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b. 1958, Berlin
Born in Berlin in 1958, Uta Barth moved to the United States as a teenager. She received a BA from the University of California at Davis in 1982 and an MFA from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1985. The predominant theme of her early photography was the gaze, as in a series of self-portraits shown at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art in 1987. In the 1988–89 series Untitled, she began to explore questions of photographic abstraction, mixing painting reminiscent of Op art and preexisting photographs into her images. In Ground (1992–97) and Field (1995), she introduced the imagery for which she has become known: blurry backgrounds created by focusing her camera on empty foregrounds. Ground was exhibited site-specifically (in a Los Angeles house-turned-gallery), and much of Barth’s subsequent work has engaged the notion of the photographic environment as opposed to the photographic subject. For a 1997 exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, Barth created large-scale photographs of the space in which they were exhibited, making the room’s walls refer to its center. In the nowhere near series (1999), Barth juxtaposed twenty similarly blurry images of the view from her living-room window, photographed over a twelve-month period. The untitled series (2002), exhibited at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, isolated a single motif from nowhere near—a group of branches and telephone wire in the distant background—and used it as the basis for new comparative images. For an untitled series from 2005, Barth brought her chosen subject—the clichéd and saccharine motif of the flower still life—into a more intimate spatial relationship to the viewer; yet the seemingly incidental, banal vantage points and sharpening of color into the blood-red of optical afterimages remark on light and time, rather than the sentimental motif itself. In her Sundial series (2007–08), Barth extends her exploration of light and the nature of vision in photographs that capture the natural sheens, glares, and shadows that travel daily through our everyday habitats.
Barth has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (1995), Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art in Portland (1997), Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (1997), and ACME in Los Angeles (2002 and 2005), among other venues. A mid-career retrospective of her work was organized by the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2000. Group exhibitions in which her work has appeared include New Photography 11 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1995), Los Angeles International Biennial (1997), Departures: Eleven Artists at the Getty at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (2000), Visions of America: Photography from the Whitney Museum Collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2002), Moving Pictures at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2003), Southern Exposure at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (2005), and Depth of Field at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2007). Barth has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1990 and 1994) and Art Matters (1992 and 1994). She lives and works in Los Angeles and has been a professor of art at the University of California at Riverside since 1990.