Yto Barrada with guest artist Bettina
The Power of Two Suns
On view September 19–October 31

The Arts Center at Governors Island | Upper Gallery
110 Andes Rd, New York, NY 10004
Gallery Hours: Thursday–Sunday from 12pm - 5pm


Governors Island has been metamorphosing – from a military base into a popular gathering place for education and leisure. Taking a cue from the site that hosts it, this project is a meditation on the challenges of proximity and distance, of isolation and hospitality.

Isolation comes in many guises. Yto Barrada’s hometown of Tangier, Morocco, sits at one end of the Strait of Gibraltar, at the northwestern tip of Africa. Once a gateway to Europe, the strait has become a symbol of forced isolation, as crossing is allowed in one direction only. Barrada’s work has repeatedly highlighted such social constraints, by playfully tracing the forms of people’s resistance to them.

Tangier, Virginia is a small island slowly sinking into the Chesapeake Bay. Its inhabitants –many of them crab fishers– are hoping for a sea wall to insulate them from the coming flood. Crab traps piled up on the docks like three-dimensional minimalist grids provided inspiration for Barrada’s imposing sculpture: a chimerical, incomplete gabion wall.

This exhibition ponders human reactions to the onset of disaster. It acknowledges the temptation of insularity as protection, yet proposes hospitality and care as a counterpoint. If environmental catastrophe stems in part from the magnified solar radiation known as the greenhouse effect, can solace be found in amplifying the power of solidarity? Barrada materializes this wager by sharing the exhibition space with an artist she admires. Born in 1928, Bettina lost most of her work to a fire in 1966. She remade it and built upon it over the following decades, from the solitary confines of a room in the Chelsea Hotel.

The exhibition presents a small selection from Bettina’s remarkable body of work. On the plinths, a set of long wooden pieces, floating like the ghostly remains of an ancient ship. On the long tables, an array of sculptural experiments in wood and marble. Each of these belongs to a larger series developed out of self-imposed constraints from which gesture and accident subtly emerge.

On the far side of the space, behind the large wall, two-dimensional works by both artists engage in a closer conversation around clear lines, simple shapes and a dramatically reduced palette – as though to convert the ominous sense of an ending into the primordial forms of a quieter beginning. With her land and water forms, her leaf shape drawings, and her photograms of sewing exercises, Yto Barrada invites us to learn the grammar of our world. With her marble egg posters, her keys looking for locks, and her hair photographed in a sink, Bettina shows the combinatory powers of simple forms. For the artists, the point is not to exhaust the possibilities of a given situation, but to experience how generative a set of simple constraints can be when you arm yourself with rigor, humor, and imagination.

Curated by Omar Berrada.

About Yto Barrada

Yto Barrada’s work—including photography, film, sculpture, prints and installations—began by exploring the peculiar situation of her hometown Tangier. Her work has been exhibited at Tate Modern, the Barbican, MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum, Renaissance Society, Witte de With, the Walker Art Centre, Whitechapel Gallery and the 2007 and 2011 Venice Biennales. In 2013-14 she was Artist in Residence at the Textile Arts Center. She has taught at Bard College, Cooper Union, and the Vevey School of Photography.

Barrada was the 2011 Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, the 2013 Robert Gardner Fellow in Photography (Peabody Museum at Harvard University), the 2015 Abraaj Group Art Prize winner, the 2016 Canon Tiger Awards for Short Films and was shortlisted for the 2016 Marcel Duchamp Award.

She is the founding director of the Tangier Cinematheque, North Africa’s first cinema cultural center, which opened its doors as an artist-run nonprofit in 2007 and currently lives in New York.

About Bettina 

Bettina was born in New York in 1928. Starting in the 1950s, she produced a remarkable body of work that includes photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture, film, drawing, and text-based art. Following the loss of her work in a fire that destroyed her studio in 1966, she lived and traveled in Europe for ten years before moving back to New York and settling in the Chelsea Hotel where she still resides. Based on the observation of the city’s daily activities, her work transforms movements and gestures into form, in an effort to apprehend the elusive, transitory energies of urban life. She has been the subject of several films, including Bettina (Sam Bassett, 2008) and Girl with Black Balloons (Corinne van der Borch, 2010).

About Omar Berrada

Omar Berrada is a writer and curator, and the director of Dar al-Ma’mûn, a library and artists’ residency in Marrakech. His work focuses on the politics of cultural translation and intergenerational transmission. Currently living in New York, he teaches at The Cooper Union where he co-organizes the IDS Lecture Series.

Press Release

Related Event
Yto Barrada, Botanical (Leaf-Shapes-Trees) Fig. 1 (of 4), Drawings on paper, 2019.

Yto Barrada with
guest artist Bettina
The Power of Two Suns

Lower Studio

Explore the themes of Yto Barrada with guest artist Bettina's exhibition by participating in a hands-on art-making activity.

Also on view
Platanthera ciliaris, Michael Wang

Michael Wang
Extinct in New York

Lower Gallery

The gallery becomes a greenhouse, a sanctuary of care and a time capsule, for the city's extinct flora in Michael Wang's reverent Extinct in New York.

Yto Barrada with invited guest Bettina: The Power of Two Suns is supported in part by Art Matters and Pace Gallery. Additional funding is provided by Étant Donnés Contemporary Art, a program developed by the FACE Foundation and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, with lead funding from the French Ministry of Culture and Institut français-Paris, the Florence Gould Foundation, The Ford Foundation, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Chanel USA, the ADAGP, and the CPGA.