Spanning the years 1976 to 1981, The Beginning brings together the earliest works of acclaimed American photographer Tina Barney (b. 1945). Featuring images largely unseen by the public, the exhibition chronicles a period of technical and artistic development that would lay the foundation for the complex and incisive tableaux that ultimately established Barney as a key figure in international photography. While quarantining during the Covid-19 outbreak, Barney began to sort through her archive of thousands of 35mm negatives, discovering long-forgotten images that reanimated her memories of life as a young artist: “The photographs in this book seem like X-rays of my mind,” she has said. Concurrent with the exhibition, a book of fifty of the works will be published by Radius Books.
Barney’s life in photography began in the 1970s by capturing the rhythms and rituals of those closest to her. Her early intuition for directing the eye through composition is demonstrable in these works, informed by her love of the Old Master paintings she studied in museums throughout her youth. Characterized in part by idiosyncratic crops that bring reflective attention to even the subtlest gestures of their subjects, Barney’s works explore the unspoken tensions and intimacies that abound in families and friendships with affectionate humor. Charting passages through childhood and adolescence to the building of families and eventual aging, Barney’s subjects navigate both private and public spaces— swimming pools, gardens, tennis courts, diners, shops, and museums—while her presence as an observer teases out both their exterior and interior experiences. Implied is an inquisitive reflection on the symbiosis between our relational and psychological experiences and the cultural and historical frameworks we each inherit.
The Beginning includes both color and black and white photographs. In his essay for the accompanying publication, artist James Welling identifies “her discovery that black and white is for sensuous surfaces, textured fabric, frosted glass, tendrils of hair, vaporous steam, stone illuminated by sharp cold sunlight.” Welling goes on to describe Barney’s use of color as “environmental” in that “it establishes an interior mood.” Again and again, the soft blues and greens of the natural landscapes bump up against the punchy interference of manufactured objects in red and yellow or the turquoise of swimming pool water. Occasionally this combination produces an atmosphere of the uncanny, most prominently in Waterslide in Fog (1979), a key image for the artist, which depicts a group of young people determinedly climbing the steps in defiance of brooding overcast weather.
The works in the exhibition were taken with a Pentax 35mm camera, allowing for easy portability and spontaneous use. This preceded a shift in Barney’s process wherein the artist began to shoot scenes she had either directed or completely staged. The first of these, concocted on a whim, is Amy, Phil and Brian (1980), anchored by a central figure who looks out at a swimming pool framed by two figures specifically directed to stand on exact opposite sides of the pool. By 1981, Barney began to work in large format (using a Toyo 45A Field camera), the medium that came to be her primary instrument for major series such as Theater of Manners, The Europeans, and Players.
This is Barney’s third solo exhibition at Kasmin after joining the gallery in 2015, and follows Four Decades (2015) and Landscapes (2018).
Over the course of her 40-year career, Barney has illuminated the inner lives of her subjects, observing the generational repetition of familial traditions and rituals as played out in domestic settings. Recognized for her large-format photographic portraits realized in vibrant color—and more recently, for her foray into landscape photography—Barney demonstrates the same complexity and sensitivity whether she is shooting world-renowned celebrities or the figures and faces of those known to her personally.
Barney’s photographs are in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and the Nicola Erni Collection, Switzerland; among many others. Barney’s work was included in the 1987 Whitney Biennial and has been the subject of major recent exhibitions at the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York; the New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; the Frist Center in Nashville, TN; the Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee, WI; the Museum of Art, Salzburg, Austria; and the Barbican Art Gallery, London, United Kingdom. A career- spanning, eponymous monograph on the artist was published by Rizzoli in September 2017.
Tina Barney : The Beginning
March 2 – April 22, 2023
297 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10001