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Uta Barth’s impressive …from dawn to dusk studies the grid of the Getty Center

Looking Closely

Uta Barth’s impressive …from dawn to dusk studies the grid of the Getty Center

Installation view, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, March 4 – April 22, 2023. Photo by Pierre Le Hors (Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles)

Uta Barth
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
521 West 21st Street
New York
Through April 22

Fresh from its Los Angeles debut, the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery has installed Uta Barth’s …from dawn to dusk (2022), commissioned by the Getty Center for its 20th anniversary and her retrospective there, in its ground-floor gallery. The seven works shown—compositions of images derived from a year of focusing on a single doorway at the museum—fully manifest Barth’s career interest in the mediation of human perception through photography. A capsule survey upstairs, organized by curator Elizabeth Smith, outlines Barth’s career with representative samples from her best-known series.

Representing seven months of the year as well as the passage from sunrise to sunset, the Getty compositions are installed asymetrically in the symmetrical, naturally lit space. Totaling 75 images, each grouping is arranged in a grid composed of three sizes of squares, with each element flush-mounted on 1-inch-thick white acrylic. Among them is a subtle video of the space, presumably a time lapse of compiled images moving at a close to real time. Besides riffing on the architectural grid of the Getty (based on a 30-inch square), the mounted squares anchor the images as objects, countering the abstract nature of the photographs themselves.

…from dawn to dusk November 2022 (Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles)
…from dawn to dusk (January) 2022 (Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles)

Once oriented to the site in question (regrettably, there are no labels, reflecting the artist’s opinion that viewing and reading should be separated), the relationship between the site and photographs of the site becomes clear. Barth’s longstanding interest in afterimages, for example, manifests in low-contrast, black-and-white negatives and deep red, color-reversed images integrated into the compositions. From a distance they read as Constructivist black and red squares punctuating the bright white Los Angeles light depicted in most of the images. This effect is enhanced by compositions that turn the gallery’s interior corners, setting up complex mirroring effects. Blurring, solarization, enlarging, and cropping of other images bring further attention to optical processes, while others simply trace the sun’s path. In one image, an orange hose stands in for absent workers and visitors, evoking Barth’s landmark Ground series of the 1990s, in which her camera focuses on a missing subject.

Ground # 52, 1995 (Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles)
Installation view, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, March 4 – April 22, 2023. Photo by Pierre Le Hors (Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles)

Raised, trained, and based in Los Angeles, Barth recalls roaming Richard Meier’s campus after it opened, amazed by the light reflecting from every surface. Given access to any public or private space for the commission, she looked for a place where the architecture “molds” or “consciously addresses” natural light. After searching for a site where the grid breaks down (it doesn’t), she chose the otherwise unremarkable door outside the Harold M. Williams Auditorium. Barth and a team of assistants then settled in for a year, making exposures two days per month, every five minutes, from dawn to dusk. Just as the pandemic hit, Barth began a year of work using the 65,000 images. The installation offers no evidence of what must have been a fascinating process, which likely involved prolonged attention to optical conditions by a photographer devoted to precisely that. Rather, it asks us to slow down and look for ourselves.

Jennifer Tobias is a scholar and illustrator based in New York City.

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