Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction

Jo Baer. Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue. 1964-65 4780

Oil and acrylic on canvas, three panels, Each panel 60 x 60" (152.4 x 152.4 cm). Philip Johnson Fund. © 2019 Jo Baer

Paulina Pobocha: This is a work by Jo Baer called Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue.

The work consists of three, square canvases, primarily painted white. You'll see that the border is painted black, and then on the interior rim of that black framing edge, you'll find another color.

She called these bands "Mach bands," named after the Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach. And he had a theory about the optical effects that occur when black meets another color. There’s a luminosity or element of vibration that varies from canvas to canvas, so as you move from this red magenta color, to the green color, to the blue color, the work registers in very different ways. The “Mach Band” delimits painting from the world that surrounds it, so that the painting ceases to be, let's say, a "window" into some other world, but very much a thing unto itself, a material object.

This is a triptych, so you're looking at three separate objects. But important to Baer was how they relate to one another.

Baer is actually coming to art from a science background. She studied biology in college, and then later on in graduate school, studied Gestalt psychology. And Gestalt psychology is very interested in the ways that we perceive the world, and the way that we understand shapes and forms in the world. And the focus for her is on the material aspects of the work and the physical effects that they produce in the viewer.

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