Magazine article Art Monthly

Robert Barry: Words and Music

Magazine article Art Monthly

Robert Barry: Words and Music

Article excerpt

Robert Barry: Words and Music

The Common Guild Glasgow

4 September to 6 November

When a pioneering artist like Robert Barry comes to a city for the first time, there is bound to be considerable pressure and expectation on both the artist and the gallery to deliver. As one of a generation of rebellious American artists--along with Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth and Douglas Huebler, who turned Minimalism into Conceptual Art, or practised what Lucy Lippard called the 'dematerialisation of the art object'--Barry's language-based practice has had widespread international influence on innumerable artists. These include a handful whose careers began in Glasgow, most notably Douglas Gordon and Martin Creed. It is appropriate, then, that Barry's first solo show in Glasgow, featuring new work, is housed in a gallery which was once Douglas Gordon's home and where Martin Creed had a solo exhibition earlier this year.

If one word could be used to describe this display, it would be nostalgic. Firstly there is the exhibition's title, 'Words and Music', which may well be a nod to Norman Taurog's 1948 film of the same name, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Secondly, a video work situated in the gallery's upper room features Barry's friend, the artist William Anastasi, playing a series of short excerpts on the piano from Mozart, Chopin and Jerome Kern, music which permeates both floors of the whole gallery.

Closer inspection of this video reveals black and white, grainy footage of Anastasi seen from behind in his studio, surrounded by ordinary items: plants, books, records, an accumulation of ordinary ephemera seemingly piled up over the years, the kind of useless objects which create comfort and familiarity. Anastasi turns the pages of the music as he is playing and the faces of old movie stars and musicians adorning the pages flit past our eyes before disappearing. This is not a straightforward video, however, as it is also overlaid with words in block capitals which flash up now and again over the top of the original. The words themselves have been cut out from different footage, so inside the letters we can just make out another time and place, where traffic seems to be whizzing past at breakneck speed. It is a neat trick which seems to collapse Anastasi's private past into a more immediate present.

Perhaps it is significant too that a large abstract painting leans to Anastasi's right, a reflective reminder of Barry's move away from painting in the late 1960s. …

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