Frances Barth

Although Frances Barth’s painting practice may appear minimal at first glance, her formal vocabulary delivers a simple yet complex scheme; incongruent geometric shapes stand in contrast to one another on the vast radiant yellow landscape of Bowery Two.  The motionless triangular and quadrilateral shapes in dialogue with each other create a peculiar energy.  Moreover, the asymmetrical configuration of the shapes suggests ambiguous relationships in the space they occupy.  Barth’s composition presents an intricate visual field that allows figures of minimal agency to stand out through geometric configuration.


(American, b. 1946, lives and works in New Jersey)


Jack Whitten in his book "Notes from the Woodshed" (Hauser & Wirth publishers, 2018) refers to Frances Bath as "a good painter"[...]  "I like her triangles - they remind me of my use of the triangle as an image other than the pure geometry of the form". (p. 71) and then later again on p. 76: "Frances Barth's paintings were just terrific at Susan Caldwell's. Frances is a good painter".


Frances Barth is a noted American artist. She makes abstract paintings and videos. She has exhibited her paintings widely in both solo and group exhibitions since the late 1960’s, and her work is represented in numerous public, corporate and private collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum, in NYC, The Dallas Museum of Art, TX, The Albright Knox Museum, Buffalo. Frances showed six of her paintings in the 2015 Venice Biennale at the Palazzo Grimani in "Frontiers Reimagined".


Her awards include The National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1974 and 1982, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977, the Joan Mitchell Foundation grant in 1995, two American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase awards in ’99 and ’04, the Anonymous Was a Woman grant in 2006, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2017.  


Frances Barth's accomplished paintings are wholly individualistic and other than to say they are "radical abstractions" (Karen Wilkin), they are eccentric enough to elude classification. Barth refers to aspects of her work as a combination of comic restraint and purist abstraction. Combining contradictory elements of local color with abstract color, vocabularies of both painting and drawing, disorienting spatial relationships, Barth creates works that are as provocatively ambiguous as they are soothingly beautiful. In her desire to "tell stories without words" Barth implies narratives and geographies in a realm between landscape, mapping and abstraction. The narratives in the paintings are stories taking place over a period of geological time, with references both topographic and tectonic, alluding to simultaneous multiple histories. The light that Barth creates within her paintings is a spell-binding presence that shifts the picture plane into a deep dimensional space at the same time that her compositional shifts in scale destabilize. Speaking on her use of color the artist refers to her desire to create "big areas of ungracious color - chemical color that doesn't exist in nature - to open up like the sky but not be sky."


"... it's not an overstatement to say that they (Barth's paintings) suggest new possibilities for what abstract painting can encompass in the first part of the 21st century." -  Karen Wilkin, "Frances Barth" (catalog) 2008, Sundaram Tagore Gallery.


Early in her career, Frances also performed with Yvonne Rainer and Joan Jonas in New York City in live performance and video/film. During the last ten years she has created two animations, a documentary, and a short b&w film set in 1947, while remaining always focused on her painting.  Around 1970, while in the John St. studio, Frances began working on large horizontal abstract paintings that were involved with ideas of gravity, slow painting time, indeterminate color, and trying to create a complex painting space that appeared geometric, but alternately shifted into a deeper space. The color acted simultaneously as atmosphere and object. In 1972 Marcia Tucker visited the studio and put Barth’s painting “Henning” in the Whitney Museum Painting Annual. By 1980 her painting had shifted to include referential markers and moved to a more evident landscape/mapped space that has a geological narrative. Frances had studied geology and while on a trip to Hawaii heard a Maori “reading” of abstract patterning that chanted a retelling of their voyage. She began thinking of how abstraction could hold meanings and act metaphorically.







Silas Von Morisse Gallery: Outside the trends but in the Market
Frances Barth | Wikipedia
June 6, 2022
Exquisite Corpse S2 E3: Lorraine Shemesh and Frances Barth
Published on April 26, 2022



THE HUDSON REVIEW At The Galleries by Karen Wilkin
January 31, 2018
HAMPTONS ART HUB Silas Von Morisse: Frances Barth: New Paintings: 2011-2017
ARTCRITICAL Nothing Forced Yet Nothing Lax: Frances Barth in Bushwick
by David brody
ARTCRITICAL Week at a Glance, Friday November 3
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS DMA abstract exhibition mixes it up by Rick Brettell
March 6, 2015
THE BROOKLYN RAIL FRANCES BARTH: Scale, Economy and Unnamable Color
ARTCRITICAL The Review Panel # 35: January 2010: Mario Naves, Joan Waltemath, and John Yau with moderator David Cohen to discuss Frances Barth at Sundaram Tagore
ART IN AMERICA CRITIC'S DIARY, A Year in the Life: Tropic of Painting by Jerry Salz
THE NEW YORK TIMES Art in Review by Roberta Smith
AMBIANCE MAGAZINE Portfolio, A Celebration of Women Artists by Roberta Smith
THE NEW YORK TIMES Review/ Art by Roberta Smith