The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
The work '16th century' by the American artist Robert Barry uses the English language as its subject. With the help of a slide projector, a series of forty words is projected onto the wall one by one. A black slide is projected between two words. Every slide is visible for about 8-10 seconds. The words are in the English language, using the same font and the same size and they are shown in purple. They are words which were used in the English language for the first time in the 16th century.
Together with the work of Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth, the work of Robert Barry belongs to the first generation of Conceptual Art. Using the medium of language, these artists examined the function of art and the artist. Barry explored the territory between the visual arts, philosophy and poetry. In his oeuvre he went through a gradual development from a traditional working method to a dematerialized form of art: art in which the reduction of the visual imagery was constantly extended. Initially he made paintings. Then he started to make sculptures with transparent threads. Subsequently he experimented with gases, electromagnetic fields, radio frequencies and radiation. These works of art are imperceptible to our senses but they are certainly real and verifiable. In other words, Barry investigated phenomena such as telepathy and the subconscious. At this stage the material dismantling of his work had become complete.
Immaterial subjects can only really be described with words. For this reason, language was the most important component in Barry’s work from 1969. He composed series of words on individual sheets or in the form of a book, projected words in series of slides or recorded them onto tape. The words in '16th century' evoke associations in the viewer. The meaning of every word is familiar but it never becomes completely clear what the artist means. It is impossible to determine the links which the artist makes between the different words; there are all sorts of possible interpretations. The viewer has to interpret and develop these concepts on the basis of his own imagination. Barry did not see himself as the creator of a perfect end product, but as a pioneer in a creative thinking process.
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