The first museum exhibition in the United States devoted to the work of Berlin-based artist Monika Baer, this presentation includes nearly 30 paintings created between 1990 and 2013. The selection of canvases and their non-chronological groupings reflect the emphatic diversity of subject matter and the stylistic and material explorations of Baer’s idiosyncratic practice. Often called both conceptual and performative, her paintings are simultaneously spare and sensuous, oscillating between revealing and pretending to reveal themselves.
Baer studied painting at the internationally renowned Düsseldorf Art Academy from 1985 to 1992, a time when photography had been the prevailing field of study for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, the medium of painting was decidedly male dominated in Germany, and Baer’s early work evidences that tension: she was an artist compelled to make paintings but as if without relevant models for what those paintings should be in that moment, in that place, and by her hand.
Shortly after leaving the academy, Baer received recognition for a series known as the Mozart paintings, two of which are in this exhibition. The series expanded on her interest in the canvas as theater set that had developed in her student years, taken to an extreme, almost cinematic scale. Highly stylized and rendered in elaborate rococo detail, these paintings act as a foil for the more abstracted work that would follow. Across the subsequent 15 years, Baer has punctuated atmospheric, monochrome passages with numerous recognizable motifs—keyholes, spider webs, brick walls, and paper currency, for instance—through which her canvases enter a dialogue with one another.
The subjects of Baer’s paintings at times intentionally push up against her own standards of taste: if the artist is not sure whether she likes what she is depicting, then the painting has to work that much harder to resolve itself. Baer’s singular practice might be best understood as a torrid love affair with the medium of painting—with all the pleasure and pain that such a relationship entails.
Learn more about Monika Baer's work by watching an artist talk she gave at the Art Institute last year.
Organizer focus: Monika Baer is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Sponsors Ongoing support for focus exhibitions is provided by the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art. Major exhibition support is provided by Igor M. DaCosta and an anonymous donor. Annual support is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, the Trott Family Foundation, and the Woman's Board of the Art Institute.