Critics’ Picks

View of “Robert Barry: Bethlehem Baptist Church Installation,” 2015.

Los Angeles

Robert Barry

Thomas Solomon Art Advisory | Bethlehem Baptist Church
4901 Compton Avenue
November 1–December 13

In an abandoned church in a neglected neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, Robert Barry summons the ghostly with fifty-one words of white vinyl (all works 2015). The relationship between his works’ open font, with its wide-stroked Century Gothic O’s and subtle widths, and this light-filled Rudolph Schindler–designed modernist architecture creates a sense of expansiveness in a structure of intimate reserve. The words, uninhibited by the oppressive structure of sentences, are thrown to the walls, bending around corners and tipping on their own edges. Are these phrases echoes of the vanished choir, or are they references to scripture?

Language is sacred, a symbol and practice of higher consciousness—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” as the Gospel of John says. In Barry’s installation, though, language is fallible. Surrounding the cross are the words “MOST,” “ABSURD,” and “ANYTHING.” The chosen words dissolve into emblems that timidly ask large questions, one of which, between “REMEMBER,” “PURPOSE,” and “OBVIOUS,” could be “Do you remember when some purpose was obvious?” Yet answers are not crucial to the experience. Instead, the texts become something visitors embody and enact as they search for clarity through changes in light, shifts in vantage point, and concentrated attention. For instance, “PASSION APPEARS” is displayed between the two most generous sources of light at midday. Throughout, Barry urges the viewer to remember the illusion and mysterious nature of meaning—the latter word appearing upside down in the rafters.