Guggenheim Abu Dhabi: Talking Art

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Art from the Middle East: A Public Forum

As 2012 winds down and a new year approaches, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project looks back on some exciting recent developments toward the realization of the future museum.

Following the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Talking Art Series Public Forum in Dubai, which was attended by 250 people, including more than 100 Emirati students from universities across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the second Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Focus Group meetings took place in September. These closed-door working sessions were moderated by Guggenheim curators Suzanne Cotter, Valerie Hillings, and Reem Fadda, and brought together some of the most important luminaries in the fields of contemporary art and modernist, postcolonial studies from some of the most prestigious academic and museum institutions in the world. They included Tarek Abou El Fetouh, Director of the Young Arab Theatre Fund, Brussels, and the international Meeting Points festival; Shiva Balaghi, Fellow in International Humanities, Cogut Center for the Humanities, Brown University, and Vice President of the American Institute of Iranian Studies; Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies, and Chair, Department of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Layla Diba, independent scholar and curator, New York; Salah Hassan, Goldwin Smith Professor and Director of the Africana Studies and Research Center and Professor of African and African Diaspora Art History and Visual Culture, Department of History of Art and Visual Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Geeta Kapur, critic and curator, New Delhi; Joanna Mytkowska, Director, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw; and Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, Founder and Chairman of Barjeel Foundation, columnist, and Fellow, Dubai School of Government.

The discussions, which took place over two days, were organized around a specific set of questions interrogating the geographic, historic, and conceptual frameworks that might be applied to building a collection of art from the Middle East as a distinctive focus of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and to the ways in which this vital strand of the collection might be contextualized in relation to the broader transnational collection and resonate with local, regional, and international visitors. The sessions proved extremely productive and affirmed the direction the curatorial team has initiated with its research, and offered tremendous depth and substance to the curatorial parameters that have been mapped out thus far.

Another important milestone for the project was the participation of young Emirati colleagues from the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, who contributed to the conversations—a vital element of the Guggenheim’s work going forward, and a crucial anchoring for the museum’s intellectual advisors in understanding the reality of the context in the region.

Reem Fadda Represents the UAE at the 2013 Venice Biennale
Along with her involvement with the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Focus Group, Reem Fadda, Associate Curator of Middle Eastern Art for the Abu Dhabi Project, has been chosen as curator of the United Arab Emirates National Pavilion for the 55th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2013. For the exhibition, Fadda will feature the work of Emirati artist Mohammed Kazem, a pioneer in the UAE contemporary art scene for his incorporation of video and new technologies, in a solo presentation in the pavilion. Fadda explains that "by engaging the work of Kazem, we can witness the urban modernity of an emerging nation through the eyes of its individual artists. In pursuing this initiative we hope to demonstrate that the developments we see in the region today do not come from a void, but rather evolve from the contemporary thought and practice of artists and intellectuals like Kazem, whose work has consistently interrogated the relationship between the individual and his/her social, urban, and natural environments."

The National Pavilion of the UAE continues to be developed and presented under the leadership of its Commissioner, Dr. Lamees Hamdan, a prominent figure in the art and culture scene in the UAE and member of the Board of Directors of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. Regarding Fadda and Kazem, Dr. Hamdan states that the curator "represents Abu Dhabi’s bold commitment to the UAE through its building of the Guggenheim Museum, and Mohammed Kazem, from Dubai, has been a critical part of the fabric of every Sharjah Biennial from 1993 to 2007. Thus the 2013 pavilion stands to strongly communicate internationally the depth of contemporary art practices in the United Arab Emirates." In 2009, the UAE became the first Gulf nation to present a National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and presented another iteration to wide acclaim in 2011.

Reem Fadda, Associate Curator, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project; Layla Diba, independent scholar; Iftikhar Dadi, Associate Professor and Chair of the Art History Department of Cornell University; and Sheikh Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, columnist and Chairman of the Barjeel Art Foundation. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Art from the Middle East: A Public Forum, September 24, 2012. Photo: Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority

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