Uta Barth's work has always dealt with the way images and perceptions are shaped through both the tools and conventions of image making. Much of that work has addressed more specifically divergences between those synthetically shaped and focused perceptions and expectations conditioned by convention. In the body of work currently on view at 1301PE, shape itself is made the 'foreground' threshold for what becomes a dazzling play on the essential materials of photography and image-making generally. The subject is nominally a bar or serving console with bottles, decanters, vases and other vessels arrayed across it – the kind of still life that was a favorite subject of Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi; and In the Light and Shadow of Morandi becomes clearly, not only an homage to Morandi, but itself a kind of painting with refracted light. The process is willful and deliberative in every respect, yet also admitting of mystery. 'Field' here is shaped subtly into simple polygons and floated within the framed squarish rectangle – echoing the severe rectilinear geometry of the bar. The bar is mostly blacked out; but even here, Barth subtly conflates and confuses its structure with its shaped polygonal support. The angle seems to shift, elongate, flatten. Slits or storage spaces (or apertures?) reveal openings or other vessels beneath the bar's surface. The focus and emphasis are on the silhouetted verticals of the vessels infused by the (mostly horizontal) refracting light and its luminescent color – dazzling and ethereal. The vessels are rendered as distinct worlds, alternately separated crisply by white space or clustered close; yet not bleeding so much as displacing each other, each preserving its specific transmuted atmospheres in a spectrum of glass-inflected colors: chartreuse veering into olive (or even 'bottle') green; azure and sapphire; amber, rust and ox-blood red; and a host of smoky grays. Occasionally a refracted wave makes a jagged trajectory across the field; zones of color are layered within a vessel; or a human arm (similarly transformed and luminescent) intrudes upon the tableau to grasp a glass or vessel, setting off its own disturbances – e.g., an inverted parabola of light. 'Ghost' lights linger here and there upon the opaque blacks of the bar. In another Untitled series (only one of which is on view here), Barth fixes her thoughtful gaze on an exterior wall – as powerfully and poetically as she does on the classic Morandi motif. This is work that stands in no one's shadow.
- Ezrha Jean Black