JO BAER (b. 1929)
JO BAER (b. 1929)
JO BAER (b. 1929)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
JO BAER (b. 1929)


JO BAER (b. 1929)
signed and dated 'J. Baer '63' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
72 x 72 in. (182.9 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
Richard Bellamy, New York
Keith Barish, Los Angeles
Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles
Paula Cooper Gallery, New York and Clint W. Murchison III, Dallas, 1995
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Jo Baer, May-July 1975, n.p., no. 2 (illustrated).
New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Jo Baer: Paintings From the 60's and Early 70's, December 1995-January 1996, p. 9 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

An important early work by the artist, Jo Baer’s Untitled defines her foundational Minimalist period. A large canvas at six feet square, it absorbs the viewer into a white field with a black and blue painted outline. The modulated baby blue forms in the upper corners resemble the futuristic motifs of Art Deco or the intimate frames of a photo album. Baer presents a mise en abyme, or a painting within a painting, that distills similar strategies by Renaissance and Baroque painters into a Minimalist vernacular. This framing technique with a subtle highlight would become her signature style in this period and a symbol of her investigation into vision. As art historian James Meyer observes, “Baer’s blackened borders, rimmed in purple or ochre or green, reasserted figure/ground tensions to produce retinal play” (J. Meyer, “Jo Baer: Paula Cooper Gallery,” Artforum, April 1996, The quiet, refined innovations of Untitled work hand-in-hand with the brimming aesthetic and intellectual questions that Baer tackled throughout her career of over 50 years. Exhibited in her 1975 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Untitled is essential to understanding the beautifully complex arc of Baer’s celebrated career.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1953, Baer befriended the artists of the legendary Ferus Gallery, and began to work in a style that worked through the concerns of Abstract Expressionism. Upon moving to New York, however, Baer turned to Minimalism in 1960, and the present work is exemplary of this rigorous non-objective period that would occupy her until 1975. Untitled is a largely monochromatic field of pigment, but Baer’s painted border and notations have a scaffolding effect, like Frank Stella’s contemporaneous Sharpeville (1963). It could be argued, then, that Untitled productively straddles the line between painting and sculpture, setting the stage for Baer’s further innovations within Minimalism and her later turn toward representation. A staunch defender of painting, Baer wrote in 1967, “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” (J. Baer, “Letter to the Editor,” Artforum, September 1967, She is indisputably one of those forward-thinking painters who, like Mary Corse and Agnes Martin, forged a path for painting within Minimalism, despite the pro-sculpture attitudes of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. This defense of her chosen medium set the stage for her vast influence on contemporary painting, and her status as a pioneering woman within a male-dominated style.

With paintings like Untitled, Baer created a visual lexicon all her own, one that stands toe-to-toe with Flavin’s neon sculptures or Judd’s stacks. A love for painting led her to chart her own history of Minimalism that complements and exceeds the one we think we know. Often debating her colleagues about the best medium suited for Minimalism, Baer was and remains fearless. Untitled is likewise a brave canvas. It takes us to the very edge of representation, while offering us a frame through which to view the gorgeous expanse.

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