Jo Baer: her exhibition traces the journey through her stylistic and ideological developments throughout her painting practice. Baer's oeuvre spans a journey and critical dialogue from abstract expressionism to minimalism to her current style rooted in metaphorical imagery. Lynda Benglis is seen as one of the American pioneers who uses a form of 'lyrical abstraction' on shows her production from the early totem, videos and her knots from the 1970s, up to the recent works in polyurethane and aluminium. Jutta Koether is not exclusively a painter, she is also a performance artist, musician, writer and critic. Within the field of painting she is equally 'multipurpose'.
The artists Jo Baer, Lynda Benglis and Jutta Koether have been invited for three solo presentations along side each other. This trio exhibition spotlights each individual practice, while also allowing one to engage with the potential relations between the artists’ positions. From different perspectives Baer, Benglis and Koether tackle certain elements of the history and current practice of painting.
From 20 June to 4 October 2009 there is a Trio exhibition of the work of Jo Baer, Lynda Benglis, Jutta Koether In the Oudbouw (Old Building) of the Van Abbemuseum. This is the fourth time that the Van Abbemuseum organises a Trio exhibition, this time with solo presentations of three generations of artists: Jo Baer (1929), Lynda Benglis (1941), and Jutta Koether (1958). They are connected by their choice for ‘painting’. Not pure painting, the non-narrative painting which does not refer to anything outside itself, but an evaluation of the phenomenon of painting in terms of art criticism.
In the ten halls of the monumental Oudbouw, Baer, Benglis and Koether tackle certain aspects of the history and current practice of painting from different perspectives. The exhibition makes clear that the medium of painting is not the only medium for them to challenge the tradition of painting. From the mid sixties to now these artists work, each in their own way, with a range of mediums like video, sculpture, installation and text. This Trio exhibition highlights their individual works, while at the same time the visitor can explore the potential links between the artists’ positions.
Curator: Annie Fletcher
Jo Baer (Seattle 1929) is a painter and lives and works in Amsterdam. This exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum traces the journey through Jo Baer’s stylistic and ideological developments throughout her painting practice. Baer’s oeuvre spans a journey and critical dialogue from abstract expressionism to minimalism to her current style rooted in metaphorical imagery - what she terms radical figuration.
“All of the so-called abstract artists always have a tissue of meaning. I always did certainly... I meant layers. I meant boundaries. I meant very specific things always” – Jo Baer, 1987
A journey through painting
The début of Jo Baer in the fifties was with abstract-expressionist work. Between 1960 and 1975, Baer made paintings which referred to Minimal Art. In these she aimed for a perfect balance between space and representation. She created series of rectangular or square paintings, often triptychs with a central white or grey plane and narrow black or coloured stripes on the edges. At the height of her fame Baer also turned away from abstract art and started to examine figurative representation as a possible way to connect social reality and illusion in painting.
In this exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum the ways Baer’s art travels through movements, divisions and arguments in the art of the past century are clearly visible. Put simply at one point she changed her mind and was bold enough to change the directions of a successful career in consequence. She has always written and published polemical statements for example her now famous article in Art In America called “I am no longer an Abstract Artist”. Here she forecast the purely formal and selfreferential dead end into which modernist painting was to direct itself. Baer condemned the growing preoccupation with the purely formal properties of painting over broader intellectual concerns of the artists and their need to communicate in the world. As she herself explained “to enhance discourse is to paint and draw in fragment, which is an open adventure: it is having painting talk (as opposed to having painting talk about parts of others’ paintings).”
This solo exhibition spans a period of fifty years and places well known abstract works from Baer’s oeuvre such as Untitled (Black Star) (1960-1961) or Vertical Flanking Diptych (Yellow Ochre) (1966 -1974) alongside work based on what she calls radical figuration. It spans the period from the 1970’s right up to her most recent completed Memorial to the Art World Body (Nevermore) (2009). This is the first showing of this most recent painting, which incorporates elements of what she calls an alternative self-portrait. In this new painting she incorporates images of herself by other artists (including John Wesley and Bruce Robbins), which she suggests in the act of repainting them she may be “stealing back”.
Curator: Diana Franssen
Lynda Benglis (Lake Charles, 1941, lives and works in New York, Santa Fe and Ahmadabad (India) is seen as one of the American pioneers who uses a form of ‘lyrical abstraction’ in order to question movements such as modernism and minimalism in a critical way. The works which Lynda Benglis has created during her forty years as an artist reveal an artist with strong convictions. The way in which she carries out her research into form, surface and meaning confirm her current influence on contemporary visual art.
“It wasn’t breaking away from painting but trying to redefine what it was” – Lynda Benglis, 2006
Challenging the art of painting
This is Lynda Benglis’s first solo exhibition in a museum in Europe. Her study of form, surface and meaning becomes visible in a diversity of works, including Blatt (1969), Eat Meat (1969-1975), Wing (1970) and the videos Now (1973) and Female Sensibility (1973). The visitor gets an impression of her groundbreaking influence on visual art.
The solo exhibition in the Van Abbemuseum shows her extremely creative production from the early totem- like reliefs in wax, via the ‘fallen paintings’, videos and her ‘knots’ from the 1970s, up to the gilded, folded figures from the 1980s and her recent works in polyurethane and aluminium.
This is the first time that the work of Lynda Benglis is exhibited in a European museum on a large scale. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to study her impact on visual art; since the 1960s, she has constantly challenged the prevailing views on painting and sculpture.
“The ability to step aside and contradict oneself is the nature of art” – Lynda Benglis, 2000
Large variety of works
At one moment Benglis’s work is aesthetically justified and a testimony to her good taste, while the next moment it deliberately uses dirty colours, and the work openly flirts with concepts such as bad taste and ugliness. Her work is largely determined by feminism and eroticism and also comprises conceptual works, performances and video. Her approach is provocative and often ironic. From the mid-1970s, her works are increasingly characterized by their tempting kitsch character and she reveals her predilection for experimenting with materials and media. In the creative process, the boundaries of her own body - - for instance the length of a stretched arm while making a gesture - are a determining factor. The works are therefore sometimes characterized as ‘frozen gestures’, in which Benglis emphasises the need for the sensitive, tactile and personal signature of the author. In her approach to abstraction she tries to maintain the tension between the creative process and the end product. She tries to demythologize the creative moment by being open about how the work is created.
The totem-like reliefs, the so-called wax paintings with which Lynda Benglis started in 1967-1968, introduce some of the characteristics which are also manifested in her later work. These include her interest in the human dimension; in structure, texture and colour, in the boundaries between painting and sculpture; in the references to physical, psychological and organic aspects; in erotic references and strong female sensuality. This resulted in her ‘fallen paintings’, in which liquid materials such as latex and polyurethane foam are cast on the floor and against the wall. These works are reminiscent of the ‘drippings’ of Jackson Pollack or the abstract paintings of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler. They also evoke memories of Serra’s performances in which he threw liquid lead against the wall; the work Blatt (1969) is a good example of this. A number of the fallen paintings from the period 1968-1970 were later transformed by using other materials including lead and aluminium. Benglis is fascinated by metal because it has a permanent character, but it can also be melted into a liquid substance. Eat Meat (1975) suggests solidified lava, but the title indicates a different context. In Wing (1975) Benglis gives weight to gravity.
The addition of the fluorescent ‘day glo’ pigment turns the solidified substances into vulgar cave-like reliefs. Benglis tries to stimulate the viewer with this element of kitsch, to challenge him (or her) to make a judgement about good taste and bad taste. In her glittering ‘knotted’ work Psi (1973), she manages to force the viewer to adopt a position with her use of glitter, glamour and colourful pigments. In 1989, with regard to good and bad taste, Benglis stated: “There will always be a Puritan strain in society that gets nervous if things are too pleasurable, too beautiful or too open. That’s the most significant legacy of feminist art; it taught us not to be afraid to express these things.” The growing interest of Benglis in the creative process and the study of materials and their effects on the public led her to examine the possibilities of a large number of materials in more detail. This varies from synthetic resin, glass and wood to casting liquid latex, aluminium and nickel.
In addition to her sculptural work, which is focused on the process, her oeuvre consists of videos and photographs. In these she presents a parody of self-reflection. Her video Now (1973) inspired the American art historian Rosalind Krauss to write the key work in the theory of art, Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, in 1976. Throughout the video, the artist constantly asks the questions ‘Now?’ and ‘Do you wish to direct me?’ and repeats commands such as ‘Start the camera’ and ‘I said start recording’. With the word ‘Now’ used as question and as a command, she emphasises the deceptive “real time” of the video. In addition, it is the first video in which she manipulates colour as a visual medium to an extreme extent. Form and content play an essential dialogue in this. Benglis’s video Female Sensibility (1973) explains sexual prejudices of that era in a villainous way. At the same time, it is groundbreaking work, both in early video art and as a documentary film.
The exhibition in the Van Abbemuseum also contains documentary materials with which Benglis’s interest in performance and self-promotion is represented with the use of magazines and invitation cards. This also includes her most famous campaign: the ‘dildo’ advertisement in Artforum (November 1974).
Locations after the Van Abbemuseum
The solo exhibition of Lynda Benglis will travel to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, Ireland (4 November 2009 to 24 January 2010), to Le Consortium in Dijon, France, June-August 2010) and to the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, USA (September 2010-January 2011).
Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, Ireland.
Le Consortium in Dijon, France
Museum of Art Rhode Island School of design (RISD) in Providence, USA
Curator: Annie Fletcher
Jutta Koether (Cologne 1958, lives and works in New York) works in the field of painting, performance, music and art criticism. Koether is not exclusively a painter, she is also a performance artist, musician, writer and critic. Within the field of painting she is equally 'multipurpose' with her use of translucent colour fields, the gestural brushstroke, foreboding black landscapes, use of the female form and the appropriation of poetry, song lyrics and visual imagery from both the paintings history and pop culture. Her work flips between an exuberant visual experience and a witty, rigorous critique of aesthetics.
”I choose everything” – Jutta Koether, 1997
This solo presentation in the Van Abbemuseum brings together a series of recent paintings developed in 2008 and 2009. Jutta Koether examines the medium of painting by placing her works in installations, as if they are in dialogue with each other. In this way, as she says herself: she makes: “[…] what doesn’t belong together compatible”. She investigates the relationship between the landscape genre and the idea of the stage, between painting and display.
For this exhibition the artist will work with a series of screens on which the works are hung and in some cases with theatrical lighting. This way the viewers become dramatically aware of their own presence walking through and looking upon the work. By referencing the museum architecture of Lina Bo Bardi, the Brazilian architect who developed glass panel hanging systems in the sixties, Koether invents her own hanging system of transparent glass walls in two of the rooms of the Oudbouw in the Van Abbemuseum. The viewer can literally flip back and forth between the dramatic black scenes of glass paintings, for example the series The Necessity of Multiple Inconsistent Fantasies (2008), and a group of vibrant bright red landscapes like Incarnation Found Identified Executed (2008). The latter are a series of what Koether herself calls “bruised Cézannes”. This particular series is made from a group of painting-by-number still lives which she converts into landscapes. By doing so, all the references becomes unstable and merge into something new which she makes unmistakably tangible for the viewer.
Painting and music
Both the aesthetic aspects and the aspects related to the content of Koether’s work refer to things outside painting: to literature, music and pop culture. For this exhibition Koether will include two works from a series she has been developing called ‘Sovereign Women’. Here she will show The Soul between Heaven and Hell 2 (picture after an image of Maria Callas on stage) (2008) and Souveraine (picture after an image of Kylie on stage, from the KSTA) (2008).
Painting and mythology
In the centre room Koether will exhibit a single painting, installed on its own wall, called Hot Rod (after Poussin) (2009). Jutta Koether, Hot Rod (after Poussin), 2009. Courtesy Rena Spaulings, New York. Photo Farzad Owrang. This is the artist’s to-scale remake of Poussin’s Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe (1651). The painting receives extra illumination from a vintage theater light which picks up on the iridescent surface of the painting. The remake depicts the Ovid’s tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, a widely popular theme in post-Renaissance painting. The lovers, forbidden by their parents to marry, planned to meet in secret one night beside a spring. Thisbe arrived first but as she waited a lioness, fresh from a kill, came to quench her thirst, her jaws dripping blood. Thisbe fled, in her haste dropping her cloak which the beast proceeded to tear to shreds. When Pyramus arrived and discovered the bloody garment he believed the worst. Blaming himself for his lover's supposed death he plunged his sword into his side. Thisbe returned to find her lover dying and so, taking his sword, threw herself upon it. This story became widely popular in post-Renaissance painting. As curator John Kelsey of Rena Spaulings in New York explains this new work: “Koether’s practice has often involved appropriations and distortions of male masters such as Manet and Cézanne. Her recent encounter with Poussin – via T.J. Clark’s study The Sight of Death – has evolved into an experimental movement between reading and painting, an exploration of the relations between language and pictures (and their reciprocal mistreatments of each other).”
Blend special Jo Baer - Lynda Benglis - Jutta Koether
In co-operation with Blend magazine a special publication is realised, in which the idea of a traditional exhibition catalogue is raised to a higher level. In stead of an abstract of the exhibited works, this publication is compiled of specially made interviews, photo shoots and artworks, inspired by the oeuvre of the three artists.
The special publication is for sale at the opening and during the exhibition. It is also available in stores. Selling price €5,95
Image: Jo Baer, Memorial for an Art-World Body (Nevermore), 2009
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Opening: Saturday, 20 June 2009 15:00
Bilderdijklaan 10 - 5611 NH Eindhoven Netherlands
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00 to 17:00. The museum is closed on Monday, with the exception of public holidays.
The Van Abbemuseum is open until 21:00 on Thursday evenings, admission to the museum is free from 17:00 on those nights. Also the museum cafe is open until 21:00 on Thursday evenings.