Last Friday night, the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) celebrated the opening of the Monika Baer exhibition. Monika Baer is a Berlin-based artist, and the first museum exhibition in the United States devoted to her work took place in Oct. 2013, at the Art Institute of Chicago. The current WCMA exhibition was organized by Lisa Dorin, deputy director of curatorial affairs at WCMA, who also welcomed Baer to Williamstown and set up the exhibition, which will be in place until May 18, 2014.
The opening was engaging. After letting the visitors get a first glimpse of the works, Dorin and Baer shared their thoughts and reflections about Baer’s path as an artist, her first U.S. museum exhibition and the process of installing the Monika Baer exhibition at WCMA.
Dorin underscored that the installation process was truly unusual because both WCMA staff and the artist herself invited students to come and step behind the scenes for a half hour every day throughout the week before the opening and see how the exhibition was taking shape. Dorin thanked Baer a few times for her generosity and for providing such a unique opportunity for the College community. Those students who did stop by during the week were able to talk with the artist, ask questions and observe the dynamics of the installation process. Baer said that the conversations with students turned out to be thought provoking. “Behind the Scenes: The Making of an Exhibition” was a unique and stimulating experience both for the artist and for WCMA.
The exhibition is unusual also in terms of its content. This is the first time that the artist has decided to exhibit her drawings together with her paintings. “You persuaded me to do this,” she said to Dorin. Baer explained that she used to separate her drawings from her paintings, mainly because of their distinct characters. The drawings are much more relaxed as compared to the more assertive and aggressive nature of her paintings. However, the artist remarked that she liked how putting the two beside each other worked to create an original and engaging dynamic in this exhibition.
When asked why she decided to become an artist, she replied with a laugh that the decision was a natural and perhaps even inevitable one for her because she had always been certain she wanted to be an artist. By the time Baer enrolled in Düsseldorf Art Academy, where she studied from 1985 to 1992, photography had been the dominant field of study for almost a decade, and the medium of painting was dominated by men in Germany. The exhibition description stated, “She was an artist compelled to make paintings, but as if without relevant models for what those paintings should be in that moment, in that place, and by her hand.”
Baer received her first recognition for her series “Mozart paintings,” two of which are exhibited at WCMA. The paintings depict her early perception and treatment of interest in the canvas as a theater set. They were followed, in the subsequent years, by more abstracted work, such as monochrome passages with various recurrent motifs – keyholes, spider webs, brick walls and paper currency.
The artist said that the dialogue between the viewer and her work is extremely important. Her works are active participants in the conversation. They have the capacity to direct the gaze in the direction they want it to be directed. There is an ongoing communication between the beholders and the beheld, and this allows for the limitless perceptions and interpretations of Baer’s work, which can feel entirely different every time one approaches it.
Visiting the Monika Baer exhibition and getting more than just a glimpse of her work is an enriching experience, thanks to the innovation and generosity of the artist and the WCMA staff.