The sculptor Alicia Barney was born in Cali, Colombia, in 1952. She studied at the College of New Rochelle, New York (BA 1974), and at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (MFA 1977). During her time in New York, she encountered the work of Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), who has remained among her primary artistic influences. Oldenburg's understanding of everyday objects and the thin line that separates them from museum artworks was the ideology for Barney's first sculptures, Diario objeto I and Diario objeto II (Object diary I, 1977, and Object diary II, 1978–79), made from random objects found in New York and Colombia. Two works from the early 1980s—when Barney was in Colombia—marked her as a pioneer of ecological art and a defender of environmental actions that protect the community. In Yumbo (1980), Barney collected the contaminated air from the town of Yumbo into twenty-nine boxes, and in Río Cauca (Cauca River, 1981), she performed a similar action, collecting polluted water from the Cauca River. She conceived the latter as a collaboration between a photographer, a biologist, and students from the Universidad del Cauca. The interdisciplinary and cooperative nature of this work was such a radical notion in the early 1980s that Barney was faced with disciplinary action after the students accused her of instructing them in subversive methods. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s she continued to work, albeit with a certain distance from mainstream art circuits.
An artist who rejects labels, especially stylistic ones, Barney continues to make work that raises awareness of unbridled capitalism and its detrimental impact on the environment. While her sculptures and installations were well received by a handful of critics, including Miguel González, they have also been criticized by a Colombian audience not ready for her experimental and activist approach to art, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s. Notwithstanding the negative reaction by some, Barney has received accolades throughout her career. In 1980 she was awarded first place at the third Salón Regional de Artes Visuales in Colombia, and her work has been featured in important group shows, such as the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo (2016). As an artist and educator, Barney has influenced younger generations of Colombian artists interested in incorporating environmental issues into their practice. She lives and works in Bogotá.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1978 Diario-objeto, Biblioteca Central, Universidad del Valle, Cali, Colombia
1982 El ecológico, Espacio Alternativo Sara Modiano, Barranquilla, Colombia
1993 Aves en el cielo, Galería Gartner Torres, Bogotá
1998 Juguete de las hadas, Museo de Arte de Pereira and Museo La Merced de Cali, Colombia
2015 Basurero utópico, Instituto de Visión, Bogotá
"Entrevista: Conversación con Alicia Barney Caldas." Errata#: Revista de artes visuales 10 (January 2014): 234–45.
González, Miguel. "Alicia Barney." In Entrevistas: Arte y cultura de Latinoamérica y Colombia, 57–64. Cali, Colombia: Secretaría de Cultura y Turismo de Santiago de Cali, 2003.
———. "Alicia Barney: El paisaje alternativo: Aferrada al drama que la naturaleza provoca." Arte en Colombia 19 (October 1982): 40–43.
———. "Alicia Barney: Entre la realidad del arte y la de la vida." Contraste: Revista de el pueblo, no. 117 (February 6, 1983): 8–10.
Villa, Catalina. "La artista Alicia Barney, pionera del arte ecológico, regresa con su obra a Cali." El País, September 6, 2015.