Barbara Where Now

by Jessica Slaven

Barbara is Marvin Gates’s 5′ x 8′ x 3′, 1000 pound, wheeled gallery made of epoxy-rubber-coated steel, containing eight paintings lit by natural light.  With interior benches for sitting, she is towed from storage each morning to receive guests on the Upper East Side from March 5th until May 18th, where Marvin is on-site to talk about Barbara.


Barbara looks beyond the material world. Like a microscope or a telescope Barbara might be considered a seeing device, and her paintings, like her space, are not the plane of her focus—they’re rather part of her viewing mechanism, like lenses. Her ‘optics’ are not solely visual, but really more perceptual, or sense based: they help you feel. Barbara focuses and magnifies feeling. You engage Barbara with your whole observing presence in order to achieve a transported sensation—a sense of awe, of limitlessness, weightlessness, of connection to others, and to energy.  She is a vehicle for moving contemplative focus simultaneously inward and far beyond her steel walls.


Barbara pares down the monumentality of the art viewing infrastructure: her slight cabin replaces the soaring vault; black rubber hushes white sheetrock; her transient addresses eschew engraved letterhead; marred city sidewalks resist polished concrete gleam; and variable ambient daylight softens focused halogen-beam glare.


Barbara is notably an interaction among people, in space—it is a willingness to be present with Barbara, Gates, and yourself. Seeing Barbara is an invitation into someone’s private sanctum that sits in the public sphere, and the experience is quite moving, and unusually opening.

Jessica Slaven is a New York-based artist and writer.