Uta Barth Takes On Richard Meier's Light

Uta Barth, panel from …from dawn to dusk, 2022. Getty Museum

It was the light that brought the movies to Los Angeles, and artists and architects. For the 25th anniversary of the Getty Center, the Getty commissioned Uta Barth to grapple with the complicated legacy of Richard Meier's campus. The architect had to swear he wouldn't use his trademark super-white porcelain enamel to appease the Brentwood neighbors. Even so, Meier's travertine dazzles in the L.A. light. Travel guides advise bringing sunglasses (unusual advice for an art museum). Meier sparred with Light and Space artist Robert Irwin over the latter's plan to bring non-white flowers into the garden (Irwin won). Barry Munitz-era staffers dubbed Meier's snowblind lightscape Cal State Paradise, and a sitcom cast the museum as The Good Place. For Barth, however, L.A. light is both muse and irritant. She finds Meier's treatment of sunlight "visually disorienting." That sense of dislocation is the mainspring of her commission, titled …from dawn to dusk. Barth set up cameras to record the entrance to the Harold M. Williams Auditorium every five minutes throughout daylight hours, twice a month for a year. She uses blurred focus, solarization effects, and inverted colors to suggest afterimages—the effect of too much light. Ironically Barth's photos are largely studies of shadows. They are printed on modular square panels like those making up Meier's building.

Uta Barth, small detail of …from dawn to dusk, 2022. Getty Museum
Installation view of …from dawn to dusk
Uta Barth, Compositions of Light on White (Composition #10), 2011. Magasin III Museum for Contemporary Art, Stockholm

The commission leads a sprawling retrospective, "Uta Barth: Peripheral Vision," occupying the entirety of the Getty's photography galleries and arranged in reverse chronological order. Midway in the show are the 1990s series Ground and Field, which blur figure and ground into creamy abstractions. Mounted on thick panels, these works and their successors have a sculptural presence while offering incisive twists on Monet, Mondrian, Giorgio Morandi, and Robert Ryman. 

"Uta Barth: Peripheral Vision" runs through Feb. 19, 2023.

Uta Barth, …and of time (aot 4), 2000. Getty Museum. (c) Uta Barth

Uta Barth, Thinking about… In the Light and Shadow of Morandi, 2018. Getty Museum. (c) Uta Barth

Uta Barth, …and to draw a bright white line with light (11.2), 2011, printed 2021. Getty Museum. (c) Uta Barth