Exhibition curator Lisa Dorin aptly describes Monika Baer's subject matter as "intensely common and commonly intense." How else to describe paintings that include everyday objects like playing cards, coins, bricks, cigarettes, and meat slices—yes, meat slices—but also shy away from obvious narrative and obscure more than they reveal?
The exhibition includes work from 1990 (when Baer was in art school at the prestigious Kunstakademie Düsseldorf) to 2013, but although it spans several decades, almost all of the images merge figuration and abstraction. The red wall paintings (example above) exemplify this approach. They all include a red background on the left with a wall of bricks on the right. Space and depth are unclear, but chains, shapes, and graffiti-like scribbles seem to rest/float on top of the brick wall and red field. Dorin notes that it all seems to call to mind the idiom "banging one's head against a wall," which can be perceived both literally and metaphorically as the viewer tries to uncover any underlying meaning.
More recently, 2013's 3 bad habits (3a) also combines the illusion of deep space with a smashed cigarette butt painted on the canvas and a yet-to-be-opened travel-sized bottle of spiced whiskey perched on top of the painting. If those are two of the aforementioned bad habits, what is the third? Your guess is as good as mine, but Dorin suggests that it might just be painterliness.
Still wondering about those meat slices? They appear in several paintings, including the untitled work above from 2005. Check out the disk-like objects seemingly spinning through the bottom right corner.
focus: Monika Baer is the first U.S. museum exhibition devoted to the artist and is open through January 26 in the Modern Wing's Abbott Galleries.
Monika Baer. rote Wand, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles.