Critics’ Picks

Jo Baer, In the Land of the Giants (Spirals and Stars), 2012, oil on canvas, 58 1/2 x 58 1/2”.


Jo Baer

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Museumplein 10
May 16 - September 1

For her new set of six large paintings, “In the Land of the Giants,” and her solo exhibition of the same name, Jo Baer travelled back to the Irish countryside, where she had settled after moving from New York in 1975, to re-encounter some of her sources of inspiration. She had never been able to forget the impressive Neolithic monuments she saw, scattered over the countryside as if a giant had thrown them there (as one local postal carrier had once quipped to Baer). One of these megaliths—the man-made, phallic Hurlstone, which measures five and a quarter feet tall and has a perfect round hole in its center of almost ten inches—forms the point of departure for Baer’s exploration, in these paintings, into matters like astronomy, skull cults, and ancestor worship.

Since her departure from hardedge abstraction in 1975, a move that she famously explained in her 1983 essay “I am no longer an abstract artist,” Baer has delved into myth and archetypes through figurative painting. But can an artist fully betray her roots? It is fascinating to see how in two paintings from the current series Baer arranges figurative elements around a void in the center of the canvas. A similar void characterized her pre-1975 abstract work and was framed, as it were, by lines acting as boundaries to the picture plane.

Reading the images in Baer’s current show requires a bit of a manual, and it is sometimes hard to follow her research into myth and cult. But her canvases, made with no stretcher and directly taped to the wall, nevertheless have a clarion monumentality. Take for instance, In the Land of the Giants (Spirals and Stars), 2012, in which Baer depicts herself as a tiny traveler under a spiraling universe—or an elegant Fibonacci spiral—with a black hole at the center. Here it seems that it is not the figurative elements but again the void in the middle that holds all the secrets Baer seeks to discover.