Critics’ Picks

Uta Barth, and to draw a bright white line with light (Untitled 11.3), 2011, color photograph, 37 x 56”.


Uta Barth

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
May 14 - August 14

Uta Barth’s new photographic series “ . . . and to draw a bright white line with light,” 2011, subtly departs from her previous bodies of work, two of which, “white blind (bright red),” 2002, and “Sundial,” 2007, are also on view in this exhibition. Barth’s photographs are composed of elements that are normally relegated to a composition’s background—the blanched sky, barren trees, and telephone lines of the “white blind (bright red)” series, for example, or the hanging lamp, mustard-colored sofa, and light-filled window of “Sundial.” Although her images rarely include people, as of late Barth has begun to register her own presence in, and impact on, a photographed scene. This most recent series marks the first time that Barth has overtly manipulated the physical elements of a setting in order to achieve specific ends. Two of the photographs show the artist’s hands gently pulling the folds of a diaphanous curtain so as to lengthen or contract a squiggly line of light cast on it by the afternoon sun.

As Barth guides this single beam into robust waves and lyrical flourishes, her hands call attention to the light’s almost palpably sculptural qualities as well as to her own role in shaping its form. The outline of a windowsill provides each composition with a stable horizon that runs evenly across the entire series of photographs. Sometimes the light dips below the sill line to hover in the darker area beneath; at other times it ripples above or across it. Whereas “Sundial” depicts light’s cyclical relation to the passage of time, “ . . . and to draw a bright white line with light” explores the range of possibilities that a singular moment and a particular manifestation of light affords, all through the most elegantly minimal of gestures—a simple tug.