From the Tanning Bed: Barb Choit


Barb Choit is a New York-based artist who experiments with the tonal range of film and the process of photography to present the medium itself as her subject. The title of Choit’s first solo show in New York, Nagel Fades, which describes the general look. The artist has re-photographed 12 works by Patrick Nagel, the artist whose slick signature fine art posters became the face of a decadent, Miami-inspired era—and in the meantime blurred the still very touchy division of art and illustration.

Barb Choit, “Patrick Nagel, ‘Swimmers,’ Fine Art Poster, Diluted Bleach Bath, UV Exposure Time Four Weeks,” 2009. Courtesy Rachel Uffner Gallery.

Before re-photographing the Nagel posters, Choit corroded their crisp quality with UV light from the artist’s own tanning bed, and sometimes bleach, thus infusing them with time and wear, not to mention a certain Miami flare. Choit’s resulting prints are still luminous, while echoing the lived-in context of beauty parlors and tanning salons where she first encountered Nadel’s idiom.

JON LEON: The photographs in the show are based on fine art prints by Patrick Nagel. What drew you to work with these materials and how did you come by them?

BARB CHOIT: I bought the posters on eBay. Patrick Nagel I came to in a weird way. First of all, I wanted to somehow remake Dennis Oppenheim’s Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, in so much as he used UV light as a photographic material, and his skin as a photographic material.

LEON: Can you describe the process you used in this series and your impetus for this project?

CHOIT: I was thinking about the interaction of UV light on readymade objects, whether it’s your skin or whatever it is, as a photographic process and a way to make photographs. I knew the Patrick Nagel prints mostly from seeing them in hair salons, where they’re always faded. I liked the way that Dennis Oppenheim titled his Reading Position for Second Degree Burn. His medium is Jones Beach for five hours-an exposure time of five hours. He later sells it as a document, a print of him completing this activity. The entire medium wasn’t just photosensitive material with visible light, or UV light interacting with the material. The whole beach acts as an apparatus, which encompasses lying there, reading a book and putting it on your chest, then falling asleep.

LEON: When you say “apparatus” are you referring to the ubiquitous presence of raw materials and props used to create an aesthetic experience?

CHOIT: When I say apparatus I’m thinking about the situation that creates the work as a total encompassing medium. It stems from the idea of a cinematic apparatus, an idea important to structural film, where the medium of cinema is not just the camera and the film, but the camera, the film, the projector, light, the screen, the space between the camera and the screen, the audience, and so on. I’m thinking about an expansion of the components we think of that make up a medium.

LEON: How do the Nagel prints and your rendition of them correlate with this process?

CHOIT: The Nagel prints led me to think about the components of a hair salon as an aesthetic apparatus. The Nagel prints and UV tanning beds are both part of this apparatus. Here there’s a different relationship to the body. Oppenheim uses his actual body and in remaking the piece, sort of doing it within the realm of images.

LEON: Why re-photograph the posters?

CHOIT: I like to keep the actual prints as originals that I continue to do this process in increments. I see it as an ongoing destruction of the objects and you get to see the process of photography. Now I start to see the actual prints themselves as kind of like the negatives, and those are what I keep changing and documenting.

LEON: Do you think that there’s another dimension to the work, outside of the conceptual derivative you mentioned, suggesting a corrosion of beauty generally while trying to master it? I’m thinking of the cosmetic intention of the settings in which you originally discovered these images.

CHOIT: I think that’s one dimension. I think also that there is another dimension in that the posters I’m buying are quote-unquote fine art posters, so I’m also in a sense replicating the conditions of a work of art in the gallery. These prints themselves, just as objects anywhere, start to fade. That’s kind of what inspired the whole thing. I did some research about visible light and fading and found that all visible light, even incandescent bulbs or fluorescent lights, which are being used in all the galleries, will fade things. So that’s this interesting thing that happens. In order to be visible, or to be illuminated by light and thus be visible, there has to be a certain destruction that occurs.

Nagel Fades is on view through December 20. Rachel Uffner Gallery is located at 47 Orchard Street.