For more than twenty years, Barney has explored the rarefied stratum of American society to which she belongs—a life of New England summer homes and spacious New York apartments decorated in coordinated fabrics. Her color photographs of family and friends were made with a large-format camera on a tripod, but they are imbued with a sense of intimacy and informality that connects them to the tradition of family snapshots.
In 1996 Barney turned her attention across the Atlantic. In Austria, Italy, England, France, Spain, and Germany she photographed the aristocratic equivalent of the elite society in which she lived and worked in the United States, but in Europe these individuals and families were frequently strangers to her, introduced through an intermediary. While her American photographs often have the sitters' given names as titles, underscoring their familiarity, for her European work Barney frequently chose titles that relate to details in the settings: for instance, The Yellow Wall.
The photographs that constitute The Europeans, as this body of work came to be called, are more akin to painted still lifes than to her earlier work, with its seemingly improvised character. In these photographs there is a formality, an attention to color, space, and subtlety of manner that befits old-world nobility and is related to the Old Master paintings frequently hanging in the subjects' homes.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 167.