Jo Baer

Stations of the Spectrum (Primary)


Not on display

Jo Baer born 1929
Oil paint and damar resin on 3 canvases
Support: 1835 × 1829 mm
support: 1835 × 1829 mm
support: 1835 × 1829 mm
Purchased 1980

Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘J Baer’ 67–'75⅓' on back of left canvas, ‘J Baer ‘67–75⅓’ on back of centre canvas, ‘⅓ J Baer ‘67–75’ on back of right canvas
Oil and damar resin on canvas, 3 panels, 72 1/4 × 72 (183.4 × 182.8); 72 1/2 × 72 (183.3 × 182.8); 72 1/4 × 72 (183.4 × 182.8)
Purchased from the Lisson Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Exh: Art in Series, Contemporary Wing, Finch College Museum of Art, New York, November 1967–January 1968 (no catalogue); Thirty-First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., February–March 1969 (1, one panel repr.); Jo Baer, Whitney Museum, New York, May–July 1975 (9, 10, 11, ‘Stations of Spectrum Red’ repr.); Jo Baer, Paintings 1962–1974 Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, October–November 1977, Arts Council of Northern Ireland Gallery, Belfast, January–February 1978, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin, March 1978, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, March–April 1978 (panel with green stripe only, not in catalogue); To Baer, Paintings 1962–1974: Lisson Gallery, June–July 1980 (no catalogue)
Repr: Arts Magazine, XLIII, April 1969, p.29 (one panel only, as ‘Triptych’ 1967–9)

According to the artist, this triptych was first shown in the exhibition Art in Series, organised by Elayne H. Varian and Mel Bochner in 1968 (loc.cit.). When next exhibited, in the 1969 Corcoran Biennial, it was supplemented with three more panels, making a six-part work. As with all Baer's paintings of this period, the panels are rectangular and restricted to a simple symmetrical format, in this case each panel presenting a grey central rectangle, bordered by a broad regular black stripe. The panels are differentiated by thin lines of a different colour which run through each black border. In the catalogue for her exhibition at Oxford in 1977 (op.cit. p.6) David Elliott has written of this device:

'The positioning of colour in this way, especially when at certain moments and distances part of it could be registered only by the viewer's peripheral vision, induced certain optical effects which were not part of the physical make-up of the painting. The existence of these effects was wholly dependent upon the perceptual responses of the viewer.

'At the white-colour band edge retinal glare or scattering occurs, the white area reflecting diffusely and appearing to expand beyond its boundaries, adding apparent luminosity to the colour band. At the black-colour band edge Mach Bands, a different physiological neural phenomenon, occur: brightness contrasts push the colour band still higher into luminosity. At first Baer used these optical effects intuitively and only later researched into their physiological bases. In 1969 she published her findings in Aspen Magazine in which she explained these phenomena (Jo Baer ‘Art and Vision: Mach Bands’, Aspen Magazine Fall-Winter 1970). Mach Bands named after the Austrian philosopher and physicist Ernst Mach, occur whenever there is a change from light to dark between two areas: on the light side of the edge a lighter strip is seen, on the dark side a dark band.’

As suggested by its title, the coloured bands in T03110 (and in the three related panels) are those of the spectrum; the first three panels (T03110) are banded with blue, green (a primary in the light spectrum), and red, and the remaining panels with orange, yellow and lavender (secondaries). T03110 is correctly hung in the sequence given.

The exhibition at the Corcoran was the only occasion on which all six panels have been exhibited together. They were displayed on all four walls of a gallery, so that despite the rectilinear format of the room, the viewer had the sensation of being surrounded by the works. This method of display relates to the first part of the work's title: ‘Stations’ derives from the Latin stare to stand, but also, as the artist has pointed out, from the earlier Indo-European root sta- denoting a state of stillness or being at rest. Here each panel has equal weight in relation to the set.

Jo Baer has written of her work of the 'sixties and 'seventies ‘...[my] paintings from '62–'75 also engaged and occupied a strong position in the dialectic of the object versus sleight-of-hand. In part my work was congruent with the sculptors’, especially in their focus on objecthood, then a primary and timely concern. This effort, the act of looking long to the nature of the object and into its specific organization, stood for and was a surrogate, hard look at integrity and the motions of deceit - an inquiry which further projected represented a quasi-political, visionary stance. But paintings, while objects, are not sculptures: flat and round are different intentions and painted space is definitive deception. There can be no mark within a painting's format which does not deceive. As might be expected, the sculptors preferred iso-metric drawings and fabrications by non-isometric, straightforward measure; in their stead, I painted my straight edges curved to make them look straight (entasis) preferring an open dialogue of illusion/ physicality to simplistic, one-dimensional flat. Even more disrupt, my use of color was disreputable being neither grisaille, nor unaccompained nor uniform. Choosing instead color worked in a context ... with others or with black and white ... I obtained duplicity through color's standard double-face. In these and other ways my differences with the sculptors were more than esthetic: to face illusion boldly is also an ideological act, for illusion necessarily exists in reality as much as in art. Programmatics aside, the real challenge in painting was to make poetic objects that would be discrete yet coherent, legible yet dense, subtle yet clear. Double-dealing, double-edged, the elegant course was through color.’

(This is part of an account which was published in an edited version in Art in America, LXXI, no.9, October 1983, pp.136–7, with the title ‘I am no longer an Abstract Artist’. The artist prefers the original version, given here.)

After the Corcoran exhibition, Baer divided the six part work into two, ‘Stations of the Spectrum (Primary)’ and the three remaining panels. The latter were exhibited in Documenta IV, Kassel in 1968, as ‘Untitled Triptychon’ 1967 (2, in catalogue). The artist is not sure of the whereabouts of the second set of canvases but has explained that the dating on the reverse of T03110 refers to the fact that although the canvases were first painted in 1967, they were afterwards damaged and were restored by her in 1975.

This entry has been approved by Jo Baer.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984


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