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Speaking of being rude…
It’s the only way to be, if you’re female. You don’t get anywhere otherwise.
– Jo Baer in answer to Judith E. Stein

It cannot be easy for Jo Baer to keep answering questions about her time as an abstract painter over and over again – a period in time she has long left behind. The publication Jo Baer – Broadsides & Belles Lettres which contains interviews, texts and correspondence, shows an intimate portrait of an impassioned artist claiming her position in a turbulent art history. Although nowadays re-established as a key figure in minimal art, Baer remains less understood in her mythologically tinted figurative work from later in her career.

The interviews invariably show the grief of Baer’s decision to turn her back on abstract art from 1975 onwards. Often these comments are subtle (for instance in the interview with Linda Boersma) though here and there they are noticeably more blatant – a Belgian professor in philosophy once told her: ‘Jo, what have you done to us? We so loved your work, we could stand in front of it and not have to think about anything.’

The published correspondence clearly illustrates Baer’s appeal for understanding was a continuing upward battle. In 1967 Baer wrote a letter to Artforum in which she defended the position of the painters in minimal art, against a group of spatial artists who considered painting to be outdated. Donald Judd and Robert Morris were at the receiving end of Baer’s polemic.

As time passes Baer does not get any milder. In 2004 her words are as blunt as ever: ‘the thinking was done in painting. These sculptors had been crummy painters.’

Her fierce tone throughout the years is logical – the publication confirms how the artist has constantly been called to account for her notions and choices. While others seem less inclined to agree with her line of thought, Baer’s fierceness never turns bitter. Underlying an unrestrained lust for provocation, her witty texts and interviews reveal a passion for artistic research and great analytical ability. For an artist who declares to avoid storytelling in her work: this book certainly tells quite a story.

Jo Baer, Broadsides & Belles Lettres. Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010, ed.: Roel Arkesteijn, Roma Publications, 2010, 184 p, in English, hard cover, ISBN 9789077459492

Jolien Verlaek

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