Yto Barrada opens solo exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum

Yto Barrada's, "Red Palm" at the Aspen Art Museum. It is a steel structure with galvanized sheet metal and coloured electrical bulbs.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times


What: Yto Barrada’s ‘Klaatu Barrada Nikto’

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Friday, June 1 through Sunday, Nov. 25

How much: Free

More info: Barrada’s is one of three exhibitions opening Friday at the museum, alongside Larry Bell’s ‘Aspen Blues’ and an outdoor installation by Paula Hayes;

The scene in the Aspen Art Museum’s two massive adjoining basement galleries this week, as artist Yto Barrada installed her new solo exhibition there, was reminiscent of the chaotic semi-organization that takes place while moving between homes.

There were dozens of rugs stacked on the far side of one gallery, posters piled nearby, what looked like knick-knacks scattered along a table, an overabundance of cushions and pillows spilling out of traveling trunks. There was a wooden toy dinosaur waiting to be played with in the middle of one room, a large plug-in palm tree nearby.

But after a first glance, it is evident these objects and artworks are far more precious than the usual detritus of move-in day. They represent nothing short of the history of the world.

Those rugs are Barrada’s “Geological Time Scale,” a monumental collection of 50 monochrome antique Berber-style rugs made by mostly Moroccan tribes like the Beni Mguild, Marmouch and Ait Sgougou. Barrada has patiently and meticulously collected them over the years, and arranged them into a massive installation color-coded to represent the geological history of Earth.

“I think this is the treasure of the exhibition,” Barrada said.

Those pieces that looked like knick-knacks will be arranged inside a stately vitrine from the Museum of Natural History in London for Barrada’s “collection of fakes and shapes,” which mixes together actual fossils — real ammonites and trilobites — from Morocco alongside forgeries made to pass as real ones. (They’re displayed along with plumbing fixtures, fashioned humorously in archaeological casts.)

“It’s a comment about authenticity and tradition,” Barrada said. “It’s about digging but it’s a broader way of talking about what we think of as authentic and questioning that.”

The pillows and cushions scattered about will be pieced together for “Le salon geologique.” A collaboration with French artist Stephanie Marin, these comfy works will be arranged into a sitting area — no, you can’t actually sit on them for this rendition of the salon — and, like the rugs, are made to reflect geological time. The pillows have international coded patterns for geological ages printed on them, along with color codes corresponding to the rugs.

“We designed a living room that can also be used as a playground,” she said. “We were playing last night, making forts. It’s a sculpture, but also educational and practical.”

Steps away, visitors can watch Barrada’s video work, “A Guide to Trees for Governors and Gardeners,” which plays off the same concept as the light-up palm tree. Fashioned in steel with colored electrical bulbs, “Red Palm” is a sly jab at the Moroccan government. The governor of Tangier, Barraba explained, has been planting palm trees before official visits from international dignitaries to beautify the area.

The exhibition also includes wood works — the dinosaur toy “Carcharodontosaurus Toy” and a wood map of the world with movable tectonic plates — and photography including landscape shots of empty lots in Tangier and a new collection of photograms made for this Aspen show and printed on candy wrappers.

There is printmaking, too. A collection of posters, titled “Faux Guide,” one with jargon from a grant proposal fashioned in the cut-up style of novelist — and noted Tangier resident — William S. Burroughs, alongside drawings by Barrada’s daughter setting prices for her toys (she’s quickly learned the ways of American capitalism since moving to New York from Paris last year, Barrada joked) and even an appearance by Miss Colorado.

“It’s a sort of bank of ideas,” Barrada said of the poster collection. “It’s beginnings, it’s middles, it’s ends. It’s a loose way of not taking ourselves too seriously and developing ideas.”

The playful, powerful works here are brimming with social and historical commentary. Opening Friday, the exhibition takes its title — “Klaatu Barrada Kikto” — from the un-translated alien phrase in the 1951 sci-fi classic film “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

This huge collection spans the past 15 or so years of Barraba’s work and about 18 months of meticulous preparations with Aspen Art Museum curators. That’s quite awhile, but it’s all relative.

“I mean, it’s a long time,” Barrada said, motioning to her rugs with a grin, “but less than geological time.”


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