Unlike many young galleristas who aspire to one day own their very own white cube, Kent Baer is pursuing an idea that's more hands-on and more unusual. In an age of digital everything, Baer's unlikely venture is a printing press. And though it may sound archaic, there's actually nothing outdated about what Baer, the 28-year-old registrar for Greg Kucera's gallery, is up to on the side.
It's not even a printing press in the traditional sense. He doesn't have his own printing equipment, nor a physical space just yet. And of the three projects he's produced thus far, only one was actually a print. Baer Press is more like a go-between, helping artists make work that comes in multiple editions, and therefore is more affordable than unique pieces. You might consider it something like community development for the arts, a project he hopes will help "more art reach more people."
Baer says the venture lets him not only "play a role...[in] connecting art objects to homes," as at a gallery, but also have a role in the creative process. "I'm enabling artists [to] make the things they conceive."
Whether you want to call him a facilitator or an enabler doesn't much matter, but since he's already produced three outstanding editions in just a few short months, it's pretty damn clear you can call him good. After selling half ofthe hard-ground etchings he produced with Seattle painter Margie Livingston, Baer made his presence undeniably felt when Victoria Haven's Iampayingattention became the star piece in her recent solo show at Howard House. Not known for text-based work, Haven shocked her loyal audience with the stunning white object. Fixed high on the wall, her clean cursive handwriting literally expounded, "I am paying attention," and in the same stroke seem to be figuratively asking, "Are you?"
"Vic and I talked about her making an editioned cutout, more like the rest of her work," Baer says. "But then Vic told me she'd always wanted to respond to this Bruce Nauman piece, Pay Attention Motherfucker. Almost right away, I think, we both knew it was the only option."
Baer, with no experience producing a 3-D work, had to make it up as he went along. He got in touch with area blacksmiths and eventually found a hip young "metalhead," Maria Cristalli, who was interested in the project. Together the three worked out exactly how to make it all happen, and eventually Baer found himself up to his elbows, dipping cold-rolled one-quarter-inch steel rods into smooth, white plastic. Haven described the entire process as inspirational, and all eight editions were sold before anyone had even seen them.
Baer's now hoping to expand the press to around 12 projects a year, and he's got a strong list of artists nationwide whom he's courting. Already on board for next month is Portland-based Marie Watt, the self-described "part Indian, part cowboy" artist, best known for her totemlike sculptures of stacked blankets. Though she and Baer haven't decided exactly what they'll do, Watt's interest in addressing contemporary Native American themes and creating universal human narratives taps so directly into Baer's wish to speak to a wider audience that the two are sure to come up with something that will make us all pay attention.