September 22, 2016
A few weeks ago I wrote about Mona Hatoum’s tribute exhibition at Tate Modern, London. This particular piece is sensitively related to how an immigrant and refugee managed to break into a cultural scene that could seem enclosed and restricted only to Western artists.
When we think about globalization, we must understand that it affects us in many ways. One of them is cultural expansion. People travel longer distances with less effort nowadays, and decide to immigrate more often, carrying a large baggage full of customs, language influences, and cultural habits with them. Technology also spreads very quickly, connecting more and more people each day.
As ethnic and national populations move around the globe, they establish emotional ties with their places of origin. Artists in particular express their emotional longing, admiration, and sometimes worship of their mother lands in pieces of art that become part of their new country’s cultural heritage.
Contemporary Middle Eastern art, for instance, seems to provide answers to all the questions that the rest of the world has about this region’s traditions and cultural background. It is a silent voice that leaves a perpetual echo, one that sings the chorus of a struggle and of tortured beauty. There can be no discrimination in the space of art. A painting, a photograph, a sculpture or an installation remain anonymous for the viewer during the first few minutes of interaction. The name of the artist comes as a revelation. The level of admiration increases, the act of understanding intensifies, and finally an interest has been planted for a long time in the brain and heart of the art lover.
In today’s context, Abu Dhabi is expected to finalize works on its own branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums, which will shift the interest of the world from this distant city’s extravagant architecture and lifestyle, to its status as one of the world’s capitals for contemporary art.
Abu Dhabi is not the first capital to host both Middle Eastern and global art in an environment that unfortunately is not usually linked to the idea of globalization. For instance, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, experienced a renaissance of sorts in the mid-20th century. Following World War II, the city became a tourist destination and a financial center. It was even nicknamed “the Paris of the Middle East” thanks to its French influences and vibrant cultural and intellectual life.
Architect Galal Mahmoud said about Beirut that its history is encompassed in the history of the world, as it includes layers of Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Phoenician influences. Today, Beirut is a place where you can constantly navigate between different minorities and their cultural backgrounds; it is a place where you learn to be more tolerant and open, where you must respect people from a variety of beliefs and backgrounds. It pretty much sounds like Paris today, or London, or New York.
Now, could Abu Dhabi offer the same vibe? Will the opening of these two monster houses of art attract only the nouveaux riches, or also well-educated and art-thirsty tourists? With a long history of influences (first Iranian in the 1900s, followed by Asian and European in the 1950s and 1960s), just like most of the big capitals of the world, Abu Dhabi is a place that can host most, if not all, the Middle Eastern art outbreaks.
The architectural design of the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum was offered to architect Frank Gehry, who describes the idea behind the structure as: “… Low tech language. The character is messy… like a medieval city that came together over time… You go through this messiness and you find the centre.” The museum will be located on Saadiyat Island, just offshore of the city of Abu Dhabi. The island’s Cultural District will house the largest cluster of world-class cultural assets in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim building is part of a massive project to “create an exhibition space intended to turn this once-sleepy desert city along the Persian Gulf into an international arts capital and tourist destination.” (The New York Times)
“Someday, my paintings will be hanging in the Louvre”, van Gogh once said. A museum does not need further introduction. Abu Dhabi is preparing to open the doors to their very own Louvre -possibly in 2017-, a project that consists on building an island inside an island. The architect, Jean Nouvel, wants the museum to belong completely to the culture, history, geography and climate of Abu Dhabi. He has envisioned a place that people would want visit and revisit. As in most Arab cities, there will be a strong contrast between the temperature outside and inside of the venue. People will feel good thanks to this, and will want to share the experience with other people there. A medina of art, built with traditional architectural techniques, held together by an impressive modern dome that encompasses the beauty and poetry of light.
With these two architectural masterpieces, I believe that Abu Dhabi is breaking into the art world in the most elegant way possible. With the work of those Middle Eastern artists that have been moving audiences throughout the world, and with a continuous flow of ideas and cultural influences, the opening of the Guggenheim and Louvre buildings in the island of Abu Dhabi is announcing that the world is yet to be enchanted and pleasantly surprised.
Federico Fellini once said that “all art is autobiographical”, and Middle Eastern art is constantly underlining this statement. Globally, we are becoming an entity, we are coming closer and closer, and art has a lot to gain from this beautiful gathering of cultural differences. One day, people will be reading “An Autobiography of Earth’s Cultural Identity”.
August 7, 2016
Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.
This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.
In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.
The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.
The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.
Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series ‘POETS‘. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.
As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.
A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!
What happens when you light a pompous baroque room with yellow mono-frequency light? Or when you look at 18th century plastering through colorful kaleidoscopes? Olafur Eliasson asks and answers these questions in his current exhibition at the Winter Palace in Vienna, where the Belvedere shows a significant selection of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s works.
The former city residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history, the Winter Palace was always an important site during baroque times in Vienna and it is now a place to encounter art in between baroque architecture and a contemporary setting. By putting Eliasson’s work in contrast to the vast interior, two worlds and two epochs collide – the result is more than overwhelming: the visitor is given the chance to be immersed in a world of pure illusion, light and color.
The light installation The Organic and Crystalline Description welcomes us in the vestibule, where light occupies the wall, floor and ceiling and creates the feeling of being underwater. On the grand stairway, the Yellow Corridor gives a new approach to reality through mono-frequency light that limits the range of visible color to just yellow and black, sharpening our senses. As Eliasson puts it: “Seeing only one color suggests that there are none at all. Color is dependent on the existence of other colors in order to be understandable.” In the following rooms there are different optical machines and installations, such as Kaleidoscope, New Berlin Sphere and Your Welcomed Reflected, offering an even deeper immersion into the world of perception, transformation and deconstruction of reality.
It is fascinating to witness the contrast between old and new and the transformation of old things into new ones depending on contextual surroundings. By always immersing into the works of art and getting a bodily experience, we leave the site with sharpened senses, wondering about the relationship between the body, perception, and images. Everyday habits of seeing and experiencing details are questioned and challenged.
The whole show, indeed, has a sheer beauty to itself and bears an aesthetic quality that speaks to the visitor in an exceptional way.
On view at the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy through March 6th, 2016.
February 4, 2016
The art scene in Paris has long been recognised, first and foremost, as the birthplace of Impressionism with the likes of Manet, Monet and Degas bringing it to global prominence. Today, however, Paris’ modern and contemporary offerings are a strong and exciting force driving its reputation beyond the die-hard, 19th century roots. From cutting-edge industrial architecture in the Gagosian Le Bourget, to digital innovation at La Gaîté Lyrique, we rounded up the 10 best modern and contemporary galleries to give you an insight into the city’s burgeoning arts scene.
In a nutshell: The rugged concrete interior may appear to be a meditated aesthetic decision but was actually due to the the gallery’s lack of money in the middle of renovation which led to organisers leaving it in its stripped-down state. Situated across from the Musée d’Art Moderne, the enormous Palais de Tokyo space houses some of the most cutting-edge, contemporary art in Europe including mind-blowing installations, films, and performances that are always exciting and immersive. Don’t miss the excellent bookshop and The Toyko Eat, the gallery’s restaurant.
Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 12pm-12am every day except Tuesday.
In a nutshell: The base level for any contemporary art-goer in Paris is the Centre Georges Pompidou, its name pays homage to its creator – the French president – who commissioned the building in 1969 as a completely new, multidisciplinary cultural centre. It’s architecture is an extraordinary mélange of multicoloured pipes forming a structure that juts out from the traditional French buildings of the 4th arrondissement. With its exhaustive permanent collections of modern and contemporary art spanning over 100,000 works including Pollock, Kandinsky and Man Ray, the Pompidou is, unsurprisingly, one of the most visited museums in France. Don’t miss the panoramic view from the top floor and the gallery’s library.
Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 11am-10pm everyday except Tuesday.
In a nutshell: Like the Palais de Tokyo, La Gaîté Lyrique is hyper-contemporary. It focuses on the digital arts, complete with a video game station, interactive library and café, as well as exhibitions in the basement. The institution embraces all forms of contemporary digital expression from cinema, web design, and visual arts to electronic music. You’ll find many students in the café, teens playing the video games and plenty of families who take advantage of the kids afternoons the gallery holds during its exhibitions.
Where: 3rd arrondissement. Open 2pm-8pm Tuesday-Saturday and 12pm-6pm Sundays. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Located in the East-Wing of the Palais de Toyko, the Musée d’Art Moderne has been running since 1968 with over 10,000 modern and contemporary works from both European and global artists as well as several temporary exhibitions each year. The gallery was briefly closed in 2010 after a theft of over €100,000 worth of masterpieces, including works by Matisse and Modigliani. Even with its compelling heist history, the gallery is not as well-known as its name suggests, but is still worth a visit for its excellent permanent collection.
Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday except Thursday with a late opening until 10pm. Closed Monday.
5. Jeu de Paume
In a nutshell: Situated on the edge of Paris’ Place de Concorde in the famous Tuileries Garden, the Jeu de Paume is a beautiful 19th century building that once served as a tennis court, (hence the gallery’s title – ‘Jeu de Paume’ is French for racquet), as well as a sorting house for Nazi loot during WWII. The work on display, however, often goes above and beyond the building’s history with a focus on exhibiting post-war mechanical/electronic art – predominantly photography but also includes cinema, video installation, web art and more. Its major exhibitions, such as the current showcase of Philippe Halsman’s famous celebrity portraits have made it a popular destination for the city’s art-goers.
Where: 8th arrondissement. Open 11am-9pm Tuesday and 11am-7pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Housed in an ex-hotel in Paris’ historic 4th quarter Le Marais, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is an institution dedicated to showcasing contemporary photography with a collection of over 20,000 works as well as rotating exhibitions which show anything from portraiture to optical illusions. Each rotation gives a broad vision of photography today, recently showing a major exhibition documenting a season at French fashion house Lanvin, as well as the remarkably composed architectural photographs of Caio Reisewitz. As well as these spaces, the gallery houses an auditorium, library, and video viewing facility and runs workshops and events throughout the year.
Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 10am-8pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
In a nutshell: Describing itself as having an “original approach to corporate philanthropy”, the Cartier Foundation commits itself to raising public awareness for contemporary art by exhibiting established artists as well as offering younger ones a chance to debut. Housed in a glass building designed by Pritzker Prize architect Jean Nouvel, it sits in a tranquil woodland garden, landscaped by Lothar Baumgarten making it a worthwhile place to visit for reasons beyond just the art. As well as organising multiple exhibitions, the foundation has created ‘Nomadic Nights’, an event focusing on the linkage between different kinds of contemporary expression via the performing arts.
Where: 14th arrondissement. Open 11am-8pm Wednesday-Saturday and 11am-10pm on Tuesdays. Closed Monday.
8/9. Gagosian Galleries
In a nutshell: Major player in the contemporary art world, Larry Gagosian has fifteen galleries worldwide including two in Paris; one in the north-eastern suburb Le Bourget and another in the 8th arrondissement. The former is in an industrial park of Le Bourget, its location enabling the gallery’s spacious interior which, like Paris’ Cartier Foundation, was designed by Jean Nouvel. Indeed, the building is an extraordinary work in itself, combining the rugged industrial original with a smart contemporary finish. The latter is a smaller space than its suburban counterpart but is exceptional nonetheless, set in a Parisian mansion just off the Champs-Élysées. Expect a vibrant contemporary art program featuring leading international artists.
Where: 8th arrondissement. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday // 93350 Le Bourget. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday.
In a nutshell: Paris’ size to population ratio has always been pretty tight and is one of the reasons why many large public spaces lie just outside the Périphérique dual-carriageway that defines the city limits. One of the many exciting contemporary art centres in the suburbs is Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, a.k.a. MAC/VAL. Situated in the south-eastern suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine in a sprawling contemporary building, MAC/VAL boasts being the first museum completely dedicated to the French ’50’s art scene. Having now expanded its collection to house everything from the ’50’s to contemporary art, the gallery also enjoys exhibiting both experienced and up-and-coming artists.
Where: 94400 Vitry-sur-Seine. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Friday and 12pm-7pm on Weekends and holidays. Closed on Mondays.