Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s

Organized by the Grey Art Gallery. On view at the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College

February 1–June 6, 2021

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s
at the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College

From May 12 until June 13, 2021, Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College is open to the public by appointment only. Book an appointment to see Taking Shape at the Mcullen. Visit the museum’s Events page for virtual programs that you can join from home, and watch a virtual walkthrough of the exhibition here.

After its debut at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery in winter 2020, Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s has traveled to the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College.

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s explores mid-twentieth-century abstract art from North Africa, West Asia, and the Arab diaspora—a vast geographic expanse that encompasses diverse cultures, ethnicities, languages, and religions. Comprising nearly ninety works by artists from countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the exhibition is drawn from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation based in Sharjah, UAE. The paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints on view reflect the wide range of nonfigurative art practices that flourished in the Arab world over four decades.

Decolonization, the rise and fall of Arab nationalisms, socialism, rapid industrialization, wars and mass migrations, and the oil boom transformed the region during this period. With rising opposition to Western political and military involvement, many artists, striving to make art relevant to their own locales, adopted critical viewpoints. New opportunities for international travel and the advent of circulating exhibitions sparked cultural educational exchanges that exposed them to multiple modernisms—including various modes of abstraction—and led them to consider their roles within an international context.

The featured artists—a varied group of Arab, Amazigh (Berber), Armenian, Circassian, Jewish, Persian, and Turkish descent—sought to localize and recontextualize existing twentieth-century modernisms, some forming groups to address urgent issues. Moving away from figuration, they mined the expressive capacities of line, color, and texture. Inspired by Arabia calligraphy, geometry and mathematics, Islamic decorative patterns, and spiritual practices, they expanded abstraction’s vocabulary—thereby complicating its genealogies of origin and altering the viewer’s understanding of nonobjective art.

At its heart, Taking Shape raises a fundamental question: How do we study abstraction across different contexts, and what modes of analysis do we use? Examining critically the history and historiography of mid-twentieth-century abstraction, the exhibition rethinks art historical canons and expands discourses around global modernisms.

Learn more about the McMullen’s presentation of Taking Shape here.

Starts Monday, Feb 01, 2021
Ends Sunday, Jun 06, 2021
Curator Lynn Gumpert, Suheyla Takesh
Organized by Grey Art Gallery, NYU
Travel Grey Art Gallery, New York University: Jan. 14–March 13, 2020; McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College: Feb. 1–June 6, 2021; Tampa Museum of Art: Sept. 30, 2021–Jan. 16, 2022; Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University: Feb. 10–June 12, 2022; Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University: Sept. 22—Dec. 4, 2022

Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s is organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, and curated by Suheyla Takesh and Lynn Gumpert. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Barjeel Art Foundation. Additional generous support is provided by the Charina Endowment Fund; the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust; the Grey’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council, and Friends; and the Abby Weed Grey Trust. At the McMullen, the exhibition has been underwritten by Boston College with major funding from the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.


Exhibition Types: Global Middle Eastern Art Traveling