Taking as its inspiration the title of a seminal essay by American artist Marcia Hafif —whose work is on show as part of The Monochrome Revisited at Jean-Paul Najar Foundation—this curated trail explores a selection of new exhibitions in the contemporary art galleries in Alserkal Avenue while considering the fundamental elements of art: in particular, light, space, and texture.
“It was necessary to turn inward to the means of art, the materials and techniques with which art is made. Artists still interested in painting began an analysis – or destruction – of painting, turning to the basic question of what painting is,” wrote Hafif in Beginning Again in 1978.
Identifying the building blocks of art appreciation, what follows will be an investigation of the genres of art, why artists chose to work specifically in abstraction, in still life, landscape or portraiture and how subject matter and narratives appear in artworks in unexpected ways. We look to artists that share a fascination with returning to the beginning, using fresh approaches, and presenting new ways of looking at the world.
Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, The Monochrome Revisited
(Until 28 February 2019)
A monochrome is a painting or drawing in a single hue. This exhibition begins with an examination of an historically significant artwork which is often celebrated as the first abstract painting: Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915). Recent investigation has discovered a text beneath the surface of the canvas connecting the work to the poetry of Paul Bilhaud or musical scores of John Cage, in particular the notion of ‘blackness’.
To quote Marcia Hafif’s text again: “Painting can be understood on at least four different levels. First, the painting exists physically, as an object in the world that can be responded to directly - it is tactile, visual, retinal. Secondly, technical factors exist in the making of the painting, inherent qualities of material determine method, formal aspects of the work can be examined and understood, and therefore must stand up to certain criteria. Thirdly, a painting exists as an historical statement; it is made at a particular time and represents the artist's view of the state of painting at that time, whether consciously or not. Finally, the painting represents a form of thought, indirectly reflecting the world-view of the artist, and the time, and transmitting philosophical and spiritual experiences."
Use this method of looking at art when studying Hafif’s paintings, here displayed alongside her contemporaries James Bishop, Susanna Tanger, Ralph Humphrey, Dale Henry, and Douglas Sanderson. They were all working in New York in the 1960s and 1970s at a time when art critics had declared the death of painting. Do their paintings defend the very act of painting?
Upstairs, find contemporary takes on the monochrome by artists such as Hasan Sharif who, in his objects, often focused on one particular pigment—here Cadmium Yellow, and his fellow UAE artist Mohammed Kazem’s scratches on paper in Sound of Angles. David Bachelor has travelled across the world since 1997 photographing rectangular white-void planes for the work Monochrome Archive: Portrait + Landscape, an interesting take on the choices of genres of art artists chose. As is Alfredo Jaar’s May 1, 2011: tackling the genre of historical paintings in a photograph of the White House Situation Room, and the monochrome by juxtaposing the photograph and its neighbouring caption of those represented with a white screen and framed piece of paper. Is there symmetry in this composition?
Showcase Gallery, Simon Back, Layered Verses
(Until 12 December 2018)
Zimbabwean artist Simon Back brings together gestures, shapes and colours in his canvases to create balanced compositions, which refer to objects around him or ideas that inspire him. Working on all paintings in the series at once, they play off one another and create a unified vision of his world. What objects can you make out in this works? Do you think they could be labelled as still life paintings, landscapes or pure abstraction?
Carbon 12, Anahita Razmi, Take Me To Your Leader
(Until 5 January 2018)
This is the one show which you will visit on this trail that includes new media. Anahita Razmi’s video, print and sculptural works start with the idea of ‘what are the first impressions an alien landing on earth would experience?’. Spot the power plays at work and the notions of ‘leader’ in our political and digital worlds – from 16th century jinbaori’s from Japan in REIGN COATS, to the highs and lows in the story lines of TV soap operas in New Eastenders.
Leila Heller Gallery, Nancy Lorenz, Silver Moon,
(Until 7 January 2019)
The inspiration from Japan continues here – where US-based artist Nancy Lorenz uses luxurious materials such as mother-of-pearl, gold, and silver to create vast artworks of mesmerising beauty and surface decoration. Her screens particularly reveal the influence of East Asia in her choice of display, all works are seemingly abstract but nod to the traditions of storytelling through sequences of images, such as those seen in Edo Period silkscreens.
Custot Gallery Dubai, Fernando Botero, A Still Life Retrospective
(Until 10 February 2019)
The first-ever gathering of still life paintings, drawings and watercolours by Colombian artist Fernando Botero created between 1980 and 2018, the exhibition is a wonderful introduction to the genre through the use of symbolic subject matter such as flowers, fruit, and musical instruments. Constantly playing with notions of scale, volume and perspective, Botero also creates surreal, unresolved and intriguing scenes of everyday moments.
Green Art Gallery, Ana Mazzei, Antechamber
(Until 5 January 2019)
When considering light take a look at the shadows Ana Mazzei produces in her arrangements. The notion of spectacle, theatrical expression and narrative relationships between objects is central here. These objects take on a significant role when seen together, representing the artist’s particular vocabulary, or relate to the political situation in her native Brazil. Mazzei doesn’t want to limit herself to one medium but uses a range of outlets to display her often complex ideas instead: spot her approach to painting through hanging her canvases as you would curtains on a rail, or her sculpture style by creating animal forms from clay.
The Third Line, Huda Lufti, Still (Gallery 2)
(Until 27 December 2018)
Collage and assemblage of recycled materials have always been important elements in the works of Huda Lufti. These ‘paper sculptures’ bring in calligraphic forms as well as suggestions of puzzles and the relationship between different shapes and textures in a re-thinking of the materials she selects. The character of her native Cairo is an important influence. What materials has she used in the four sculptures on display? They are crucial to her process; find the sketchbook and rolls of flax thread.
The Third Line, Ala Ebtekar, Safina (Gallery 1)
(Until 27 December 2018)
Discovering a relationship between objects and the wider universe has always preoccupied Ala Ebtekar. Here he focuses on the Persian manuscript safina, a selection of historical documents where ideas and creative expressions about the world have been recorded for decades - his interventions in them are displayed on a structure, which could be a spaceship (safina is the Arabic term for vessel).
Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Hoda Tawakol, When the Dates Turn Red
(Until 3 January 2019)
Life can be cyclical, repeating itself and beginning again. Hoda Tawakol’s Dubai debut reflects on the cycles of nature through palm trees and falconry training, working with coloured fabrics to create eye-catching compositions that question the traditionally feminine act of textile art. Looking at the central work Jungle, observe how the rich textures create different shades of green—this is a very unique way of working in collage. Look too at her exquisitely cut works on paper, how do you think she creates them? Can you see two sides of the paper?
Ayyam Gallery, Thaier Helal, Beneath the Rubble
(Until 28 December, 2018)
Living in the UAE whilst the Syrian conflict rages has affected Thaier Helal’s practice. Here, his mixed-media works echo the walls and barriers built up as his home country attempts to begin again after the conflict—his use of white a sign of possible peace and resolution.
Lawrie Shabibi, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Impossible Ordinary
(Until 9 January, 2019)
Nadia Kaabi-Linke’s practice looks afresh at daily elements of our human existence, which more often than not we ignore and do not consider significant: the tools we use daily in our beauty regimens, the graffiti we walk past every day, the pictures our children create. By stopping and assessing them, reworking and manipulating them into something new, the artist shows that we can learn more about the history of the human race and move forward with our eyes fully open.