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

  • Not on view

Baer’s education in psychology fostered an interest in visual perception and optical illusions. Here, the luminous white squares appear to float above a black field, while the inner bands act as shadows. About these paintings, Baer said, “I understood this blank, white area as light . . . and the edges are boundaries.” The black, red, green, and blue colors seem to be suspended above the white surface.

Gallery label from "Collection: 1940s—1970s", 2019
Additional text

Throughout the 1960s, Baer made dramatically spare paintings, based on permutations of the same formal elements that characterize Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue. Trained in physiological psychology and interested in optical phenomena, Baer has described the perceptual dynamics at play in these compositions: "I paint a black band which does not recede, a color band which does not obtrude, a white square or rectangles which does not move back or forth. . . . There is also a painted white exterior frame band. There is no hierarchy. There is no ambiguity. There is no illusion."

Gallery label from Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, April 19 - August 13, 2017.

These three paintings belong to a series of twelve that vary in color, luminosity, size, and shape. A product of the 1960s impulse to create art from predetermined systems, the works in this series can be arranged in 479,001,600 combinations, Baer has calculated. These three large square paintings are bordered with intense Mach bands, rendering, according to the artist, "primary colors of light: a red (magenta), a green, and a blue." Baer, who was trained in physiological psychology and is interested in optical phenomena, has said that the paintings in this triptychinstalled, according to her specifications, "one foot or a little less apart" were "constructed equivalent to one another as a color presence."

Gallery label from From the Collection: 1960-69, March 26, 2016 - March 12, 2017.
Oil and acrylic on canvas, three panels
Each panel 60 x 60" (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Philip Johnson Fund
Object number
© 2024 Jo Baer
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].