Curator Theresa Papanikolas and the installation crew are in the final stretch of installing Exquisitely Modern: 50 Works from Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. While most of the works are small-scale and framed, some of them are conceptual pieces that exist only as a piece of paper that serves as an example, or instructions. Head Preparator (and award-winning painter) Marc Thomas is tasked with bringing Robert Barry‘s piece of paper with a few tiny words on it to life.
How does he turn a piece of paper into a work in Gallery 28? First, Papanikolas worked directly with Barry, communicating with him by phone and email regarding his work and how it should be prepared. Armed with instructions, Thomas scaled up the work and transferred the words to the wall using a simple, analog technique—he coated the back of a piece of paper bearing Barry’s enlarged words, then traced over them on the wall, leaving a lead-grey outline of the letters. Thomas also uses a straight edge to make sure the words are straight, erases down the pencil as much as he can, then fills the outlines in with Prismacolor Premier marker. They are coming out exactly as Barry requested in his email: “carefully made but slightly uneven. Like the drawing.”
About Robert Barry (from exhibition text by Theresa Papanikolas):
Along with Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, and Sol LeWitt, Robert Barry is a pioneer of conceptual art. Conceptual art emerged in the 1960s in response to the critical status of painting and sculpture as hermetic modes of abstraction legitimized by the criteria of their fabrication. As a counterpoint to this unyielding emphasis on form—known as “formalism” and elaborated by Clement Greenberg—conceptualism liquidated the object to locate art in its sustaining idea.
Barry began his career as a painter, but he soon turned to intangibles—light, space, and language—which he manipulated in an exploration of art’s philosophical underpinnings. His earliest works involved such performative actions as releasing invisible gas into the environment (Inert Gas Series, 1969), transmitting his inaudible thoughts (Telepathic Piece, 1969), and posting a sign on the door of an Amsterdam gallery proclaiming it closed for the duration of a scheduled exhibition of his work (Closed Gallery Piece, 1969).
By 1974, Barry was merging art and language to create drawings and installations composed entirely of words, examples of which are on view in this gallery. Randomly selected and liberated from all context and syntax, these words are open to numerous readings, and it is up to the viewer to interpret—and “complete”—the sentences suggested in their placement.
The Vogels knew Barry for years—as Dorothy Vogel put it, “we were sort of in the same circles”—before their first visit to his studio, in 1974. After that, they collected his work in all of its aspects, from wall drawings, to smaller word pieces, to the sole documentation for Closed Gallery Piece: the “Closed” sign itself, which Barry signed upon its purchase.