By John Dorfman
The emirate of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, has made itself a major player in the burgeoning Gulf States contemporary-art scene, along with neighboring Dubai and Doha, Qatar. The Sharjah Biennial attracts artists, dealers, collectors, and curators from all over the world, while the Sharjah Art Museum presents an important collection of Middle Eastern modern and contemporary art. The Barjeel Art Foundation is a more personal project, comprising the collection of Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a member of the ruling family. Formerly housed in its own building, the Barjeel now shows some of its holdings within the Sharjah Art Museum, as well as sending works abroad on loan. Currently, the Grey Art Gallery at New York University is the beneficiary of the Al Qassemi largesse—as is the American public, which gets a chance to experience a little-known but fascinating chapter in the history of modernist abstraction. “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World: 1950s–1980s” presents nearly 90 works by artists from countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the U.A.E., examining them in various contexts, such as decolonialization and regional politics, issues of identity and authenticity, and the history of abstract art. Curated and organized by Suheyla Takesh, Curator at the Barjeel Art Foundation, and Lynn Gumpert, Director of the Grey Art Gallery, the exhibition will be on view through April 4.