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On the heels of the exhibition “Modernisms: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from NYU’s Abby Weed Grey Collection,” which showcased works from the 1960s and ’70s, Grey Art Gallery’s first presentation of the year further widened the lens on 20th-century art from the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa. “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s,” curated by Suheyla Takesh and Lynn Gumpert, represented a joint effort with the Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation to consider modernist movements from the region and the diaspora.

Modern Arab art is having a moment; there is no question about it. In the past decade there have been large exhibitions of Arab artists at both the Centre Pompidou and Tate Modern, and a series of others across the world. Now, ‘Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s’, which starts at the Grey Art Gallery in New York and will spend more than a year touring East Coast and Midwestern universities in America, brings together some of the region’s finest modern artists. It is a real hit parade of work – some of it truly wonderful – from almost every country in the Arab world; Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Palestine are particularly well represented.

One could not think of a more serendipitous backdrop — an acclaimed park, a cool neighbourhood and a cosmopolitan academic institution — for the exhibition billed ‘Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab world, 1950s-1980s’, slated to run from January 14 to April 4. On display is a collection of 90 works — all drawn from the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, UAE — featuring sundry artists from most countries in the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Taking Shape was conceived as a visual journey into the creative minds of some of the Arab world's most prominent artists and their approaches to non-representational art. In her essay in the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, curator Suleya Takesh quotes Algerian painter Mohammed Khadda’s compelling observations about the potential of abstraction and his argument in favor of the freedom inherent to the movement: "The history of painting had been one of successive revolutions and continuous liberation that eventually culminated in the emergence of abstraction, allowing painting to become an art unto itself, no longer reliant on a physical subject. There was no longer a horizon, but infinity."

March 27, 2020—We are profoundly sad to announce that the upcoming exhibition, Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography, is now cancelled. Read the full announcement from Lynn Gumpert, Director of the Grey Art Gallery, here.   EXHIBITION REDISCOVERS RADICAL IMAGES FROM EARLY 20TH-CENTURY FEMALE PHOTOGRAPHER Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography April 21–July 11, […]

Positing the question as to why abstraction, why then, why now, giving explanations as to its purpose, its meaning, looking for reasons, interpretations, definitions, does make for an engaging exhibition, but I often wonder if the viewer actually catches what’s rooted in the subtle, invisible space that the artist has opened for dialogue, for a moment to connect, to shift one’s thinking, to expand, to recognize other forms of possibilities.

Over the past decade, identity has dominated both political and cultural discourse in the US. With the new decade at a nascent stage, a former Georgetown instructor looks to use visual art to expand the scope of the identitarian dialogue, starting at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery with “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s.” With its diverse array of pioneers on display, and the various schools of abstract art it promotes, the exhibition is an excellent window into the world of Arab art for connoisseurs and diletantes alike.