Abstract works of art on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Abstraction and Calligraphy — Towards a Universal Language, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s first international exhibition of 2021 (Feb. 17 – June 12), invites visitors to explore the dawn of modern abstraction through sign and symbol, traces its origins to Asian and Arabic calligraphy and charts sites of mutual inspiration and art and cultural exchange around the world.
Curated by Didier Ottinger, assisted by Marie Sarré and sponsored by Montblanc, a maison whose innovative craftsmanship continues to influence the culture of writing, the exhibition marks a second major collaboration between the Centre Pompidou and Louvre Abu Dhabi.
It brings together more than eighty masterworks on loan from sixteen partner institutions, with six works from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection. The exhibition showcases how 20th century abstract artists such as Paul Klee, André Masson, Wassily Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, felt the need to establish a new universal visual language that was inspired by calligraphy.
It also focuses on 20th and 21st century Arab artists — from Dia Azzawi and Anwar Jalal Shemza, to Ghada Amer, Shirazeh Houshiary, Mona Hatoum and others — for whom the letterform was a continuous source of inspiration, freeing writing from its purely linguistic function and investing it with new artistic value.
The show also features installations from two contemporary artists, eL Seed and Sanki King, and their search for new visual forms to respond to societal changes.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi, said: “Abu Dhabi is a fitting setting for such an exhibition, as the Emirate’s success proves that growth and prosperity come from cross-cultural collaboration, understanding, and openness”.
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi will offer audiences an exploration of a universal language through pictograms, signs, symbols, lines, and other traces of the hands of the artists. (It) brings the abstract masterworks of Cy Twombly, Lee Ufan, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Michaux, Juan Miró, Christian Dotremont, Jean Dubuffet, André Masson and Nasser Al Salem – here to Abu Dhabi for the first time”.
Exhibition curator Ottinger, Deputy Director, Cultural Programming, MNAM-CC (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou), said that “exchanges and dialogue characterise the project I developed for Louvre Abu Dhabi — dialogues between spaces and times that are embraced by the Universal Museum; dialogue between images and letters, illustrated by the mutual fascination between calligraphy and image makers, and vice-versa; dialogue in the space between the artists of East and West, dialogues that bring together an ancient Egyptian stele and the ‘pictograms’ of a New York street artist — the shared dream of a universal language.”
Dr Souraya Noujaim, Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management Director at Louvre Abu Dhabi, commented: “The exhibition aims to bring together works from East and West, and to show what Western art has learned from different forms of calligraphy belonging to cultures and systems of writing and thought very foreign to it.”
To facilitate onsite engagement with the exhibition, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Education team has developed a digital learning resource, which guides young visitors and their families through the exhibition space and its artworks. An animated character named Qalam helps visitors explore the designated trail and engage young visitors with selected artworks and artists.
A detailed catalogue also accompanies the exhibition, available in English, Arabic and French. It serves as an in-depth exploration of the themes, movements and high points of the show.
The catalogue includes a preface by Dr Noujaim with essays by the late Béatrice André-Salvini (French archaeologist and specialist in ancient Mesopotamia, to whom the publication is dedicated), Ottinger and Alice Querin, Senior Collections and Database Officer at Louvre Abu Dhabi, on topics from the earliest forms of writing to the dialogue between East and West, through pictograms and calligraphy, and the Hurufiyya movement.
In the cultural programme, Ottinger gives a talk on how calligraphy travelled across borders, the evolution of symbols to the formation of language, the music and sounds behind drawn lines, the meditative and spiritual practice behind the word, and an exploration of calligraphy and abstraction, from cave painting to street art.
Emirati artist and calligrapher Mohamed Mandi takes the audience through a live calligraphy demonstration and speaks about his practice and traces the history of calligraphy.
A pop-up performance featuring musicians from Berklee Abu Dhabi will go live on Louvre Abu Dhabi’s YouTube channel on Mar. 24. Taking place under the museum’s famed dome, it will be a celebration of the mutual influence of contemporary artists and avant-garde composers of the 20th century.
Three short film screenings will be shown on a loop at Louvre Abu Dhabi’s auditorium (Mar. 31 – Apr. 2). The award-winning films Virtuos Virtuell by German film director Thomas Stellmach and artist Maja Oschmann and Wonder by Japanese animator Mirai Mizue, will allow visitors to experience the relationship between abstract form and music.
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