Pia Camil

Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, USA

A highlight of the 2017 spring season in New York was the clutch of exhibitions featuring abstract artworks by women. The Museum of Modern Art presented the art historical corrective ‘Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction’, and more inspiring still was the Met Breuer’s Lygia Pape retrospective and Luhring Augustine’s well-timed companion show of objects by fellow Brazilian neo-concretist Lygia Clark. Pape and Clark were among the leaders of an avant-garde group of artists who experimented with geometric form and colour in 1950s Rio de Janeiro. In the following decade, they applied this language to participatory ‘open’ works that celebrated the city and its diverse inhabitants, from Clark’s ‘Bichos’ series (Critters, begun c.1960) – hinged metal sculptures that anyone could reconfigure – to Pape’s Divisor (Divider, 1968), an enormous white cloth through which people of all ages and shades were invited to poke their faces and march together in the streets.

dc_pc_24.jpg

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

This history hums in the background of ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, Pia Camil’s current solo exhibition, which occupies nearly 1,200 square metres of the cavernous, converted warehouse of Dallas Contemporary. ‘A Pot for a Latch’, Camil’s 2016 solo project at New York’s New Museum, invited visitors to add to and take from commercial goods she installed on grid-like racks. Similarly, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’ engages with the informal commerce that defines daily life in Mexico City, where Camil was born and is based (bara is short for the Spanish word barato, or cheap). 

The larger of the show’s two galleries holds the installation Divisor Pirata (Pirated Divider, 2017), Camil’s homage to Pape’s famous work. The version here is a patchwork of seven colourful tarps stitched from cotton t-shirts that hang low from the ceiling. The work’s structure references the source of its material: the t-shirts were manufactured in Latin America for consumer use in the US, and then shipped back over the border for resale in informal markets in Mexico, many of which are shaded by tarps. At nearly 800 square metres, Divisor Pirata is impressive, and while its material connection to the inequities of transnational commerce will register for some viewers, its reference to Pape’s piece is much clearer; during the run of the show, it was even deinstalled and paraded through the streets of Dallas.

dc_pc_43.jpg

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Camil’s work is more absorbing and lyrical when she synthesizes the history of abstraction and the commercial landscape of Mexico City using visual language distinctive to her own practice. A curtain of five hand-dyed and stitched canvases (Espectacular Telon Toluca I, III, IV, V, VI, 2014) divides an adjacent gallery, which also holds four more canvases, stretched like paintings, and a half-dozen ceramic pieces, called Fragmentos. On one side of this room, a low plywood platform, supported by buckets, serves as a plinth for four of the ceramic vessels. They upend their rigid, geometric shapes (one forms an ‘L’, another an ‘I’) with chromatic shifts in glaze – yellow fades to white then purple, rust turns to black – that emphasize the artist’s hand, just as their hollow centres evoke the human body. Elsewhere in the gallery, several ghostly clay forms resembling masks (Bust Mask Jade and Bust Mask Chalk White, both 2016) animate the commercial shelving units upon which they rest.

dc_pc_23.jpg

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

The show truly comes alive, however, with the hand-dyed and stitched canvases, all but one of which echo the shapes and colours of the geometric ceramic forms. The stretched canvases are sumptuous, yet the more than 20-foot-long curtain commands attention, with a scale that reveals the source of Camil’s abstract language: the ‘L’s, ‘I’s and hues have been lifted from fragments she encountered on abandoned billboards in and around her home city. The curtain’s shapes, colours and flowing curves evoke the rich history of women experimenting with abstraction, particularly in Latin America, and revitalize the relevance of this language by bringing it into contact with new materials and current lived experience.

 

 

Main image: Pia Camil, ‘Bara, Bara, Bara’, 2017, installation view, Dallas Contemporary. Courtesy: Dallas Contemporary, Dallas; photograph:  Kevin Todora

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018