Ways of Seeing Abstraction:
Yto Barrada, Autocar – Tangier, 2004

Most people still understand abstraction as a concentration on form. It is viewed as an art movement which is used to express aesthetic ideas, orders, philosophical ideas or inner feelings, but which does not have much to do with everyday reality. However, especially in times marked by crises, relevance and urgency are also expected from art, and it is expected to make a statement on current social issues. Today, artistic commitment is not conveyed exclusively through clear visual messages and content, but increasingly through abstraction. For younger generations, in particular, non-representational art is the means of choice for addressing politics, religion, and social issues. Showcasing works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the exhibition “Ways of Seeing Abstraction” at the PalaisPopulaire undertakes a thoroughly subjective survey of international abstraction from postwar modernism to the recent present, documenting the diversity and discursivity that lie behind the idea of non-objective, “pure” form. On the occasion of the exhibition, our series will show you works by artists who use abstraction idiosyncratically and define it in new ways.


Yto Barrada, Autocar – Tangier, Fig. 3, 4, 2, 2004
© Yto Barrada and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg / Beirut


Yto Barrada's photographs look like abstract compositions from 1960s Color Field and Minimalist painting. Bright monochrome colors and geometric and dynamic forms are broken up by vertical and horizontal lines. Even the sober, serially numbered titles of the paintings from her Autocar series sound as if they are rooted in US art from that period. Yet they depict exactly what we see: the logos on buses that head from North Africa to various cities in Europe. The abstract forms help illiterate people to distinguish between the different bus lines. Passengers seeking to escape to Europe travel along these routes again and again. Barrada interviewed some of them, as well as the bus drivers, while working on her series.

The Moroccan-French artist, who now lives in New York, is not exclusively concerned with migration, however. Barrada also examines the cultural transfer of signs and forms. Western modernism, from the visual arts to design and architecture, has made abundant use of the clear geometries and bright colors found in the art of African countries. That logos on Moroccan buses remind us of Western art today has a lot to do with our colonialist perspective and the appropriation of non-European art styles.