From the 1950s through the 1980s, painters and sculptors throughout the Arab world explored the challenges and possibilities of abstraction in art. “Taking Shape”, an exhibition of works from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), presents the work of Middle Eastern and North African artists whose creative visions stretched beyond the boundaries of representation. Including artists originating from or working in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and the UAE, this exhibition, organized by the Grey Art Gallery at NYU, reveals the global reach and regional importance of abstraction in the 20th century.
Ranging from the hard-edged to the dreamlike, the nearly 80 works in “Taking Shape” reveal a variety of formal approaches and cultural sources. Compositions by Omar El Nagdi of Egypt and Hussein Madi of Lebanon take inspiration from Arabic calligraphic forms, while human and animal contours emerge from the canvases of Iraqi painter Dia Azzawi and Kuwaiti mixed-media artist Munira al-Kazi. Elsewhere, the exhibition explores intricate geometries of color and line, as in the silkscreens of Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata. From earthly to celestial, fluid to precise, the works in “Taking Shape” suggest the inexhaustible richness of non-objective approaches to painting, sculpture and printmaking.
Though abstract, these diverse works reflect the larger cultural, intellectual and spiritual negotiations of the Arab world in the 20th century. “Taking Shape” illuminates these broad horizons, introducing visitors to the diverse schools and movements that developed within and across these nations in a time of heightened international dialogue and diaspora.
After debuting at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University from January 14 through April 4, 2020, Taking Shape will travel to the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, where it will be on view from April 28 through July 26, 2020, and then to the Johnson Museum at Cornell University from August 22 through December 13, 2020. In 2021 the exhibition will travel to the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, where it will be displayed from January 25 through June 6, and will shortly thereafter be on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art from June 25 through September 19, 2021.
Chafic Abboud, Hamed Abdalla, Yvette Achkar, Etel Adnan, Maliheh Afnan, Malika Agueznay, Shakir Hassan Al Said, Dia Azzawi, Ezequiel Baroukh, Farid Belkahia, Néjib Belkhodja, Fouad Bellamine, Abdallah Benanteur, Kamal Boullata, Huguette Caland, Mohamed Chebaa, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Saliba Douaihy, Muhanna Durra, Simone Fattal, Asma Fayoumi, Abdel Hadi el-Gazzar, Jilali Gharbaoui, Samia Halaby, Mohammed Hamidi, Menhat Helmy, Adam Henein, Jafar Islah, Ibrahim Ismail, Saadi al-Kaabi, Munira al-Kazi, Mohammed Khadda, Helen Khal, Rachid Koraïchi, Miloud Labied, Hussein Madi, Najat Makki, Seta Manoukian, Mohamed Melehi, Omar El Nagdi, Nabil Nahas, Rafa Nasiri, Hind Nasser, Samir Rafi, Aref El Rayess, Ufemia Rizk, Mahmoud Sabri, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Juliana Seraphim, Hassan Sharif, Hussein Shariffe, Ahmad Shibrain, Madiha Umar, Wijdan, Ramses Younan, Jassim Zaini, Afaf Zurayk.
This exhibition is accompanied by a companion installation Regional Modernisms: Works from the Block’s Permanent Collection. This selection considers the ways American artists have added their voices to global dialogues of modern art while reflecting local contexts. The installation is generously supported by the Norton S. Walbridge Fund, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and The Graduate School, Northwestern University. It has been curated by Cait DiMartino, Block Curatorial Graduate Fellow, 2019–20.
Nabil Nahas (Lebanese), Untitled, 1983
Omar el Nagdi (Egyptian), Untitled, 1970
Abdallah Benanteur (Algerian), To Monet, Giverny, 1983. Oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in. Collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE
Mohamed Melehi (Moroccan), Composition, 1970
Etel Adnan (Lebanese), Untitled, 1963–1964
Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s is organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, and curated by Suheyla Takesh and Lynn Gumpert. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Barjeel Art Foundation. Additional generous support is provided by the Charina Endowment Fund; the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust; the Grey’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council, and Friends; and the Abby Weed Grey Trust. The Block’s presentation is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
Alexandra Chaves, The National (UAE), October 16, 2019
Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s is accompanied by a 256-page publication. Co-published by Hirmer Publishers and the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, the book was co-edited by Suheyla Takesh, Curator at the Barjeel Art Foundation,and Lynn Gumpert, Director of the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. Also featured are essays by Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor in the History of Art and Visual Studies department and Director of the South Asia Program, Cornell University; Salah M. Hassan, Goldwin Smith Professor of African and African Diaspora Art History and Visual Culture, Director of the Institute for Comparative Modernities, Cornell University; Hannah Feldman, Associate Professor of Art History, Northwestern University; Anneka Lenssen, Assistant Professor in the History of Art department, University of California, Berkeley; Salwa Mikdadi, Associate Professor, Practice of Art History, NYU Abu Dhabi; Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation and lecturer and researcher on social, political, and cultural affairs in the Arab Gulf States; Nada Shabout, Professor of Art History and Coordinator of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative (CAMCSI), University of North Texas; Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, a writer based in Beirut and New York; and Suheyla Takesh.