“Focus” is the first US solo exhibition for German painter Monika Baer, at Chicago Art Institute until 26 January 2014.
“How can painting be art at all?”
Baer asks herself this question early in her career, with her first experience of art school at Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, Germany where she studied from 1985-1992. What she knew of art at that time was all “conceptual” and she wondered how she (or any other artist who identifies as a painter), could make work in that context.
Her response was to reject existing models of painting employed by her tutors and peers (Anselm Kiefer dominated German painting at the time), who were creating conceptual works; art photography was on the rise, and art generally relied heavily on Conceptualism of the 70s. Baer chose to engage in “… the language of theatre and film”, and created works that behaved as “…mise en scene on one hand, painting as object on the other.”
Baer’s paintings are somewhat narrative and at the same time theatrical, in which they “…oscillate between object themselves and depiction”; the painting is a real thing but it’s also at the same time pretending to be part of something else.
Throughout her career, Baer rejects “…existing models of what painting should be”, and in her work continues to ask, is making a painting possible these days? Baer pursues the answer with every piece of work she makes, treating the picture as both “a site of performance and as the object of staging itself”.
The result is “powerful”, says exhibition curator Lisa Dorin, who feels herself “drawn in” to the works, leaving her “just wanting to be there with them”.
Daniel Asia, composer, university professor and freelance blogger for the Huffington Post feels differently about the Lisa “Gorin’s” [sic] exhibition and summed it up as artwork from the realm of “La-di-da and Whatever, or the Idea-less generation and its minions”
Clearly the show did not match Asia’s expectations of what a contemporary painting exhibition should be when he writes, “Her work is all over the place: a bit of old time geometric abstraction in rather dirty and drab colors… those aforementioned breasts… are not alluring or aesthetic. They are your every day working breasts, often shown with milk having spurted out, sometimes shown in slices. They are somewhat cartoon-like and tedious.”
As an artist myself, I fall somewhere in the middle between Dorin and Asia’s sentiments. I didn’t feel “drawn in” to everything I saw but I also didn’t hate anything either. Actually, I was quite taken in by some of the paintings for their aesthetic appeal and tight craftmanship, along with appreciation for all of Baer’s efforts to explore the extensive possibilities of painting as an art language. And quite honestly, the exhibition was completely in line with what I would expect from an European artist in a high-end London gallery in terms of curation, content and high-quality presentation.
For those reasons, and especially for Illinoisan art students or art lovers who can’t easily get to Berlin to see Baer’s work in person, I’d recommend a trip to Chicago Art Institute to see what a top professional European artist is doing with painting now.
More links and information
- Focus: Monika Baer at the Chicago Art Institute
- View/download – Focus: Monika Baer – Exhibition Guide [PDF]
- Monika Baer talks about her work at Chicago Art Institute, 11 November 2012 [YouTube], duration 1:08:00
- Review – “Butterfly, Bach and Breasts in the Windy City – Part I” by Daniel Asia for Huffington Post
- Review – “Art Institute showcases the elusive Monika Baer” by Kyle Macmillan for Chicago Sun Times
- Frieze Magazine (issue 119 – Nov-Dec) 2008 – Monika Baer
- Monika Baer – Contemporary Art Daily
- BOMB Magazine reviews Monika Baer’s work, Issue 113/Fall 2010
Exhibition details: Focus: Monika Baer is showing at the Chicago Art Institute,111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603, from 24 October 2013 through 26 January 2014. Paid admission to The Art Institute includes entrance to special exhibitions.