Uta Barth is a German-American photographer. Over her three-decade career, her work has focused on the act of looking, inverting the traditional figure and ground relationship to focus instead on images at the periphery. Resisting narrative or psychological interpretation, Barth's aim is to make the viewer aware of not what they see but how they see it.Read More
Born in Berlin, Barth moved to America at the age of 12 in order for her father to pursue a career in scientific research at Stanford University. Although feeling like an outsider in her new home, she embraced American culture, leaving memories of 'dark' post-war Berlin behind. Moving to Los Angeles in her 20s, the bright Californian light became the driving impetus for Barth's practice, much like the artists of the Light and Space movement, whom she cites as a key influence.
Barth received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Davis in 1982 and went on to complete a Master of Fine Arts at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1985. Her interest in photography began in a painting class in her undergraduate years, taking images to copy from and eventually finding these source materials far more compelling. Barth noted that the camera could better replicate ocular processes, and it was here that she began to focus on incidental subject matter to draw attention to human vision.
Barth describes her practice as asking the same central questions of light, perception, and visual acuity but rephrased in different ways, always with the hope that the viewer becomes self-conscious in their act of looking. Moving away from the self-portraits of her early career, her more recent work takes place exclusively within her home and is often photographed at odd angles or without a tripod to suggest a passing glance or the duration of time.
In her early works, Barth was predominantly concerned with inverting the traditional focal point of a photograph and instead drawing attention to how the 'envelope of information' in a background creates the context and meaning for an image. Her 'Ground' series (1992—1993) demonstrates the effect of natural blur that occurs when the human eye focuses on one point while maintaining an awareness of the 'deep space' of the background. Furthering this in the 'Field' series (1995—1998), the images are all but suggestions of form, creating the sense that both subject and camera are in motion.
After these initial experiments, Barth moved her practice indoors, focusing instead on what she could see through her living room window or reflected onto the walls. Using the same barren tree branches she introduced in 'nowhere near' (1999), she attempted to recreate optical phenomena in 'white blind (bright red)' (2002). This series demonstrated Barth's interest in staring and the optical afterimages produced when the retinas are overloaded. When exhibited, the images in the series were displayed in a continuous line around the gallery space, mimicking the movements of the eye as each image dissolved into one another.
Light itself eventually became the medium in Barth's series '...and to draw a bright white line with light' (2011), in which she manipulated her curtains at different times of day so that the light zig-zagged through the fabric in thin lines and thick waves. The inclusion of her hand in some images, often blurred, added an almost performative element and evidence of her own manipulation of light effects. Barth published a book to accompany this series entitled To Draw With Light (2012).
Barth's series 'In The Light and Shadow of Morandi' (2017) takes inspiration from still-life painter Giorgio Morandi, photographing commonplace items made of translucent glass. Instead of his subdued palette, however, Barth manipulated light by photographing the shadows cast by the glass objects. Just as Morandi painted the same objects in the same space, Barth's observation of the path of light throughout her home is a subject she continually returns to.
Barth was awarded a MacArthur 'Genius Grant' in 2012 and the United States Artist Grant in 2008. She has been awarded several fellowships, including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2004), the National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship (1995, 1990), and the AMI (Art Matters Inc.) Visual Artist Fellowship (1994 and 1992).
Uta Barth has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions. Solo exhibitions include Uta Barth: In the Light and Shadow of Morandi, Andréhn-Schiptjenko, Paris (2021); Uta Barth, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, South Bend (2018); Uta Barth, 1301PE, Los Angeles (2017); Uta Barth: to draw with light, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2013); and Uta Barth, Galería Elvira González, Madrid (2012).
Group exhibitions include Photography to the Test of Abstraction, FRAC Normandie Rouen, Sotteville-lès-Rouen (2020); Mapping Internal Landscapes, 1301PE Gallery, Los Angeles (2020); Living in a Lightbulb, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles (2019); Mapping Space: Recent Acquisitions in Focus, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2019); and Forsaken Utopias: Photographs from the OCMA Permanent Collection, Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana (2019).
Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2021
Painting with light and chasing the ephemeral, Uta Barth brings us again into her Los Angeles home with new photographs that remind us not only of both the infinite and finite capacities of an eye's p
Uta Barth's recent works [on view through October 29 at 1301PE, Los Angeles; opening Oct. 27 at Tanya Bonakdar, New York] are photographs at their most literal: pictures of light. All the images in th