Yto Barrada's ‘Le Grand Soir’

Moroccan ‘Pyramids’ at MoMA PS1

John Hill
3. May 2024
All photographs by John Hill/World-Architects

In 2019, MoMA PS1 celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Young Architects Program, in which emerging architects were invited to propose designs for temporary installations in the museum's courtyard, by — of all things — putting it on hiatus. This was unfortunate, as World-Architects looked forward to the annual unveiling of the winner and, a few months later, the opening of the installation at the start of the summer; and over its twenty years the program gave early commissions to architects who since went onto success and became familiar names, from SHoP Architects in 2000 and nARCHITECTS in 2004 to WORKac in 2008 and SO–IL in 2010. Little did we know five years ago, but Pedro & Juana's impressive Hórama Rama became the last YAP installation.

Although Yto Barrada's Le Grand Soir is not a continuation or reworking of the YAP, its size, “function,” and inspiration point to the appropriateness of architectural installations in the MoMA PS1 courtyard, be they created by architects or artists. World-Architects stopped by the museum soon after Le Grand Soir opened to the public on April 25 to see how the sculptures work in the courtyard setting.

The first piece of Le Grand Soir that visitors encounter, after walking through the glass door on the left side of this photo, is made of just two concrete blocks, one yellow and one blue. They are perfectly sized for sitting and indicate that the blocks that comprise each piece can be interacted with.
The main pieces, as seen in the top photo, are considerably larger, offering places to site and lounge but also to climb and maybe even crawl through.
These are sculptures, though, so are not meant to function as benches or playground equipment, unlike the YAP, which asked the young architects to provide respite with shade, seating, and water. Yto Barrada's sculptures are colorful, playful objects that resemble children's blocks, to me at least, but are art and therefore open to interpretation.
Most intriguing is the way the concrete, which gives durability to the longterm installation, subtly references the brutalist architecture of Morroco that, like brutalist architecture elsewhere, has seen a re-appreciation in recent years.
Also subtle is the how the artist's acrobatic inspiration is expressed in words stamped into some of the blocks, each one describing different formations used by acrobats in Morocco: tqal (weight), bourj tarbaite (tower of four), and bourj benayma ou chebaken (tower lift with net).

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