Robert Barry

Posted in Exhibitions, Texts by chrisfremantle on September 3, 2010

I have tended to believe in the curatorial strategy, ‘find that artist who was known in the past and rediscover them.’

From left, Barry, Huebler, Kosuth, Weiner

Robert Barry is one of those names associated with the dematerialisation of art, diary courtesy of Lucy Lippard.  Barry and the others in the picture above, the other names, Sol Lewitt, Robert Mangold, etc., and the organisers, e.g. Seth Siegelaub, they were the avant garde, rejecting the domination of the commercial galleries and the academy.  Barry’s lecture at Glasgow School of Art as part of the events programme of his exhibition at The Common Guild, Glasgow, started with his move away from painting.

The works Barry made, e.g. Radiation Piece (1969), deeply challenging at the time, retain their edge, not least because, as Barry himself commented, post 9/11 security means that you can’t just buy radioactive materials any more.  The troubles of the Critical Art Ensemble, although cleared of all charges after four years, indicate one dynamic of the interface between contemporary art and security.  The more recent challenge to academic freedom by UCSD and Arizona over Ricardo Dominguez’s Transborder Immigrant Tool further highlights the sharp edge where contemporary art highlights and questions mainstream values of security, immigration, terrorism and imperialism.  Where Barry talks about his invisible works, and the discovery of their form using FM Radios or Geiger Counters, the FBI are now involved in the search.

Barry moved into text pieces and The Common Guild themselves acknowledge the lineage of artists working with text in their press release, coming down to Douglas Gordon, et al.

Robert Barry, 0,5 Microcurie Radiation Installation, 1969

Something which is very near in place and time, but is not yet known to me, a work which Barry made between 1969 and 1972 is perhaps a progenitor of his more recent work.  Consisting of the same sentence, Something which is very near in place and time, but is not yet known to me, with a new date added each time it was shown, the date selected for the opening of the relevant exhibition.  He made it 30 times and then Seth Siegelaub published a small volume containing all 30 works.

Something which is very near in place and time, but not yet known to me, 1970

Since then Barry has focused on text works, some installed permanently in Swiss banks, such as that of his Italian dealer, and for exhibitions in galleries.

Wallpiece with Blue Mirrorwords, 2006

He described his style, and he used the word style, evolving around the use of a particular typography, a limited vocabulary of perhaps 200 words and a deep concern for the intuitive installation of the works in spaces.  The words he has selected have no narrative context or meaning in relation to each other or to him, they are rather objects selected for their physicality, longer, shorter, more ‘o’s, etc.  It is the space between them which is supposedly significant.

Word Lists, 2009

In the end this is the second time a Common Guild event has been a disappointment.  The last one was Richard Flood, Curator at the New Museum, NY.  That time I had gone because I knew of their Night School programme (Anton Vidokle’s iteration of his United Nations Plaza), but Flood didn’t mention it.  When I asked a question at the end, he said, “Oh, that’s the work of the education department” and went back to telling us about all the artists he had curated.  (Stills then showed the Martha Rosler Library and invited Vidokle to talk, so I got to hear (read post) the bit I was interested in).  Robert Barry was also a disappointment.  The avant garde becomes not much more than stylised decoration.

I’d rather have John Latham’s ‘God is Great’ or Nathan Coley’s ‘There Will Be No Miracles Here’ or Ian Hamilton Finlay, or Thomas A Clark.  Maybe I’m looking for some poetry?

John Latham, God is Great, 2005

Nathan Coley, There will be no miracles here, 2009

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