Paul Klee, Oriental bliss, oil on canvas.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Abstraction and Calligraphy — Towards a Universal Language, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s first 2021 exhibition (Feb. 17 – June 12), will feature abstract masterpieces in dialogue, exploring a universal language of text and image.
Hosted in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou and France Museums, it will showcase 101 artworks from 16 partner institution collections, including Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Artworks include those by Dia Azzawi, Mona Hatoum, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lee Krasner, André Masson, Jackson Pollock, Anwar Jalal Shemza and Cy Twombly. They will be shown together, many for the first time in the region.
Two original artworks by contemporary artists eL Seed and Sanki King, will also be on view. They explore how artists today are still seeking new visual forms to respond to current societal changes.
The show further explores the connection of cultures through two parallel timelines — of abstraction in the early 20th century, and of calligraphy, tracing back to ancient civilisations
The exhibition keeps with the third season’s theme of exchanges between East and West and is sponsored by Montblanc, a maison whose craftsmanship influences the culture of writing substantially.
Charting sites of mutual inspiration around the world, and dedicated to artistic practices of abstraction, the show reveals how 20th century artists established a new visual language by merging text and image, inspired by the earliest forms of mark-making and, particularly, calligraphy.
Organised in four themed sections, it will identify the timeline of abstraction as a new visual language established by artists in early 20th century.
By highlighting the cultural exchange taking place at that time, visitors will discover how abstract movements were inspired by a plethora of signs and symbols, philosophies and artistic techniques from cultures and societies far from European and American capitals.
Artists such as Klee, Masson, Kandinsky, Twombly, Krasner and Pollock sought a new universal language that enabled them to express their emotions in response to a rapidly changing society, breaking away from figurative conventions.
The show will also focus on how these same influences informed the practices of artists from the region – from Azzawi and Shemza, to Ghada Amer, Shirazeh Houshiary and Hatoum.
The first section of the show will focus on pictograms, symbolic figurative images that represented words and ideas in writing in ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Work presented will include a painting by Swiss-German artist Klee, who – inspired by his travels to Tunisia – created artwork that combined elements of images and letters stemming from his fascination with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
His work influenced artists such as Joaquín Torres-García from Spain, Iraqi artist Azzawi and Pakistani artist Shemza. This section will also include works from American artist Adolph Gottlieb, inspired by images from Native American art, and French artist Masson, who was moved by 17th century Indian figurative inscriptions and Arabic calligraphy.
In line with the history of writing, the second section will focus on signs, which by their very form, expresses universal ideas.
Works on view will include studies of signs by Russian artist Kandinsky, considered by many to be one of the inventors of abstract art.
As an act of resistance to the Western world ravaged by war, many artists turned to Japan and China for inspiration. The signs traced in works by French-Hungarian painter Judit Reigl and German-French painter Hans Hartung, echo symbols used by Chinese and Japanese calligraphers.
The show will in addition include works from French artists Georges Mathieu, who tried to develop a lyric and rapid gesture, and Julius Bissier, who was influenced by the Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Finally, Hatoum’s works strive to create a new alphabet of signs through found objects.
The third section will be devoted to lineaments, revealing how Western artists appropriated the energy of Eastern calligraphy in their brushstrokes, to produce free and fluid lines.
In opposition to Western artistic inclination, the Surrealist movement invented a drawing technique called Automatism, using automatic movements to express the subconscious.
It allowed them to artistically respond to a tumultuous interwar period between World War I and World War II. On display will be works by Surrealist Masson as well as works by Pollock, Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning, who were all influenced by Masson.
Visitors will be able to see Jean Dubuffet’s primitive creations, inspired by a combination of graffiti, rock paintings and children’s drawings. Also on show will be Twombly’s gestural drawings for curtains of the Opéra de Paris and Krasner’s works, which take their inspiration from Kufic script from the Iraqi City of Kufa, the birthplace of Arabic calligraphy.
The exhibition will conclude with a section showing how both Western and Eastern artists incorporated calligraphy into their practice, such as Spanish artist Joan Miró, who referenced how closely painting and poetry are linked in the East.
Following in his footsteps, the poets Brion Gysin, Henri Michaux and Christian Dotremont, pursued the same path by painting poetry, inspired by their trips to North Africa, China and Lapland, respectively.Henri Matisse’s studies for his illustrated book Jazz, which he called “arabesques” in a tribute to Arabic writing, are also included here. Viewers will also discover how regional artists, including
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