Barrada art at Neuberger photo

Barrada's work is on display at the Neuberger.

Founded in 1969 with a promised gift of 300 works by Roy R. Neuberger — considered one of the greatest private collectors, philanthropists and arts advocates of the 20th century — the collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art has grown to more than 6,000 objects by artists including Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock. The museum’s signature biannual award — the Roy R. Neuberger Prize — recognizes the work of exceptional contemporary artists, continuing its founding patron’s dedication to supporting artists early in their careers.

This year’s prizewinner is Moroccan-French multimedia artist Yto Barrada, whose exhibition, “Yto Barrada: The Dye Garden,” is on view at the Neuberger through Dec. 22, presented for the first time in the United States. The 2019 Roy R. Neuberger Prize carries an honorarium of $25,000.

Also on view through Dec. 22 is the exhibition “Art Got into Me: The Work of Engels the Artist,” showing a 10-year survey of work by the Haitian-born, self-taught artist who goes by one name and lives and works in Brooklyn.

Originally presented at the American Academy in Rome and expanded for the Neuberger Museum of Art, “The Dye Garden” features recent work by Barrada, whose artistic practice weaves together family history and broader sociopolitical narratives, employing a variety of media. The artist has long investigated gestures of resistance to structures of power and control; she has an abiding interest in mechanisms of displacement and dislocation, as well as questions of appropriation and authenticity.

“Yto Barrada: The Dye Garden” is co-curated by chief curator Helaine Posner and Peter Benson Miller, curator and former Andrew Heiskell arts director at the American Academy. A fully illustrated, multi-essay catalogue accompanies the exhibition. According to Posner, Barrada’s wide-ranging intelligence and global perspective inform her work in a variety of media including photography, film, sculpture and hand-dyed textiles. She creates aesthetically compelling images and objects and tackles serious sociopolitical and cultural issues leavened with humor.

Writing in “The Dye Garden” catalogue, Miller noted that what is most striking about Barrada’s work overall “is the distinctiveness of her voice, even when someone else is speaking for her (or she is speaking through them), a choral approach steeped in history, privileging overlooked or silenced figures, and episodes painstakingly unearthed through careful archival research.”

Many of Barrada’s projects highlight “‘women’s work’ in the broadest sense, from handicrafts such as sewing, quilting and dyeing to Riviere’s research and visionary pedagogical theories developed by Italian educator Maria Montessori,” Miller wrote. “By broadcasting female voices, Barrada, far from insisting on any kind of simple dichotomy of gender, proposes a paradigm shift in contemporary art, a field in which postcolonial discourse remains dominated by men and their Manichean worldview.”

Neuberger made it his life mission to support the work of living artists. “In that spirit, the Roy R. Neuberger Prize is awarded biannually to a living artist whose artistic practice contributes not only to how we see and experience art, but also how we consider pressing contemporary global issues,” Neuberger representatives said. The prizewinner is selected from a slate of international artists, nominated by a cross-disciplinary panel of former Neuberger Prize winners, Neuberger Museum of Art curators and educators, and Purchase College makers and scholars. Previous recipients include Cuban installation and performance artist Tania Bruguera, American figurative painter Dana Schutz, South African video and performance artist Robin Rhode and Argentine installation artist Leandro Erlich.

The artist known simply as “Engels” said he can create anything. “I did not get into art. Art got into me. I can create with anything. I build with wood, paper, layers of paint. I question what a painting is. Often the way I make the work is left explicit. Stretchers lay bare. Canvas is crumpled, torn or shredded. Staples can be more than simple fasteners and can function as paint.”

To Engels, “a work does not have to be one thing or another. A painting can have elements of photography or sculpture, blurring the conventions between disciplines. I believe in the spirit. Sometimes I enter the work; we become one. I create as if from nothing, always listening to my senses.”

Engels has noted that the process “speaks to the poetry of my childhood, the survival strategies that Haitians use to get from one day to the next. The strict economy of line and texture, the use of everyday objects and makeshift elegance recalls my grandmother’s home in Port-au-Prince, which against all odds had splendor.”

“Engels calls into question the very notion of what constitutes painting,” said Patrice Giasson, the Alex Gordon Curator of Art of the Americas at the Neuberger. “Abstract and poetic, his sculptural paintings are both aesthetically appealing and profoundly meaningful.” Giasson notes that while Engels’ art is in dialogue with European and American art traditions, his work contains spiritual elements mixed with Haitian historical and social themes.

Tracy Fitzpatrick, director of the Neuberger Museum of Art, emphasized that Purchase College is a campus that thrives on collaboration and experimentation, “and as a member of that community, the museum has embraced the opportunity to provide students the opportunity to assist Engels with a project he will create while an artist-in-residence in the galleries.”

Engels and Giasson welcomed guests into the artist’s studio last weekend for a special meet-and-greet organized in conjunction with the 2019 (T)HERE Global Festival. The usually formal space of the museum was transformed into a site where objects are not just seen and studied, but actually produced. The work that resulted will eventually be transferred to the Gordon Sculpture Park in Monkton, Vermont.

An illustrated publication, the first in the artist’s career, accompanies the exhibition, “Art Got into Me: The Work of Engels the Artist.” It includes 54 color plates, an interview with the artist by Giasson, and texts by scholar Julian Kreimer and artist Tom Otterness.

In his exhibition monograph essay, Kreimer traced Engels’ artistic lineages including the postwar Continental movements that responded to the ruins left by war, and to the challenges of abstraction and Dada, as well as to the “New York tradition whose rubbish loving radicalism ... celebrated the ephemeral and overlooked odds and ends of sidewalks and corner hardware stores.”

But as the work of Engels is considered further, wrote Kreimer, “we are simultaneously aware that they are playing roles in the representation of another kind of experience, as parts of the abstract composition able to elicit a powerful emotional charge.”

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