American born painter Jo Baer is a leading protagonist of Minimalism of the 1960s and early 1970s. Her work was included alongside that of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, and Sol LeWitt in many of the inaugural Minimalist art exhibitions in New York in the early 1960s.
Baer was born Josephine Gail Kleinberg in 1929 in Seattle. Encouraged by her mother to become a medical illustrator, she studied biology at the University of Washington, Seattle between 1946 and 1949, where she also took courses in painting and drawing. After graduating, Baer spent several months on a kibbutz in Israel, and when she returned, moved to New York attending the New School for Social Research, where she studied psychology and philosophy. At this time however, Baer chose not to settle in the city, instead moving to Los Angeles in 1953. Here, she began a career as an artist, making works influenced by Abstract Expressionism (most of which she later destroyed). She returned to New York in 1960 and began to explore rigorously abstract, minimal, ‘Hard-edge’ painting.
Consisting of predominantly white or grey canvases framed with geometric bands of color, Baer’s radically reductivist work was quickly linked to the Minimalist aesthetic of Dan Flavin and Dan Graham. However, despite working in a minimalist aesthetic, she remained dedicated to the potential of painting as a radical art form, critiquing Donald Judd and Robert Morris for their denigration of painting as a medium.
In 1970, Baer moved to Ireland where she began to introduce organic motifs into her paintings. These works were titled using Latin botanical terms that offered puns on painting, such as Tenebrosa (darkening) or Arcuata (curved). In the mid-1970s, Baer left behind her abstract, minimalist aesthetic and embraced what she called ‘radical figuration,’ introducing subject matter and expression into her work.
The first solo exhibition of Baer’s work was held at the Fischbach Gallery in New York in 1966, and, less than a decade later, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a mid-career retrospective. Since then, her work has been exhibited at venues including the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1986); Rijksmuseum Kroeller-Mueller, Otterlo (1993); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1999); Dia Art Foundation, New York (2002), and the Ludwig Museum, Cologne (2013).
Jo Baer lives and works in Amsterdam.