Born in 1903 in what is now Poland, Mark Baum (1903–1997) used painting as a mechanism to document and examine the changing philosophical and technological concerns of the twentieth century. Due to increasing post-World War I anti-Semitism, Baum fled to New York. Enchanted by his new surroundings, he began to paint representational cityscapes and still lifes.

As Abstract Expressionism exploded onto the New York art scene, Baum found himself fascinated by the ability of these painters to convey conceptual and intellectual abstract thoughts with only gestures, shapes, and color on canvases. Intent on pushing the medium to its expressive limits, Baum began to strip his paintings of more and more realistic details.

In 1958, he created “the element,” a unique marking that would entirely compose the four hundred paintings he made throughout the remainder of his life. Baum employed “the element” like a musical note, in different rhythms, punctuated with variations in color and tone. The shape became a stand-in for the importance of a collective spirituality that would unite society, and his compositions depicted universal concepts such as gratitude and defiance. Once well known, after Baum abandoned New York City for rural Maine in 1961, he fell out of favor.

Collective Consciousness is the first museum exhibition of Baum’s enigmatic oeuvre and will include representative paintings from each phase of his fifty-year practice.