Robert Barry often populates his work with isolated words. Michael Kimmelman described their effect in a 1989 New York Times review. “They are like distant, oddly touching calls from some great void. Their origin is not clear, their intent is never revealed. He leaves it entirely for us to ponder whether these words express his thoughts or whether they reveal our own.”
Robert Barry was born in New York City in 1936. He completed an undergraduate degree at Hunter College in 1957, studying with Robert Motherwell. After a brief stint in the Army he returned to Hunter to finish a graduate degree in 1963 and studied with Tony Smith. Barry’s early works employed the least material of materials, like nylon rope, radio waves, quantities of inert gasses released into the air, telepathic messages, small quantities of radioactive material. He pushed the notion of discrete objects about as far as it can be pushed. In “Interview Piece” (1969) Barry was asked if a particular work “exists” or not. He replied, “It does exist if you have any ideas about it, and that part is yours.
The rest you can only imagine.”
Although he rejects the term “conceptual artist” Barry is one of the most important artists to emerge in the late sixties who are associated with that term. He was included in the seminal exhibtion Systemic Painting at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1966 and he began exhibiting regularly at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1971. He showed at the Holly Solomon Gallery through the nineties.
Since 1969 Barry has produced works that allow the viewer to have an intense encounter with individual words. These works have taken various forms, including wall drawings, paintings on canvas, works on paper and projections. In a 1978 interview at Crown Point Press he explained that he wants his work to allow the audience to experience words one at a time, the way little children read. He said, “My point is to allow a word to be itself.”
When composing word pieces, Barry often works clockwise, placing the words in relation to the edges of a space. He chooses his words from a constantly adjusted personal list of words, selecting each group to produce a particular impression. For a 1991 show at the Holly Solomon Gallery he chose the words, “unnescessary,” “remind,” “not enough,” “someone,” “feeling,” and “trouble,” for example.
Since the beginning of his career, Barry has exhibited widely in Europe. He has been represented by Gallery Yvon Lambert in Paris since 1973. The Kunsthalle Nurnberg in Nurnberg, Germany held a retrospective exhibition of Barry’s work in 2003. Barry’s work is held in many public collections including The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s List Visual Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Neues Museum in Weimar, Germany.
Robert Barry lives and works in New Jersey. He is represented by Mary Boone Gallery. in New York.