Monika Baer’s painting practice thrives on heterogeneity, alternating between styles and techniques—often within a single picture. Her latest works on paper juxtapose collage elements and splotches of paint in pliable combination: each sheet becomes an active zone in which assorted matter can mingle, coming together to fall back apart. Most feature pools of watercolor, like the daubs on a painter’s palette, strewn with clusters of matchsticks or stray coins glued to the paper’s surface. Baer is drawn to these humble, handheld items for their dailiness and subtle intimacy; like the emptied contents of a pocket that still carry traces of the wearer. That implied proximity to the body turns perilous in works that contain shards of mirror or rotary saw blades, some of which are plated in chrome—a glinting lure.
Within and between her paintings and works on paper, motifs are always on the move, liable to mutate and transform into one another. The current exhibition’s title, loose change, refers to this state of liquidity and constant flux, and more prosaically to the nickels and dimes that dot the surfaces of several sheets. Baer’s use of coins reflects a deeper interest in the metaphorics of hard currency: the material guises through which value circulates, changing hands and shifting form. Depictions of money are legion in her body of work, with trompe l’oeil banknotes floating across various canvases, and John Miller has written persuasively about the stakes of this pursuit: “How different is a painted hundred-dollar bill from an ostensibly real bill, especially since the reality of money is primarily a belief system?” Miller asks. “Moreover, is money an end in itself—or the representation, via exchange value, of any number of other potential objects?”
A title like 4 Colors and 75¢ is a sly sendup of the conflation of art and commerce, and of the value or currency the art world assigns to certain painterly idioms at a given time. Our present moment, however, lends these modest, casual seeming works another valence. Amidst a heated market for both digital art and digital currency, Baer offers resolutely analog versions of each, lingering on the physicality of pigment and pocket change as their virtualization looms.