LOS ANGELES — Whether it’s capturing golden hour through gossamer curtains or dawn on a naked bough in autumn, Uta Barth has been chasing light throughout her career. In her solo exhibition, Peripheral Vision at the Getty Center, she demonstrates the way natural light can turn an overlooked, everyday setting into a sublime landscape. 

Barth often studies the interplay between optics and architecture. In the site-specific work “… from dawn to dusk” (2022), she finds one of the most unassuming enclaves of the Getty Center’s famed structure and uses it as a backdrop for a time-lapse of sorts. Over the course of a year, Barth photographed the same gridded section of architect Richard Meier’s aluminum facade, which reflects blinding light in the summer, but is subdued in the foggy mornings that so frequently consume the Getty Center’s hillside. A tightly gridded collage of the photographs mimics the facade, the pattern occasionally interrupted by bright red colorized iterations of the photos. Those jarring blocks of color replicate the afterimage that appears to closed eyes after looking at the glare reflecting off the Getty Center’s metallic surfaces.

Other studies emphasize the delicacy of light when filtered through fabric or glass. Barth turns sunshine into a painterly zigzag in her series … and to draw a bright white line with light (2011). The composition is surprisingly simple. A semi-sheer white curtain mutes the already subdued luster of a cloudy day. It falls against a white wall, its drapery invisible if not for the serpentine trail of sunlight that crawls across its surface. A hand is visible in one of the photographs, finessing the fabric, perfecting the curves for the shot.

Sparse, domestic settings feature prominently in Barth’s work, but the artist adjusts focus, framing, and aperture to imbue these familiar scenes with mystery. The blurred images in the series Ground (1994–97) transform interiors into ethereal dreamscapes. “Ground #30” (1994) reimagines the corner of white room as an impressionistic play of light and shadow. The soft-focus paintings hung on a turquoise wall in “Ground #42” (1994) are in the upper right-hand corner, shying away from the focal point. They appear to be a duo of Vermeers (“The Milkmaid” and “The Lace Maker”) but they are secondary to the blue-green void that consumes most of the frame.

Though most of the photos seem accessible, as if you could recreate them in your own home, a more recent series, In the Light and Shadow of Morandi (2017), foregrounds Barth’s technical prowess. The photographs, an homage to Giorgio Morandi’s still life paintings, show off the colorful refractions of liquid placed in a variety of clear containers. To capture the ghostly arcs of light, the artist photographed the images at extreme angles, then corrected the lens distortion digitally. While the jars appear to be their proper dimensions, the sharp, skewed angles of the pigment prints are evidence of their manipulation. 

By primarily working in her own studio or home, Barth’s photographs inspire viewers to search for the long shadows that stretch across the living room at dusk; to study the bouncing light illuminating from a tungsten bulb — to seek out the enchanting corners of our own living spaces.

Uta Barth, “… and to draw a bright white line with light ” (2011)
Uta Barth, “Ground 42” (1994)
Uta Barth, “in the Light and Shadow of Morandi” (2017)
Uta Barth, “Field” (1995–96)
Uta Barth, “Ground Series” (1994–97)

Uta Barth: Peripheral Vision continues at the Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Drive, Bel Air, Los Angeles, California) through February 19. The exhibition was organized by the Getty Museum and curated by Arpad Kovacs, assistant curator of photographs.

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Renée Reizman

Renée Reizman lives in Los Angeles, where she is a research-based interdisciplinary artist and writer who examines cultural aesthetics and their relationship between urbanization, law, and technology....

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