Please note that the McMullen Museum of Art reopens to the Boston College community by appointment on February 1, 2021 and remains temporarily closed to the public. 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.