Louvre Abu Dhabi’s first international exhibition of 2021, Abstraction and Calligraphy – Towards a Universal Language invites visitors to explore the dawn of modern abstraction through sign and symbol, tracing origins to Asian and Arabic calligraphy and charting sites of mutual inspiration around the world.
Curated by Didier Ottinger, assisted by Marie Sarré, the exhibition, which opens on February 17, marks a second major collaboration between the Centre Pompidou and Louvre Abu Dhabi. This international exhibition is sponsored by Montblanc, a Maison whose innovative craftsmanship continues to influence the culture of writing and will run till June 12.
Bringing together more than 80 masterworks on loan from 16 partner institutions, with six works from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s own permanent collection, the exhibition will showcase how 20th century abstract artists including Paul Klee, André Masson, Wassily Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock felt the need to establish a new universal, visual language that was inspired by calligraphy. The show will also focus on 20th and 21st century Arab artists – from Dia Azzawi and Anwar Jalal Shemza, to Ghada Amer, Shirazeh Houshiary, Mona Hatoum and others – for whom the letterform was a continuous source of inspiration, freeing writing from its purely linguistic function and investing it with new artistic value. The exhibition will also feature installations from two contemporary artists, eL Seed and Sanki King, demonstrating how artists today are still seeking new visual forms to respond to current societal changes.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, remarked: “I feel great pride and excitement in entering Louvre Abu Dhabi’s galleries for this first international exhibition of the year. Once again, the museum offers its audiences not only the highest quality of artworks but an innovative curatorial vision. The masterworks in Abstraction and Calligraphy, some on display in the region for the very first time, are exceptional for many reasons. Not only because they have been crafted by some of the world’s most celebrated artists, but because they tell stories of discovery and inspiration across time, cultures and geographies.
“Abu Dhabi is a fitting setting for such an exhibition, as the Emirate’s success proves that growth and prosperity come from cross-cultural collaboration, understanding, and openness. Art and culture inspire these in each of us, and Louvre Abu Dhabi continues to play a significant role in developing our city into a vibrant, creative global hub,” Al Mubarak continued. “This exhibition is a continuation of the important work DCT Abu Dhabi has been doing throughout the past year, where in spite of challenges faced due to the global pandemic, we have delivered innovative and ambitious new cultural initiatives alongside diverse, dynamic cultural programming targeting all segments of the Abu Dhabi community. The adaptability and agility we have demonstrated during this time has enabled the emirate’s cultural offering to constantly evolve to meet the needs of our audiences.”
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “We are emerging from the very difficult past year of 2020, and it is a pleasure to invite the great curator Didier Ottinger to explore the relationship between abstraction and calligraphy, two visual languages, intimately entwined. Louvre Abu Dhabi will offer audiences an exploration of a universal language through pictograms, signs, symbols, lines, and other traces of the hands of the artists. This second major collaboration with Centre Pompidou brings their abstract masterworks – of Cy Twombly, Lee Ufan, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Michaux, Juan Miró, Christian Dotremont, Jean Dubuffet, André Masson, and Nasser Al Salem – here to Abu Dhabi for the first time. This exhibition speaks to the strength of our partner network of museums, and the mutual trust we share in the interest of offering access and moments of discovery to our audiences. We are ready and waiting to welcome visitors back safely, offering this rare opportunity to see so many abstract masterpieces displayed side-by-side with the numerous global influences that shaped this visual language.”
Curator of the exhibition, Didier Ottinger, Deputy Director, Cultural Programming, MNAM-CC, commented: “Exchanges and dialogue characterise the project I developed for Louvre Abu Dhabi -- dialogues between spaces and times that are embraced by the Universal Museum; dialogue between images and letters, illustrated by the mutual fascination between calligraphy and image makers, and vice-versa; dialogue in the space between the artists of East and West, dialogues that bring together an ancient Egyptian stele and the ‘pictograms’ of a New York street artist—the shared dream of a universal language.”
Dr Souraya Noujaim, Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management Director at Louvre Abu Dhabi, added: “This exhibition opens the third cultural season of Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is devoted to ‘East–West’ exchanges and explores the remarkable avenues and voices that have characterised the creativity of both. The sources of abstraction that might be said to have dominated 20th-century art are found in the attention that many artists paid to the varied signs, calligraphies and ideograms of non-Western cultures. Beyond the limits of immediate sensory experience, in an environment where letters are present everywhere in declamation, calligraphy and graffiti, Asia and North Africa were intuitively experienced as an essential model. This almost mystical dimension of gesture and letter finds an echo in the Arab Hurufiyya movement, whose importance in the development of contemporary abstraction should not be underestimated. The exhibition, therefore, aims to bring together works from East and West, and to show what Western art has learned from different forms of calligraphy belonging to cultures and systems of writing and thought very foreign to it.”
The exhibition is organised in four sections, with the first focussing on pictograms, symbolic figurative images that represented ideas in ancient civilisations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt, and the way they inspired abstract artists. The second chapter explores signs, that in the history of writing, took over from pictograms, breaking writing’s attachment to imagery. The third section will be devoted to lineaments, revealing how Western artists incorporated the energy of Eastern calligraphy in their brushstrokes to produce free and fluid lines. Concluding the exhibition, calligraphy focuses on the ways artists and poets around the world – from Brion Gysin and Henri Michaux to Shakir Hassan Al Said and Sliman Mansour – incorporated calligraphic signs in their practice.
To facilitate onsite engagement with the exhibition, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Education team has developed a digital learning resource, which guides young visitors and their families through the exhibition space and its artworks. An animated character named Qalam will help visitors explore the designated trail and engage young visitors with selected artworks and artists. These interactions aim to inspire creative expression and help children learn about the history of pictograms, alphabets, and abstraction. Small groups can book a 45-minute Express Tour to explore the exhibition with a Museum Educator. - TradeArabia News Service