Robert Barry
Mar 7 - Apr 19, 2008
Robert Barry

Robert Barry

Ritter/Zamet is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in the UK for 20 years of works by seminal American conceptual artist, Robert Barry.  

The notion of ‘conceptual art’ as coined by Sol Lewitt in his 1967 essay Paragraphs on Conceptual Art presented the theory that the idea itself could stand as the work of art instead of the materiality of the traditional art object. Robert Barry, along with the other main protagonists working in the 1960s and 70s (including Carl Andre, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol Lewitt, Robert Morris and Lawrence Weiner) each in their own very different ways worked to move material and pictorial representation from real space to that of speculative thought – what Lucy Lippard was famously to call ‘the de-materialization of art’.  

Although Robert Barry started out as a painter, he has always been interested in exploring the relationship between space and plane, positive and negative, absence and presence of form and the way the spectator engages with the artwork. From 1967 onwards, he consistently pushed his work towards the limits of immateriality and invisibility, such as the infamous Closed Gallery Piece (1969), where Barry hung a sign on the gallery door stating ‘during the exhibition the gallery will be closed’. He also created site-specific installations with nearly imperceptible wire and nylon thread, performed actions with inert gases and radioactive materials and went on to work with electromagnetic waves and acoustic frequencies. While many of these projects exceeded the realm of the visible, they were concisely preserved through documentation and description – be it photographic or linguistic – and it is through these residual traces that the idea was subsequently presented to an audience.

The 1970s saw the beginning of what has been a continuing preoccupation exploring the relationship between language and form through text-based pieces written on sheets of paper, painted onto canvas, imprinted directly on gallery walls and windows or projected as slides. In these works the spatial relationship between the words within the frame of the space provides an interconnected linguistic field of infinite thought that is not solely constructed by the artist and his product but also by the viewer, with his or her own lived history and powers of imagination.

For his show at Ritter/Zamet, Robert Barry will present six intensely evocative mirrored words floating across the walls of the otherwise empty gallery. The words ‘EXPECT, CHANGING, REMIND, REAL, CONTINUE, WAITING’ not only speak to the viewer but also work to explore spatial experience and dimension.

This will be complimented in the rear gallery by selected paintings, a video piece, editions and works on paper including a group of drawings taken from a series first shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1983 in which Barry integrates his word-play with brilliant coloured backgrounds and the repeating emblem of a starkly skeletal tree suspended in free space. The image of the tree first appeared in Barry’s works in the late 1960s and has continued to be used, not as a natural subject in the figurative sense, but as Barry states, ‘a symbol of time and place’.  

Robert Barry was born in New York City in 1936 and completed his BFA and MA at Hunter College, The City University of New York. His work has been included in epoch-making exhibitions such as When Attitudes Become Form… at the Kunsthalle Bern and The Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1969) and Documenta V (1972).  Since then, he has shown in innumerable important exhibitions all over the world including the landmark show, Reconsidering the Object of Art at LA MoCA (1995).  From the early 1970s, Barry has been the subject of various solo shows at important venues including the Tate Gallery, London (1972), the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1974), Museum of Conceptual Art, San Francisco, California (1978), The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago (1985) and the Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich (2001).  2003/04 saw Barry’s first comprehensive retrospective and accompanying catalogue of his early work, Some places to which we can come, works 1963 to 1975 at the Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Nürnberg, Germany and Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland.