Yto Barrada, How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself @Pace/MacGill and Pace

JTF (just the facts): A broad multi-disciplinary survey show, including photography, video, installation, sculpture, and textiles, staged across three separate floors/gallery spaces.

The following photographic works are on view in the various locations, with process information, dates, dimensions, and editions sizes as background:

Floor 2 – Pace

  • 1 set of 20 chromogenic prints, 2007, each roughly 16×12 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 2 chromogenic prints, 2002, 2005, roughly 32×32, 59×59 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 set of 6 gelatin silver prints, 2003, each 20×24 inches, edition of 5+2AP

Floor 7 – Pace African and Oceanic Art

  • 1 print from a set of 6 chromogenic prints, 2013-2015, each roughly 28×28 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 set of 16 chromogenic prints, 2014-2015, each roughly 16×16 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 set of 16 archival pigment prints, 2014-20125, each roughly 24×24 inches, edition of 5+2AP

Floor 9 – Pace/MacGill

  • 4 chromogenic prints, 2004, each roughly 34×34 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 set of 16 archival pigment prints, 2014, each roughly 12×12 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 2009, roughly 33×33 inches, edition of 5+2AP
  • 8 chromogenic prints, 2006, 2008, 2009, roughly 25×23, 39×39, 49×49 inches, edition of 5+2AP

Other works on display include textile abstractions, a steel palm tree with colored lights, a sculptural assemblage of plumbing pipes, fossils, a room sized installation of textile wrapped forms, a painted wood model of a cinema, dye samples in lucite blocks, collages, coffee filters, and 2 videos, among others.

(Installation views of Yto Barrada: How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself, 32 East 57th Street, 2nd, 7th, and 9th Floors, New York, NY, April 5 – May 5, 2018, Photography by Tom Barratt, courtesy Pace Gallery © Yto Barrada, courtesy Pace Gallery; Pace MacGill; Pace African and Oceanic Art; Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg, Beirut; and Galerie Polaris, Paris.)

Comments/Context: For the Paris-born artist Yto Barrada, Tangier is both a part time home and a richly complicated muse. After spending some of her early years living there, she now splits time between the Moroccan city and New York, allowing her to see the nuances of Tangier as both insider and outsider. Having studied photography at the ICP, Barrada began by using her camera as the primary mediator of her aesthetic ideas, but as this sprawling three-floor exhibit shows, in the passing of nearly two decades, she has expanded her artistic efforts to include everything from sculpture and textiles to video and installation.

The most straightforward of Barrada’s Tangier observations examine the overlooked details of a changing city. An empty swimming pool has been left to gather a heaping incursion of moss, setting a contrast with the explosion of new construction that better represents the modern norm. Barrada’s photographic eye consistently gravitates toward formal concerns, with a dash of conceptual wit. Building site walls are adorned with sea view murals, the colors washed out and faded by the sun and the illusions interrupted by rough cuts and jagged rips. Her images of new apartments highlight their blocky geometric forms and their lack of windows, her compositions turning them into simplified pastel-painted forms set against the cloudless sky. And once in a while, the old intrudes into these controlled environments of the new, a lone palm tree stubbornly holding out in a vacant lot, dwarfed by the towering flats nearby.

The social changes Barrada is interested in exploring and documenting appear in more than just the architecture of Tangier. Work and migration have become intricately entangled, with workers commuting into the city from the outlying regions, or trying to more permanently move on to southern Europe and elsewhere. Her black and white images of anonymous sleepers in grassy parks recall David Goldblatt’s photographs of similar people in South Africa, the mixture of wearniness and displacement balanced by formal elegance. A selection of long distance bus logos at first appears like simple an exercise in colorful abstraction, but becomes more layered with captions that tell stories of stowaway locations under the tourist buses and descriptions of illicit journeys on ferries across the Strait of Gibraltar. Yet another formal study examines the folded paper packets (made from textile factory invoices) used for seeds, nuts, and other sidewalk snacks, the variety in the triangular shapes recalling Stephen Gill’s still life origami-like images of tangled British betting slips.

The most resonant photographic works bring a more personal perspective to the ways life is evolving in Tangier, weaving together ideas from family life and childhood and filtering them through layers of passing time. Several of her works take an almost ethnographic approach to play, creating typologies of North African toys that find formal patterns in the most modest of hand-made trinkets. One set of images gathers together dolls, horses, and camels made of scraps of cloth and wood, while another pushes further toward minimal geometries, where sticks and imagination come together to make blow guns, bow and arrow combos, windmills, and handguns, many of the toys just a piece of wood or two tied together. Seemingly always on the lookout for found abstraction, Barrada coaxes colorful striped arrangements out of a Natural History museum display on volcanoes and geology and sees faint blossoms in the dirty marks made by a soccer ball repeatedly kicked against a whitewashed wall.

More direct connections to Barrada’s own family come in two additional works. One set of images documents pages from her illiterate grandmother’s “telephone book”, where simple drawings of family members are accompanied by hash mark lines to represent the digits in the telephone number. Another photograph shows us the wall where family portraits usually hang; when the framed pictures were taken down to be cleaned, the sun fading in the wallpaper underneath was revealed, creating something akin to an orange/yellow batik pattern. In both works, time is an indirect but powerful component of the story, from the changing world faced by an aging grandmother to the faces of family members that fade into memory as the world marches on.

Many of the works Barrada has made in other mediums follow a similar pattern of interest in rethinking formal abstraction, local materials, and cultural meaning. Carefully arranged textile fragments echo Frank Stella’s striped paintings, coffee filters and natural dye samples are transformed into color studies, and gatherings of pipes, faucets, and fittings are transformed into spindly sculptures by out-of-work plumbers. Seen together with the many grids of photographs, Barrada’s consistent thematic investigations feel fuller and more multivalent.

While this show tumbles out into many connected rooms and onto multiple floors, there is a real sense of Barrada taking the cacophony of Tangier and deliberately paring it back to more a ordered set of interwoven concepts. There is a strictness and simplicity to her aesthetic choices that removes excess and distraction, forcing the viewer to engage with one core sample of ideas at a time. The best of her photographic suites pair refined formal logic with a more complex interest in the subtleties of social and cultural truths, extending the local and personal into broader and more universal realms.

Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show range in price from $12000 to $80000, based on size and the number of prints in the set. While Barrada’s photographic work has begun to enter the secondary markets in the past few years, there have been too few public transactions to chart much of a reliable price history. As a result, gallery retail likely still remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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