Jo Baer: Towards The Land Of The Giants

Art, Painting Free
3 out of 5 stars
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Jo Baer, 'Heraldry (Posts and Spreads)'. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm
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Jo Baer, 'Dusk (Bands and End-Points)'. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm
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Jo Baer, 'In the Land of the Giants (Spirals and Stars)'. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm
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Jo Baer, 'Royal Families (Curves, Points and Little Ones)'. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm

A big deal in minimalist circles (or squares) in the ’60s and ’70s, Jo Baer famously declared herself to be ‘no longer an abstract artist’ in 1983. By that time, she had already left New York, holing up in a castle in Ireland to soak up some old-country mysticism. So, as you might imagine, there are ancient ruins and standing stones in these paintings, the bulk of which were made during the last decade. But, proving that old minimalists don’t really change their spots (or squares), the imagery appears more as a trickle than a flood. And as with her abstract works, in which she marked out the edges of the picture while leaving the centre blank, Baer pushes the action, such as it is, towards the peripheries.

Restrained in touch and tone, the results are both New Age (full of references to constellations and equinoxes) and feminist (women’s bodies appear like prey in the cave painting-like ‘Facing’, while men are cast as aggressors in ‘Shrine of the Piggies’). But these are more mindscapes than landscapes: places of fluctuating viewpoints and leaps of time and space designed to encourage mental wandering. These days the 86-year-old Baer is based in Amsterdam, still pulling the rug from beneath us with her quietly disorientating art.

The pairing of Baer with cleverclogs London-based artist Simon Martin is an odd one on paper. But Martin’s black-and-white film of two performers, one male, one female, is similarly discombobulating. In short, semi-improvised sequences, the duo succumb to unknown forces, fall foul of gravity, adopt Jaggerish struts and do the St Vitus Dance. At times they interact, but at others they barely seem aware of one another. They could be in different rooms, or even decades apart: he looks very now, while she looks as if she could have stepped out of a ’70s Trisha Brown dance experiment. There’s a fairly impenetrable accompanying text to wade through, should you wish, but it doesn’t add much. Martin, who usually makes films about static objects, here proves himself to be quite the choreographer, delivering a surprisingly visceral punch to a show that winds up being as much about the fallible body as the rarefied mind.

Martin Coomer

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