By Lori Waxman
“Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s” at the Block Museum offers so much more than what its subtitle describes. Anyone who loves, studies or makes nonrepresentational paintings ought to see this traveling exhibition, and not just for the sheer joy of a gorgeous show full of surprises. It is the nature of those surprises that renders “Taking Shape” vital viewing: new artists, new forms, new arguments, new histories. New to me at least, and maybe new to you if, like me, your understanding of modern art history is based primarily on the narrative told by American and European scholars and museums. In that tale, abstract art was invented in the early 20th century by Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, and nearly all modern art evolved from that point onward. Cue Picasso and Braque, Pollock and de Kooning, Rothko and Still, Judd and Turrell. But that’s neither the whole story nor the most interesting story, and it never really was.