Monika Baer @ The Art Institute

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Baer’s current show at the Art Institute in Chicago provides moderately witty conflicts, but in the end leaves me wanting something of more substance. Upon first introspection, I felt it left a certain taste in my mind that does not easily dispel. It’s strange images float in my head in limbo between being both non sequitur and vaguely related. There are breasts on denim, patterns of bricks and chains of trompe l’oeil, Austrian puppets of Mozart and deli cuts among other images. The exhibition feels vastly disjointed and unrewarding, it’s subject matter dispersed and varied just enough so that I wonder why I don’t wonder. Scratchy child-like drawings are mixed with photo-realistic bottles mashed a bit more with abstract swirls of color. It all seems to signal a moment of confusion, which comes to no resolution or clarity. So much of the show seems to be faux or pseudo-faux. But as those ideas and themes begin to unpack, seemingly non sequitur works (like the breasts and the Mozart paintings) congest ones viewing and unnecessarily complicate the read. And while often I am for complexity, in this instance it felt very polluted rather than bountiful. I realize that Baer’s work maybe a response to the male dominated, conceptually driven, cold to the touch works of leading 80s German artists, but it feels that beyond a response, the work provides little else in the realm of sustenance. This disparity may also have been alleviated with some smarter curating. In fact, two (separate) shows, since the gallery is divided would’ve been better than the current one. Had there been some clearer decisions and additional editing I imagine I could’ve been met with much more resolute conclusions. And be that it is a mid-career retrospective; I believe that some conclusive understanding should’ve been more tangible.

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