Taking Shape

Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s

January 14–April 4, 2020

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s
January 14–April 4, 2020

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From the 1950s, significant changes swept through the Arab world – the disintegration of colonial powers, industrialisation, war and the mass exodus of people. In this period until the 1980s, various modes of abstract art also began to spring up in the region. The artistic movements produced in these decades is the focus of the exhibition Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s to 1980s, which opens on January 14, 2020 at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery in Manhattan.

In New York City this year, art made by Arab artists or focusing on themes about the Arab world will be a firm part of the art season’s roster of gallery shows and museum exhibitions. The number of shows, spanning both commercial and institutional spaces, points to a shift toward increased curiosity about Arab art—a field of modern and contemporary visual arts that has been largely unexplored and somewhat misunderstood by both galleries and collectors, and by academics who recognize art criticism’s oversight of the field.

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s explores the development of abstraction in the Arab world via paintings, sculpture, and works on paper dating from the 1950s through the 1980s. By looking critically at the history and historiography of mid-20th century abstraction, the exhibition considers art from North Africa and West Asia as integral to the discourse on global modernism. At its heart, the project raises a fundamental art historical question: How do we study abstraction across different contexts and what models of analysis do we use?

Al Qassemi runs the Barjeel Art Foundation, a major collection of modern Arab artworks, many of which are semi-permanently installed in the Sharjah Art Museum in an exhibition A Century in Flux: Highlights from the Barjeel Collection. The foundation also has its works on tour. It opens a show in January at New York University’s exhibition space the Grey Art Gallery in Manhattan, called Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s to 1980s.