Robert Barry | Helen Mirra | Matt Sheridan Smith: Tehachapi | Curated by Laura Fried

Various Small Fires is pleased to present new work by Robert Barry, Helen Mirra, and Matt Sheridan Smith. A quiet conversation among measured gestures, this exhibition considers the unsteady conditions of material form and the possibility for presence in absence.


A pioneer of conceptualism and minimalism, Robert Barry’s practice has long explored the spaces in between. Much of his work cannot be seen or heard, but instead surrounds its viewer, suggesting a transmission from, as he specified in his Inert Gas works, “measured volume to indefinite expansion.” Evoking presence in the immaterial––from an electromagnetic wave, to atmospheric shifts, to a line of text––and our own trust therein, Barry urges our curiosity beyond what can be touched. For Tehachapi, Barry has conceived a new word list in reflective silver vinyl, which will climb two stories inside the gallery’s atrium. Comprising half-inverted text, subject to changing conditions of light and the viewer’s position in space, Barry’s word list challenges its own legibility, while reminding us of real and imagined possibilities beyond the work’s visual presence.


Until several years ago, Helen Mirra’s sculptural, performative, and text-based practice comprised discrete works made from various materials. She has since undertaken a strategy of working that is embedded in walking, and in which she links one exhibition to the next. Through each excursion new works are produced, and the presentation of those works prompts further excursions. Mirra elaborates on this strategy with a single new work made for Tehachapi, presented as a modest taxonomy of white crustose tree lichens, each a sort of found miniature white monochromatic painting. Once the work is sold––and each time it is moved––Mirra will travel to the geographical region of its new home. There she will walk and collect new lichen specimens, generating a cycle of walking and accumulation. Additionally Mirra will present a 2009 sculpture that also nests modalities and practices, proposing their convergence.


Matt Sheridan Smith’s work operates within the vulnerable spaces between language, objects, and representation, resulting in a practice that concerns itself, broadly speaking, with mutable notions of content, the readymade, and the possibility (or impossibility) of portraiture. For Tehachapi, he has produced a new suite of drawings made using scratch-off ink, a process Smith has experimented with since 2008. Where the drawings first revealed portraits from world currency and then solid blocks of lorem ipsum text, here the under-layer has been stripped completely of its content. In a disappearing act––and in a gesture that resonates with Smith’s larger practice––this “pure inverted drawing” yields a mark left behind by what has been taken away.


Evoked in Hollywood noir films as a “someplace else” beyond Los Angeles, and marked by its mountains at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Tehachapi was the intended (but never realized) site for one of Robert Barry’s Inert Gas works in 1969. Traveling by car with the younger Eugenia Butler and Seth Siegelaub––who insisted on frequent stops to take photographs for a Douglas Huebler work––and realizing they were increasingly low on gas, Barry stopped along Route 5, far short of their destination, and released one quarter liter of Xenon. The group then returned to Los Angeles, leaving behind a place that remains a myth for Barry. This exhibition proposes Tehachapi as the place unseen, the promise of the “someplace else,” the named but invisible space.



Robert Barry was born in 1936 in New York City; he lives and works in New Jersey. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented throughout Europe and the United States, including at the Stedelijik Museum, Amsterdam; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; and Art and Project, Amsterdam. Barry’s works are included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Musée National D’Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., among many others. Barry is currently preparing a solo exhibition for Le Consortium in Dijon, France.


Helen Mirra was born in 1970 in Rochester, New York; she lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has presented solo exhibitions at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; the Dallas Museum of Art; Berkeley Art Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm; Galerie Meyer Riegger, Berlin; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Peter Freeman, Inc., New York; Haus Konstruktiv, Zürich; and Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo, among others. Her work has been presented in group exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States, and she participated in the 30th Venice Biennial and the 50th Sao Paulo Biennial. Mirra has received awards from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation; the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation; and Artadia: the Fund for Art and Dialogue. She is currently preparing a solo exhibition at Culturgest, Lisbon.


Matt Sheridan Smith was born in 1980 in Red Bank, New Jersey; he lives and works in Los Angeles. Recent exhibitions include a Public Art Fund commission in New York; solo presentations at the Front Room, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Western Bridge, Seattle; FORDE, Geneva; Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin; and Kaufmann Repetto, Milan. His work has been included in several group exhibitions including FAX, which originated at the Drawing Center, New York, and is now traveling with Independent Curators International (ICI); Eight Sculptors at Paula Cooper, New York; and Knight’s Move at Sculpture Center, New York.


Laura Fried is a curator and writer based in Los Angeles. She recently organized the group exhibition A Handful of Dust at the Contemporary Arts Forum Santa Barbara. From 2007–2011, Fried was a curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, where she organized major monographic exhibitions with Carey Young, Stephen Prina, Elad Lassry, Manon de Boer, and Richard Aldrich. Alongside, Fried produced short-term projects in CAM’s Front Room, working with artists including Hayley Tompkins & Sue Tompkins, Florian Pumhösl, Haris Epaminonda, Nina Beier & Marie Lund, Simon Denny, George Maciunas, and Scott Benzel, among many others. Fried is a contributor to museum catalogs as well and art publications, including Flash Art International and Mousse Magazine.