New York

Uta Barth

Uta Barth takes photographs which, by virtue of being pictures of nothing in particular, manage to be about a great deal indeed. The pictures are broken down into two different series: either “field” or “ground.” The “Field” series, 1995, (shown at Tanya Bonakdar last spring) comprises photos taken outside; the “Ground” series, 1995–96, (featured at London Projects in June) of pictures taken inside. In the former, Barth (un)focuses on the sort of places you never actually visit, but always pass through on your way somewhere else. So there are scenes of nondescript buildings (with and without trees), nondescript streets and streetlights, and oncoming headlights in the center of the frame: these photos look like what you see, slightly blurred, from the window of your car. In the “Ground” series, she finds the same forgotten, anonymous spaces, except they’re inside a house this time: small corners, odd protrusions that aren’t quite walls, architectural eccentricities, screens and windows, the edges of bookshelves.

Barth specializes in pictures where the subject has gone missing—stepped out of frame or just dissolved altogether into a lower resolution. Which doesn’t make them any less interesting: when the “real subject” dissolves, it only means that the focus shifts. So a piece such as Field #2, 1995, can be read as an exercise in abstraction, colors, and rectangular forms (pale pink, white, and inky blues, blacks and grays) elegantly arranged, and still be seen as an exemplar of a strangely contemporary absence (an oddly forlorn and anonymous courtyard rendered even emptier by the blur—every place and no-place at once). And in the “Ground” series, you could read “Ground #69,” as an exploration of the Minimalist concern with the grid (with specific reference to Agnes Martin) or as a Vermeer stripped down to the bone, down to the pure play of light. None of which will prevent you from reading both as mirror images of Gerhard Richter’s blurred, photograph-based paintings.

Barth’s photos teeter on various edges, and that is the real subject of her work. What’s interesting about them is this very suspension: the way they manage to hover between old-fashioned meditations on light and color and distinctly modern meditations on places that are hardly places at all; between being exercises in pure abstraction and rescuing the fuzzy remnants of representation; between masquerading as paintings and posing as photographic portraits of an absent subject.

Mark Van de Walle