Robert Barry: A Situation is a double retrospective featuring the American artist, Robert Barry. The show was put together by Mathieu Copeland working with the artist.


Visitors will find themselves facing two groups of pieces from the immense body of work produced by Robert Barry, one of the leading lights of Minimalism and a pioneer of Conceptual Art. One is a retrospective of Barry’s murals, with seven pieces from 1978 to 2023, while the second retrospective is focused on a group of sound pieces the artist produced between 1976 to 2022.

Following the process of “rematerialization” that was launched in the late 1960s, Barry pursued his study of the word and freed it from the classic paper or canvas support to consider it on the scale of the wall. The foundation’s exhibition begins with the wall drawing called UNTITLED, which the artist originally did for his solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1978. Here, the wall defines a space, a square represented by words. That is the general principle which has been borrowed for this retrospective put together for the Venet Foundation’s summer show. This initial piece is followed by YOUTO, a work that explodes the word so that it’s equal to the size of the wall, the height of which dictates the diameter of the letter O. This mural was done for the artist’s solo show at the Renaissance Society of Chicago in 1985. Following a scattered-layout process, the word, first deconstructing the square, takes shape in a circle before finally floating on the surface of the wall and is cut up and fragmented in turn. Barry has taken this development further with a piece done especially for the Venet Foundation in the large exterior display window of the New Gallery and its immense background wall. Words are written in semi-transparent colored vinyl on these two parallel surfaces. They appear on the glass and their reflections can be seen cast over other words in laser-cut stainless steel that have been fastened to the wall at some three meters behind the glass vitrine. The same exhibition also features a program of sound works (SOUND WORDS) dating from 1976 to 2022, which are heard in the entire space of the New Gallery, one after the other throughout the day. These pieces are likewise played outdoors among the trees in the adjacent sculpture park. Alliterations and silences in which the materiality of the human voice is contrasted with monumental visual works by Robert Morris, Frank Stella, James Turrell and others.


Two sculptures go along with us on this unique adventure. The first is a new work installed in the sculpture park. There, eight words in polished stainless steel reflect back their surroundings.
The second piece is a new iteration of a 1967 minimalist sculpture that is also on display in the New Gallery. It involves four 30 cm plaster cubes, which delineate in turn a 6 m-square space, an essential piece that serves as a link between Minimalism and Conceptual Art – the very shift that Robert Barry and his art also went through. To borrow an essential observation that Lawrence Weiner reminded us of shortly before his death, “Robert Barry made a situation into a reality.”
The present exhibition is now part of history’s reading of Robert Barry and his output. These retrospectives invite us to consider, as the artist put it, “this activity that we call Art.”


Photo : Jerome Cavaliere, Courtesy Venet Foundation ©2023 Courtesy Robert Barry


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