From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: uniting continents
How do you define the relationship we have to an art object? The primary artwork that a visitor to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) sees upon entering is a text-based piece by Lawrence Weiner offering an equation for the perceived value that we assign to art. Likewise, the piece has been recreated and translated into Arabic for the prologue to the exhibition From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi - Works from MACBA in dialogue with the Emirates – a collaborative exhibition with key works from MACBA in conversation with 20 works by leading Emirati artists.
After the fitting preface, the show, which is part of the Abu Dhabi Festival, unfolds in three sections: Figure, Environment and Form, where these loose themes unite disparate yet fascinating threads of work from some of the leading artists of the UAE and the West.
Juan Muñoz’s The Nature of Visual Illusion (1994–1997), which depicts a group of monochromatic human figures, smiling in a slightly unsettling manner against a backdrop of a painted theatre curtain is perhaps one of the more well-known works. There is a magical and strange silence that permeates the work, and oddly, despite the gestures and smiles, the lack of individuality in the figures and the fact that they are rendered without feet affixed to the floor at slightly less than human scale is disconcerting.
Across the hall, in the Emirati section, Mohammed Kazem’s Scale - a pyramid of scales hanging from one single scale and represents the world’s natural ecosystem offers an interesting comparison of the myriad ways to display the human condition. Kazem’s work hangs in a hall of other major Emirati talents. A portrait by Hassan Sharif of the Spanish Renaissance painter El Greco is one of the rarer pieces on display and ties nicely with the Barcelona connection.
The central section covers environment from the social, political and physical perspective. A large commissioned piece from Layla Juma stands at over five metres tall in one of the interior halls. Made from interlocking wooden frames, Juma’s piece, Settlement (2017), is an attempt to crystallise the ever-changing urban environment of the UAE. Visually it defies definition but the artist intended it to represent the UAE’s cityscapes as seen through the window of a speeding vehicle.
In dialogue with this is Perejaume’s Postcard Rack (1984). A metal postcard rack, like the ones commonly used in shops, displays mirrors instead of postcards, reflecting its immediate surroundings. Perejaume hiked up a mountain in Spain with the postcard rack over his shoulder to place it in different landscapes. The mirrors reflect natural settings and is intended to be like a portable museum. It is a simple yet effective experiment to encourage viewers to reflect upon their surroundings.
The final section is the biggest success in my opinion. The steel and metal column of Gego’s Square Reticularea (1977) that hangs across from two stunning Alexander Calder sculptures is a beautiful ode to the sheer simplicity of shape. It is also a treat for viewers to see Sol LeWitt’s geometric structures as well as Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits, 1972 (1998). In the Emirati section, Shaikha Al Mazrou, a young and promising artist has worked on a new commission to demonstrate the tension of balance. Protruding from the wall at an angle, a spherical shape appears to be balancing upon the tip of a wooden beam. It is the start of a new series for this young and promising artist and exhibits her keen interest in materiality and form.
The closing work is an iteration of Anthony McCall’s 1973 work Line Describing a Cone. An experimental work that straddles the line between film and sculpture, is centred on viewer’s experience. It is a projected light beam that starts as a dot and expands into a line that arcs to form a circle and within the room, steam highlights the light as a solid yet immaterial structure. It is a fascinating place to enjoy and play, with no expectation of concept or illusion, no pressure to unpick or comprehend. Ultimately, it helps us to remember that, above all, art is a space of thought and is a poetic end to a pivotal exhibition in the history of Emirati art.
From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi - Works from MACBA in dialogue with the Emirates. February 2 - March 17, 2018. Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi. For more info visit Abu Dhabi Festival's website