x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Christo launches art award in Abu Dhabi

The Bulgarian-born artist is in Abu Dhabi to launch the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, aimed at nurturing a sense of dramatic creativity among the UAE's students.

Christo with Mohammed bin Azzan Al Mazrouei, the director general of the Western Region Development Council. Delores Johnson / The National
Christo with Mohammed bin Azzan Al Mazrouei, the director general of the Western Region Development Council. Delores Johnson / The National

His previous works have included encasing Berlin’s Reichstag building in fabric and festooning New York’s Central Park with thousands of giant, orange gates.

Now the legendary Christo is hoping to nurture a similar sense of dramatic creativity among the UAE’s students.

At a press conference yesterday at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi, the 77-year-old Bulgarian-born artist launched the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award.

Named after himself and his wife and artistic collaborator, who died in 2009, it is open to anyone currently in tertiary education, regardless of the subject they’re studying, and also to those who have graduated within the past five years.

The winner, who will be chosen by a panel of experts that doesn’t include Christo, will be granted a US$5,000 (Dh18,365) prize to allow them to realise their project.

While artworks of all forms of media are eligible for entry, a decisive criterion will be how the entrants propose to exhibit their work. The judges will favour those who eschew the conventional “white cube” gallery space and devise atypical ways for their pieces to be displayed.

Speaking at the press conference, Christo explained why he agreed to lend his name to the prize, which is also backed by NYU Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts -Foundation.

“Abu Dhabi’s art and culture programme is very important – creating beautiful art is the mark of a great civilisation,” he said. “We hope this annual award will encourage and support a generation.

“I am proud to be associated with this award that promotes and supports art and creativity in the UAE. I have been coming to Abu Dhabi for more than 30 years and this award is further evidence of Abu Dhabi’s commitment to the arts.”

As well as promoting this award, Christo has a wearying schedule on his latest sojourn to the UAE.

He will be presenting a public lecture at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi tonight. Then, on Friday, he will be the guest of honour at the only screening of Nomad of Art, a short documentary about his and Jeanne-Claude’s artworks, and The Gates, a 2007 film about their project in New York, showing as part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Then, he will be touring the Western Region of Abu Dhabi to meet some elders and young people, as well as scouting out potential sites for his proposed installation, The Mastaba.

The 150-metre-high sculpture, built from hundreds of thousands of  multicoloured oil barrels, was first proposed in 1977. Since then it  has languished on the drawing board as bureaucratic hurdles have postponed the project.

So possibly, as well as helping to inspire a new crop of artists, his continued presence in the UAE could allow this towering monolith to finally be realised.

For more information about the award, visit www.nyuad.nyu.edu or www.admaf.org

hberger@thenational.ae

This story has been changed from the initial version to reflect that while some may associate Christo's vision for the art installation, The Mastaba, with the petrochemical industry, the artist himself does not. A reference to funding issues was also removed.