Tina Barney, Players @Janet Borden

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale color works, generally framed in black and not matted, and hung against pink and white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are chromogenic color prints and were made between 1998 and 2010. Barney’s prints come in two sizes: 30×40, in editions of 5, and 48×60, in editions of 10; there are 10 images in the large size and 1 image in the small size on display. A monograph of this body of work is should be available from Steidl soon (here). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: In the past decade, Tina Barney has spent much of her time making commissioned work, doing magazine shoots, fashion editorials, family portraits and other commercial assignments, in short, applying the special “Tina Barney look” to a spectrum of different subjects. This show gathers together examples from a multitude of recent projects, loosely tying together images of actors and actresses at work, celebrities, fashion models, and various other staged scenes into a broader exploration of the ideas of drama, artifice and theatrical role playing.
The best of the works on view here recreate some of the same tension and intensity found in her portraits of her own family, and leverage many of her trademark compositional and aesthetic approaches: the subtle gestures and expressions that tell complex quirky stories, the layered insights to be found in furnishings and environments, the psychology of interaction, and the importance of rituals and traditions. Leo Castelli and his young wife (holding a black cat) pose in their modern living room, surrounded by art that echoes the sweep of her hair. A staged family portrait includes a defiant daughter in a white prom dress holding a snake, a bored brother, and a delusionally proud mother, all set among a floral couch and grandfather clock. A daughter carefully applies bright red lipstick in a mirror while her perfectly-coiffed mother (also dressed in black) looks on in boredom. They are classic examples of multi-generational, nuanced moments of Tina Barney insight.
The images of actors and fashion models at work have a little less emotional punch; the play acting is more overt and the scenes are less tiered and layered with information. An up-close image of two women from The Wooster Group is the most bold and unsettling of the group – a female face adorned with devil horns, arched eyebrow makeup and a mess of lipstick is perfectly jolting and creepy. Rock star Michael Stipe sits on a leather couch with a dog on his lap, squinting at his glasses held in his outstretched arms, with the black molding on the wall behind him running right through his head – it’s an odd, out-take kind of moment that somehow coalesces into something more. I think the staged fashion shots are the least successful: beautiful facades, yes, but generally hollow of meaning or tension. They are almost like caricatures in their moody seriousness.
With these pictures, Barney has taken the artistic methods she developed by looking inward at her own immediate family and applied them by looking outward at strangers playing at roles. Is the conclusion that we are all “playing”, all the time? By mixing these various genres and projects together as one intermingled whole, she has made a compelling case that the lines get quite a bit blurrier than we might like to believe.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show have two prices: the larger 48×60 prints are $30000 each and the smaller 30×40 prints are $20000 each. Given Barney’s long and successful career, the secondary market for her work is surprisingly thin. Only a few prints seem to change hands at auction in any given year, with prices ranging from $3000 to $42000; the collectors and institutions that bought her work years ago seem to be happily holding on to it. As such, gallery retail is likely the best (and only) option for those who want to follow up.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • 2010 Lucie Award for Achievement in Portraiture (here)
  • Interview: BOMB, 1995 (here)
  • Review: Wall Street Journal (here, scroll down), NY Times, 2007 (here)
Tina Barney, Players
Through December 18th
Janet Borden, Inc.
560 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

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