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The Europeans provides an intimate look at wealthy Europeans at home through the eyes of American photographer Tina Barney (b. 1945). Known for her large, lush and colorful photographs, Barney began capturing images of friends and family in 1975 and quickly gained art-world attention for her often candid, tableau-like images. To produce the works in the exhibition, Barney embarked on her own modern version of the Grand Tour of Europe between 1996 and 2004. She traveled to Austria, Italy, England, Spain, France, and Germany, photographing people of means who earlier would have commissioned painted portraits of themselves. The exhibition presents 20 works from that series including a 2010 Haggerty acquisition, The Daughters. The Haggerty exhibition of The Europeans is the first time a large selection from the series has been seen in an American museum.
Upon viewing The Europeans, one is drawn to the background of the images as much to the subjects. This is one of Barney’s hallmarks, distinguishing her photographs from standard professional portraits with statically posed subjects in unremarkable settings. She redefines the photographic portrait through her use of selective focus to ensure that specific elements of the image are clear and pristine, directing our attention in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to the sumptuous surroundings. In the end, it is the patterns, texture, color, and composition surrounding the subjects that make her images distinctive.
Beyond the tableaux, Barney’s portraits are not only about the setting of the photograph; they also mimic decisive moments of honesty. These images can be less-than-ideal takes on her subjects, often hinting at distanced social interactions and awkward dynamics among families and peers. The viewer may often be unsure about the authenticity, or spontaneity, of Barney’s perfectly orchestrated moments of “real life.” By creating a sense of both formality and intimacy in her photographs, she retains the spontaneity of snapshots while suggesting a more cinematic narrative, rich in its nuances. The mise-en-scène and scale of the photographs can distract the viewer from the relationships between the subjects and the narrative of the work. This clever blurring of the true subject of each photograph, encouraging active involvement from the viewer in finding it, is the remarkable signature of this series.
The Barney exhibition is funded with support from the Richard P. Herzfeld Endowment Fund, the Martha and Ray Smith, Jr. Endowment Fund, the Marquette University Women’s Council Endowment Fund, the Friends of the Haggerty Museum of Art and the Wisconsin Arts Board.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25, 2012
Survey, lecture by photographer Tina Barney
6 p.m. in Eckstein Hall followed by a reception at 7 p.m. in the museum
Free and open to the public
All programs take place at the Haggerty unless otherwise noted