As the Louvre Abu Dhabi shows off its latest acquisitions in Birth of a Museum, currently on exhibition at Saadiyat Island, the city's emerging cultural district is also turning its attention to another big name museum due to be erected on its shores.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is steadily revealing artworks that its curatorial teams have been acquiring ahead of the museum's opening in 2017. Early next month, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (ADTCA) brings five major contemporary artists to the capital, all who have works in the new collection, in a bid to introduce the public to the artistic practices of this diverse group.
El Anatsui, Adel El-Siwi, Youssef Nabil, Feng Mengbo and James Rosenquist will be in Abu Dhabi May 6-8 as part of the museum's Talking Art Series of discussions and workshops.
"It's exciting to give these artists the opportunity to meet each other and have a coming together of curators, artists and the people of Abu Dhabi," says Tairone Bastien, head of public programmes at ADTCA. "That's essentially what this museum is going to offer, an opportunity for a contemporary art conversation to take place on Saadiyat Island."
The forthcoming museum is being developed in collaboration with the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, which has world-renowned collections in New York, Bilbao and Venice. Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of ADTCA, says that the UAE museum will offer a "transnational perspective on art history", and the 18 acquisitions revealed so far demonstrate a stridently international bent, including works by Subodh Gupta, the Jameel Prize-winner Rachid Koraïchi and the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei.
The Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui's Earth's Skin (2009) is a highlight of the latest newcomers to the collection. Anatsui works with teams of assistants who laboriously link together thousands of pieces of crushed aluminium with copper wire to create vast wall hangings. The final work's surface appears to undulate with every glance of light, and Earth's Skin is an impressive 10-metre high creation, blemished with earthen reds. In their draped form, Anatsui's sculptures evoke the sense of a loosened, uninhibited internal landscape.
Another boon for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's curatorial team is the acquisition of a 1964 installation by James Rosenquist, one of the leading protagonists in America's pop art movement, which combines a large and keenly pop canvas with a motorised conveyor belt.
While the collected works won't be physically present at Manarat Al Saadiyat during the talks - projected images of them will be used to illustrate discussions - Bastien says that a special interactive work by Feng Mengbo will be installed on-site during the series. Long March: Restart reimagines the Chinese Red Army's Long March - an 8,000-kilometre military retreat that became a national clarion call for Mao's communist takeover - as a walk-in, interactive video game.
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has already acquired a series of 42 paintings by Feng Mengbo, titled Game Over Long March, in which this defining era in China's modern history becomes a side-scrolling, 8-bit video game. Brought to life in Long March: Restart, the two-screen installation responds to the movements of the viewer as a pixelated Red Guard soldier treks across a nightmarish landscape where the history of video games melds with China's own history. Think Super Mario Brothers on the steps of the Forbidden City.
"It's interesting to see how artists - through painting, sculpture, photography and video games - think about their own history and come to terms with it, be that to a more objective or subjective position," says Bastien. He explains that History, Memory, Narrative is one of three curatorial thrusts that will underpin the series' conversations. "These themes are some of the guiding principles and thematics that were identified as anchors in collection building."
Artists from around the Middle East do find significant representation in this collection, such as Egyptian-Armenian artist Chant Avedissian and Youssef Nabil's distinctive hand-coloured photographs. More acquisitions will be revealed during Abu Dhabi Art in November.
"It's important for us to show that artists from the Middle East are in conversation with artists from, say, China or West Africa," says Bastien. There's a dialogue of ideas present across these works, even if they are separated by generations or geography."
Talking Art Series
All talks and workshops take place at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Registration is now open and it is advisable to book ahead. Call 02 657 5800 or visit www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae
• May 6, 6pm Conversation with James Rosenquist
• May 7, 6pm Conversations with El Anatsui and Feng Mengbo
• May 8, 6pm Conversations with Adel El-Siwi and Youssef Nabil
• May 11, 10am Workshop for children ages 5-10, looking at the technique and art making process of Chant Avedissian
12pm Workshop for children ages 11-15, based around the practice of James Rosenquist. 2.30pm Workshop for adults and teenagers ages 16 years and above, examining the styles of Avedissian and Rosenquist, with view to creating your own work
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