Studio Visit: Painter Jo Baer on the Exercise Gear (and Chili) That Are Her Secret to Making Large-Scale Artworks at the Age of 91

Hint: it involves dumbbells.

Film still from Lisa Immordino Vreeland's film on the artist, courtesy of Jo Baer
Film still from Lisa Immordino Vreeland's film on the artist, courtesy of Jo Baer and Art Agency Partners.

At 91, artist Jo Baer is still creating large-scale, physically demanding work. And she shows no sign of retiring anytime soon.

Her latest paintings, alongside examples that span decades of her formidable career, are on view in two concurrent exhibitions at New York’s Pace Gallery (through December 19).

The first presentation, “Jo Baer: The Risen,” presents five paintings with an unusual backstory. The artist originally created the canvases—which eschewed both Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, the prevailing styles at the time—in 1960 and 1961, but destroyed them when she decided the world was not ready to appreciate them.

Before she did, however, she took meticulous photographs of herself posing confidently alongside the works. And it was upon those photographs that she based the reconstructions, a series titled “The Risen,” in 2019.

The other exhibition, “Jo Baer: Originals,” spans the mid-’70s to this year and traces the artist’s shift away from the Minimalist movement with which she was initially associated and toward a more singular style that fuses abstraction and figuration. Since emigrating from the United States to Europe in the ’70s, Baer has settled in Amsterdam, where she is still working regularly in her studio.

She allowed us a peek at her day-to-day life on the occasion of her latest exhibitions.

Jo Baer, 2020. © Yaël Temminck, courtesy of Pace.

Jo Baer, 2020. © Yaël Temminck, courtesy of Pace.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

My mat, weights, and chinning bar are indispensable as I use them to stay healthy. It’s key to be in physical shape to be able to make large work!

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to? 

I am looking forward to creating a digital sketch for my next painting using a program on my computer.

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? 

I like silence, and my thoughts as I go.

Jo Baer's studio, film still from Lisa Immordino Vreeland's film on the artist, courtesy of Jo Baer.

Jo Baer’s studio, film still from Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s film on the artist, courtesy of Jo Baer.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise? 

I admire originality and “the genuine.” I dislike clichéd, worn-out work (abstract and otherwise).

What snack food could your studio not function without? 

My Tex-Mex chili keeps me well-padded and I snack on real tortilla chips.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers right now? 

Sorry, I am a person of the minute—something takes my attention, and I am off. Favorites have nothing to do with what I do…

Jo Baer, The Risen (Blockade) (1960-1961/2019). © Jo Baer, courtesy Pace.

Jo Baer, The Risen (Blockade) (1960-1961/2019). © Jo Baer, courtesy Pace.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

I’ll often take a short nap.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you? 

Toyin Ojih Odutola’s virtual show at Jack Shainman was great, specifically for her use of color and choice of subject matter.

Jo Baer, <i>Time-Line (Spheres, Angles and the Negative of the 2nd Derivative)</i> (2012). © Jo Baer, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Jo Baer, Time-Line (Spheres, Angles and the Negative of the 2nd Derivative) (2012). © Jo Baer, courtesy Pace Gallery.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

My orchids get a smile in the morning (and occasional water).


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