani (Fundación Juan March), Madrid Art Protects, Yvon Lambert, Paris 2008 High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 19671975, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe Great women artists: feminist art from the permanent collection, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase A Document of the Times. Rolf Ricke Collection, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen; Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main 2009 Collection: MOCA’s First 30 Years, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Compass in Hand. Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York Art Protects, Yvon Lambert, Paris Works on paper: Jo Baer, James Bishop, Suzan Frecon, Lawrence Markey Gallery, San Antonia

selected bibliography 1965 Rose, Barbara, ‘ABC Art’, Art in America 53 (October-November 1965) 5, p. 64. 1966 Ashbery, John, ‘Jo Baer at Fischbach’, Art News 64 (February 1966) 10, p. 13. Bochner, Mel, ‘Systemic Painting’, Arts Magazine 41 (November 1966) 1, p. 40. Glueck, Grace, ‘New York Gallery Notes’, Art in America 54 (Summer 1966) 4, p. 105. Goldin, Amy, ‘Jo Baer’, Arts 40 (April 1966) 6, p. 6. G[oldin], A[my], ‘Jo Baer, Fischbach Gallery’, Arts Magazine 40 (April 1966) 6, p. 69. Lippard, Lucy R., ‘New York Letter: Off Color’, Art International 10 (April 1966) 4, pp. 73-74. Lippard, Lucy R., ‘After Fashion - The Group Show’, Hudson Review, Winter 1966, p. 622. 1967 Marcuse, Herbert, ‘Art in the One-Dimensional Society’, Arts Magazine 41 (May 1967) 7, pp. 26-31. 1968 Battcock, Gregory (ed.), Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, New York, E.P. Dutton & Co, 1968. Brunelle, Al, ‘Exhibition at Goldowsky Gallery’, Art News 66 (January 1968) 9, p. 11. Lascault, Gilbert, ‘Contemporary Art and the “Old Mole”’, Art and Confrontation, Greenwich, New York Graphic Society Library, 1968, pp. 64-68. 1969 Insley, Will, ‘Jo Baer’, Art International 13 (February 1969) 2, pp. 26-28. Lascault, Gilbert, Kunst ist Revolution, oder der Künstler in der Konsumgesellschaft, Cologne, Dumont Aktuell, 1969, pp. 64-66. Pincus-Witten, Robert, ‘Jo Baer, Al Leslie at the Goldowsky Gallery’, Artforum 7 (February 1969) 6, p. 67. 1970 A[tirnomis], ‘Jo Baer at Goldowsky’, Arts Magazine 44 (February 1970) 4, p. 57. Kline, Katherine, ‘Jo Baer: Goldowsky’, Art News 68 (February 1970) 10, p. 10. Pfeiffer, Günter, ‘Es leuchet Gold’, Kölner-StadtAnzeiger, November 20, 1970. Ratcliff, Carter, ‘New York, Goldowsky Gallery’, Art International 14 (March 1970) 3, p. 70. Wasserman, Emily, ‘Jo Baer: Goldowsky Gallery’, Artforum 8 (March 1970) 7, p. 77. 1971 Baker, Elizabeth C., ‘Sexual Art-Politics’, Art News 69 (January 1971) 9, pp. 60-62. Calas, Nicolas and Calas, Elen, Icons and Images of the Sixties, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1971. Linville, Kasha, ‘Jo Baer at the School of Visual

Arts’, Artforum 9 (May 1971) 9, pp. 77-78. Lippard, Lucy R., ‘Diversity in Unity: Recent Geometricizing Styles in America. Abstract art since 1945. Art Since Mid-Century’, The New Internationalism, vol. 1, Greenwich, The New York Graphic Society, 1971. Mellow, J.R., ‘Jo Baer: Serial Paintings, Visual Arts Gallery’, The New York Times, April 11, 1971. Mikotajuk, A., ‘Exhibition, Goldowsky Gallery’, Arts 45 (March 1971) 5, p. 63. Pfeiffer, Günter, ‘Jo Baer: Galerie Ricke’, Das Kunstwerk 14 (January 1971) 1, p. 79. 1972 Hunter, Sam, American Art of the 20th Century, New York, Harry Abrams Inc., 1972, p. 350. Lippard, Lucy R., ‘Color at the Edge’, Art News 71 (May 1972) 3, pp. 24-25, 64-66. Matthias, Rosemary, ‘Jo Baer: Lo Giudice’, Arts Magazine 46 (Summer 1972) 8, pp. 57-58. Ratcliff, Carter, ‘Jo Baer: Notes on Five Recent Paintings’, Artforum 10 (May 1972) 9, pp. 28-32, cover. Ratcliff, Carter, ‘Once More with Feeling’, Art News 71 (Summer 1972) 4, pp. 34-37, 67-69. Schjeldahl, Peter, ‘Jo Baer: Playing on the Senses’, The New York Times, May 14, 1972. 1973 Canavier, Elena Karina, ‘Baer’s Painterly Elegance’, Art Week, April 28, 1973, p. 31. Celant, Germano, Arte Come Arte, Milan, Centro Comunitario di Brera, 1973, p. 5. Coffin, Sarah, ‘Jo Baer’, Options & Alternatives, New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 1973. Kerber, Bernhard, ‘Szene Rhein-Ruhr’, Art International, 17 (May 1973) 5, p. 55. 1974 Guilbaut, Serge and Sgan-Cohen, Michael, ‘Jo Baer: peintre traditionel et “radical”’, Art Press, May 1974, pp. 16-18. 1975 Haskell, Barbara, Jo Baer, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1975, pp. 8-14. Hess, Thomas B., ‘They Don’t Pussyfoot’, New York Magazine, New York, June 2, 1975, p. 65. Kuspit, Donald B., ‘Jo Baer: Intimations of Variety’, Art in America, 63 (November-December 1975) 2, pp. 76-77. Legg, Alicia, American Art Since 1945, From the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1975. Loring, John, ‘Jo Baer’, Arts Magazine 49 (April 1975) 8, p. 70. Ratcliff, Carter, Hand Colored Prints, New York, Brooke Alexander, 1975. Rose, Barbara, American Art Since 1900 (revised edition), New York, Praeger Publishers, 1975. Rose, Barbara, ‘Vogue Upfront’, Vogue, June 1975, p. 50.


1976 Lippard, Lucy R., From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1976, pp. 172-180. Tagg, John, ‘Jo Baer: Lisson Gallery’, Studio International 191 (March-April 1976) 980, p. 208. 1977 Elliott, David, ‘Introduction’, in: cat. Jo Baer. Paintings 1962-1975, Oxford, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1977, pp. 4-11. Fuchs, Rudi, ‘For Jo Baer’, in: cat. Jo Baer. Paintings 1962-1975, Oxford, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1977, p. 13. Domingo, Willis, ‘Jo Baer at MOMA, Oxford’, Art Monthly, November 1977, no. 12, pp. 14-15. 1978 Gage, Edward, ‘A Brush with Gestalt Theory’, The Scotsman, January 30, 1978. Groot, Paul, ‘Jo Baer: pleidooi voor magie in de schilderkunst’, NRC Handelsblad, April 25, 1978. 1979 Baker, Kenneth, ‘Less is Less’, The Boston Phoenix, March 27, 1979. Cathcart, Linda L., American Painting of the 1970s, Buffalo, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, 1978. Kologe, Brian R., ‘Frame an Empty Space and Call it Art’, Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 1979. Joselit, David, ‘For Minimalists the Art is the Object’, Boston Ledger, March 23-30, 1979. Pacheco, Richard, ‘Boston Institute Gives Showcase to Minimalism’, Standard Times, Boston, April 15, 1979. Raynor, Vivien, ‘At Ridgefield, a Definition of Minimalism’, The New York Times, May 13, 1979. 1980 Byrne, P.F., ‘Two Artists’ Cooperative’, Evening Herald, Dublin, July 27, 1980. Glueck, Grace, ‘Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins’, The New York Times, March 21, 1980. Lucie-Smith, Edward, Art in the Seventies, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1980. MacAvoe, Desmond, ‘Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins at Dowling’, The Irish Times, August 1, 1980. Miller, Sandra, ‘Jo Baer: Galerie Lisson’, Art Press (October 1980) 41, p. 34. Silverhorn, Jean, ‘Jo Baer and Bruce Robbins’, Artforum 18 (Summer 1980) 10, pp. 80-81. Stoffels, Christian, ‘Frei schwebende Kleider’, Kölner-Stadt-Anzeiger, June 20, 1980. Vaizey, Marina, ‘Jo Baer: Lisson Gallery’, The Sunday Times, June 22, 1980.

1982 Januszczak, Waldemar, ‘Riding on Two Pairs of Hands’, The Guardian, April 14, 1982. Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer, American Women Artists. From Early Indian Times to the Present, New York, Avon Books, 1982. Wandja, Jan, ‘Tail to the Wall’, ZG Zeitgeist, London, 1982, no. 7. 1983 Armstrong, Richard, ‘Forum’, Artforum 22 (Sept 1983) 1, p. 67. Smith, Roberta, ‘Reductivism Redux’, The Village Voice, February 22, 1983, p. 89. 1984 Allthorpe-Guyton, Marjorie, The British Art Show, London, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984, pp. 41-42. De Coppet, Laura and Jones, Alan, The Art Dealers, New York, Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1984. Lacey, Catherine, The Tate Gallery. Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1980-82, London, Tate Gallery, 1984, pp. 42-44. Schjeldahl, Peter, Art of Our Time. The Saatchi Collection, London, Lund Humphries Publishers, 1984, pp. 25-27. 1985 Dupont, Diana and Holland, Katherine, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Paintings and Sculpture Collection, San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1985. 1987 Cummings, Paul, Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists, New York, St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1987. Jansen, Bert, Aankopen 1986. Werk van hedendaagse beeldende kunstenaars, Den Haag, Rijksdienst Beeldende Kunst, 1987, p. 31. Krane, Susan and Gerdts, William H., The Wayward Muse: a Historical Survey of Painting in Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo Fine Arts Albright Knox Art Gallery, 1987. McEvilley, Thomas, ‘Reviews: Jo Baer’, Artforum 15 (May 1987) 9, p. 141. 1988 McEvilley, Thomas, La couleur seule: l’expérience du monochrome, Lyon, Musée St. Pierre Art Contemporain, 1988, p. 30. Thompson, Walter, ‘Jo Baer at Art Galaxy’, Art in America 76 (November 1988) 11, p. 180. 1989 Auping, Michael, Abstraction, Geometry, Painting. Geometric Abstract Painting in America Since 1945, Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery, 1989. Baker, Kenneth, Minimalism. Art of Circumstance, New York, Abbeville Press, 1989. McCracken, David, ‘Baer Pits Paint Against

Painting as Object’, The Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1989. Naylor, Colin (ed.), Contemporary Artists (third edition), New York, St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1989. 1990 Berswordt-Wallrabe, Kornelia von, Kunsterinnen des 20. Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden, Museum Wiesbaden, 1990, pp. 70-73. Brenson, Michael, ‘New Curator at Modern Challenges Convention’, The New York Times, December 28, 1990. Hettig, Frank Alexander, ‘Jo Baer. Galerie Paul Andriesse’, Kunstforum International, AugustOctober 1990, p. 399. Hixon, Catheryne, ‘Jo Baer’, Arts Magazine 64 (January 1990) 5, pp. 104-106. Houts, Catherine van, ‘Nieuwe harmonie in oude vormen’, Het Parool, June 15, 1990. Kruijning, Aad, ‘Jo Baer construeert met panters en biggen. Biologe en neuropsychologe neemt afscheid van abstracte kunst’, De Telegraaf, June 20, 1990. Steenbergen, Renée, ‘Jo Baer’, NRC Handelsblad, June 15, 1990. 1991 Rötzer, Florian and Weibel, Peter, The Picture After the Last Picture, Vienna, Galerie Metropol / Cologne, Verlag Walther König, 1991, pp. 16, 26-29, 166-167, 202, 217, 225. 1993 Esman, Abigail R., ‘Jo Baer: “Palimpsests”’, Forum International 4 (October-November 1993) 19, p. 134. Pieters, Din, ‘Gaat gij naar de vrouwen? Vergeet niet de zweep!’, NRC Handelsblad, July 5, 1993. Rice, Robin, ‘A Horse, of Course’, City Paper, Philadelphia, March 19, 1993. Sozanski, Edward, ‘Mythic Works that Span Centuries and Civilizations’, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 19, 1993. Wood, Paul, Harrison, Charles et al, Modernism in Dispute. Art Since the Forties, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1993. 1994 Seidel, Miriam, ‘Jo Baer at Moore College of Art’, Art in America 82 (January 1994) 1, p. 110. 1995 A[tirnomis], Abstraction, Pure and Impure, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1995. Boersma, Linda, ‘Jo Baer’, Bomb (Fall 1995) 53, pp. 58-63. Desmond, Michael and Dixon, Christine, 1968, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, 1995. Halpert, Peter Hay, ‘New York, Jo Baer: Paintings from the Sixties’, The Art Newspaper 5 (December 1995) 54, p. 39. Karmel, Pepe, ‘Women Inside and Outside the


Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Smith, Roberta, ‘Jo Baer: Whitney Museum of American Art’, Artforum 14 (September 1975) 1, pp. 73-74. Russell, John, ‘Paintings by Jo Baer at Whitney Museum’, The New York Times, June 21, 1975, p. 23.

Grid’, The New York Times, December 15, 1995. Tonkonow, Leslie, Radical Aesthetics: The Art of Jo Baer, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 1995, pp. 3-5. Wismer, Beat, Karo Dame. Konstruktive und Radikale Kunst von Frauen von 1914 bis heute, Baden, Verlag Lars Müller, 1995.

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

1996 Levin, Kim, ‘Jo Baer’, The Village Voice, January 2, 1996, p. 9. Meyer, James, ‘Jo Baer’, Artforum 34 (April 1996) 8, p. 98. Smith, Roberta, ‘Philip Johnson and the Modern: a Loving Marriage’, The New York Times, June 7, 1996. Wei, Lilly, ‘Jo Baer at Paula Cooper’, Art in America 84 (May 1996) 5, p. 104. Yablonsky, Linda, ‘Jo Baer - Paintings from the ’60s and Early ’70s’, Time Out New York, no. 15, January 1996. 1998 A[tirnomis], ‘Beeldende kunst: Overzichtstentoonstelling Jo Baer’, Dolce Vita, Winter 1998. Bloem, Marja, ‘Jo Baer, schilderijen / paintings’, Bulletin Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Winter 1998, pp. 10-11. Perreé, Rob, ‘De ommekeer van Jo Baer’, Kunstbeeld 23 (December 1998 - January 1999) 12/1, pp. 16-18. Tegenbosch, Pietje, ‘Het magische tapijt. De schilderkunst van Jo Baer’, Vitrine 11 (December 1998 - January 1999) 8, pp. 20-25. 1999 Bloem, Marja and Brouwer, Marianne, Jo Baer: Paintings 1960-1998, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1999. Lambrecht, Luk, ‘Stedelijk toont de bekering van Jo Baer’, De Morgen, February 3, 1999, p. 13. Schumacher, Rogier, ‘Een kordate streep onder het verleden’, Het Parool, January 18, 1999. Smallenburg, Sandra, ‘Onheilspellende beelden’, NRC Handelsblad, January 23, 1999. Stiemer, Flora, ‘Vechten voor betekenis’, Algemeen Dagblad, January 12, 1999. Van de Velde, Paola, ‘Goede kunst ‘verbonden met echte wereld’, De Telegraaf, January 8, 1999. 2000 Buci-Glucksmann, Christine, Chassey, Eric de and Perret, Catherine, Peinture: trios regards, Paris, Editions du Regard, 2000. Meyer, James, Minimalism, London, Phaidon Press, 2000. Schwarz, Dieter, Von Edgar Degas bis Gerhard Richter, Winterthur, Museum Winterthur, 2000, pp. 286-289. Pontzen, Rutger, ‘De laatste abstracte schilder’, Vrij Nederland. Uitgave Nederland, February 19, 2000. Ramade, Bénédicte, ‘Les peaux murales de Miquel Mont’, L’oeil, no. 520, October 2000.

2001 Beek, Willem van, ‘De opening, Jo Baer’, Kunstbeeld 25 (2001) 9, p. 24. Finch, Mick, ‘Peinture: trois regards’, Contemporary Visual Arts, 2001, no. 33, pp. 70-71. Frank, Peter, ‘Jo Baer: Art Picks of the Week’, LA Weekly, September 28 - October 4, 2001. Hickey, Dave, Beau Monde: Toward a Redeemed Cosmopolitanism, Santa Fe, Site Santa Fe, 2001, pp. 84-85. Illés, Vera, ‘Show van en met Phil Bloom’, de Volkskrant, December 19, 2001. Keijer, Kees, ‘Baers intellectuele rebussen’, Het Parool, October 20, 2001. Rorimer, Ann, New Art in the 60s and 70s, London, Thames and Hudson, 2001, pp. 37, 39, 42, 62. Schneegass, Christian, Kudielka, Robert, et al, Minimal-Concept: Zeichenhafte Sprachen im Raum, München, Taschenbuch Verlag, 2001, p.112. Trémeau, Tristan, ‘Peinture: trios regards’, Art Press, February 2001, no. 265, p. 86. 2002 A[tirnomis], ‘Geometry Class’, New York Magazine, September 9, 2002. Bona, Damien, ‘Inside Oscar 2’, Digital, February 2002, p. 216. Cooke, Lynne, Jo Baer. The Minimalist Years, 19601975, New York, Dia Center for the Arts, 2002 (exhibition brochure). Doss, Erika, Twentieth Century American Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 146. Gopnik, Blake, ‘Living colors. Washington’s Color-Field Painters, Like the ‘60s, Are Back. Why? There’s No Black-and-White Answer’, The Washington Post, September 29, 2002. S.S., ‘Jo Baer: The Minimalist Years. Dia Center’, The Art Newspaper 12 (December 2002) 131, p. 2. Schjedahl, Peter, ‘Jo Baer’, New Yorker Magazine, September 25, 2002. 2003 Cooke, Lynne, Jo Baer. The Minimalist Years, 19601975, New York, Dia Center for the Arts, 2003 (catalogue). Rich, Sarah K., ‘Jo Baer’, Artforum 42 (February 2003) 6, p. 133. Diehl, Carol, ‘White, Hot & Cool’, Art in America 91 (May 2003) 5, pp. 100-103. Stein, Judith E., ‘The Adventures of Jo Baer’, Art in America 91 (May 2003) 5, pp. 104-111, 157. Feldman, Paula, ‘Jo Baer: The Minimalist Years’, Contemporary, 2003, no. 47/48, pp.123-124. Long, Jim, ‘Jo Baer: The Minimalist Years’, The Brooklyn Rail, Winter 2003. 2004 Goldstein, Ann and Mark, Lisa (eds.), A Minimalist Future? Art as Object 1958-1968, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2004, pp. 26, 156-161, 445. Drohojowska-Philip, Hunter, ‘A Minimalist Future? Art as Object’, Art News, June 2004, p. 119.

Godfrey, Mark, ‘Dimensions Variable’, Frieze, JunJul-August 2004, p. 120. Harvey, Doug, ‘Next to Nothing’, LA Weekly, April 16-22, 2004. Knight, Christopher, ‘Max Minimal’, LA Times, March 16, 2004. Marzona, Daniel, Minimal Art, Cologne, Taschen, 2005, pp. 36-37. Zelevansky, Lynn, Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Forms, LACMA, Los Angeles, p. 24, 211, 216. Denison, Lisa and Spector, Nancy, Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated), New York, Guggenheim Museum Productions, p. 106, 163. 2005 Leaflet Amphora Frieze, Rutgers Center for innovative print and paper, New Brunswick, 2004. Florence, Penny, Fractures of Life: Locating the Finland Station, Helsinki, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2005, pp. 58-73. Knipe, Judy and Hughes, Patricia, Logical Conclusions: 40 Years of Rule-Based Art, New York, Pace-Wildenstein Gallery, 2005, pp. 80-81. 2006 Pasquariello, Lisa, ‘Jo Baer’, in: Annette Di Meo, Kelly Baum (eds.), Blanton Museum of Art. American Art Since 1900, Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, 2006, pp. 40-41. Reed, David, ‘New York painting circa 1968. Notes toward the missing history of experimental abstraction’, in: Annette Di Meo, Kelly Baum (eds.), Blanton Museum of Art. American Art Since 1900, Austin, Blanton Museum of Art, 2006, pp. 391-401. 2007 Cotter, Holland, ‘Jo Baer’, The New York Times, May 5, 2007. Moyer, Carrie, ‘Jo Baer, Alexander Gray Associates’, The Brooklyn Rail, May 2007. Nymphuis, Friederike, DaimlerChrysler Collection. Minimalism and After, Berlin, pp. 168-169. Fine, Ruth, The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection. Fifty Works for Fifty States, Washington DC, National Endowment for the Arts, p. 200. 2008 Doujak, Ines (ed.), Jo Baer, Vienna, Secession, 2008. Meyer-Stoll, Christiane, A Document of the Times. Rolf Ricke Collection, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen / Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2008. 2009 cat. Yellow and Green. Positionen aus der Sammlung des MMK, Frankfurt am Main, Museum für Moderne Kunst, 2009. Kelly, Patricia, ‘Jo Baer, Modernism, and Painting on the Edge’, Art Journal 68 (Fall 2009) 3, pp. 52-67. Paijmans, Theo (ed.), ‘Times 3: triotentoonstelling = trio exhibition: Jo Baer, Lynda Benglis, Jutta Koether’, special edition of Blend, in cooperation with the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2009.


2010 Catrin Lorch, ‘Bilder wie Honig. Amerikanische Malerinnen: Mary Heilmann und Jo Baer’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, April 30, 2010. Lila Zeitz, ‘Sie will nicht für immer Minimal Art. Jo Baer bei Barbara Thumm’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 30, 2010.

paintings in public collections Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Arts Council of Great Britain, London Australian National Gallery, Canberra Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Chase Manhattan Bank, New York DaimlerChrysler AG, Berlin Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague Houston Museum, Houston Instituut Collectie Nederland, Rijswijk/Amsterdam Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Winterthur Ludwig Collection, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne Ludwig Collection, Suermondt Museum, Aachen Levi-Strauss Collection, San Francisco Michener Collection, University of Texas at Austin, Austin Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Modern Art, New York Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem National Gallery of Art, Washington Neuberger Museum, State University of New York at Purchase, Purchase Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo Saatchi Collection, London San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Tate Gallery, London Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven Weatherspoon Art Gallery, Greensboro Whitney Museum of American Art, New York University of North Carolina, Greensboro Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Smith, Roberta, ‘MoMA Pushes the Envelope in Works on Paper’, The New York Times, April 24, 2009.


Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010 Editor Roel Arkesteijn Publisher Roma Publications, Amsterdam Texts and interviews by Jo Baer, Judith E. Stein, Mark Godfrey, Serge Guilbaut and Michael Sgan-Cohen, Seamus Coleman, Bruce Robbins, Barbara Flynn, Thomas McEvilley, Linda Boersma, Ines Doujak, Brian Evans White Translation and proofreading Kate Delaney, Nora Delaney (texts Roel Arkesteijn Dutch-English; proofreading)

The publication of this volume is made possible in part by financial contributions from the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture (Fonds voor BKVB) in Amsterdam; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York; and Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam. The publisher and editor have made every effort to inform the authors of the interviews about this publication and to list all the photo credits. We apologize if, due to reasons beyond our control, some of the photo sources have not been listed. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording or any other storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

Text digitalizing and correction Sarah McFadden, Noor Mertens, Roel Arkesteijn

Jo Baer — Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Photography Jo Baer, Peter Cox, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Maria Gilissen, Tom Haartsen, Bill King, Fred W. McDarrah, Peter Moore Design Roger Willems, Amsterdam Printing Die Keure, Bruges International distribution Idea Books, Amsterdam Individual Orders Special thanks to Josh Baer, Willem ter Velde, Evi Vingerling, Sil Visser Roma Publication 142 isbn 978-90-77459-49-2 © 2010 Jo Baer, Roel Arkesteijn, Roma Publications


177 Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres


Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

179 Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres


Jo Baer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Broadsides & Belles Lettres

Profile for Roma Publications

Jo Baer - Broadsides & Belles Lettres  

Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010 edited by Roel Arkesteijn

Jo Baer - Broadsides & Belles Lettres  

Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010 edited by Roel Arkesteijn