x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Five artists and new acquisitions for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

The museum hosts a three-day series of talks with five artists whose work has been chosen for a growing collection.

Feng Mengbo's Long March: Restart. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi / Feng Mengbo
Feng Mengbo's Long March: Restart. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi / Feng Mengbo

It is a 13-ft long oil painting rich in colour and texture that sits beside a section of a motorised conveyor belt. In 2006, Christie’s valued it as being worth almost US$1 million (Dh3.67m) and although it is not in town yet, Conveyor Belt will join the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi when it opens in 2017.

To mark the news of its acquisition, the American artist James Rosenquist and other seminal contemporary artists gathered in the capital for a series of talks to discuss the museum’s evolution.

Although Conveyor Belt, painted in 1964, has gained much international acclaim and been labelled a metaphor for the saturation of stimuli that pass by as if propelled on a conveyor belt, Rosenquist will not be drawn on the meaning he himself intended.

“What this painting is about is nothing; a bag full of nothing,” an animated Rosenquist said to a full auditorium on Saadiyat Island last Monday evening. “It is a cross--section of an automobile tyre with no air in it.” He went on to discuss the inspiration of artists in New York in the 1950s and 1960s that was a historic period of abstract expressionism, existentialism and, of course, pop art.

Naming friends and peers such as Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko, Rosenquist, who is now 87, related stories of his colourful life to the audience who had gathered for an open conversation with the artist and Susan Davidson, the senior curator of collections and exhibitions at the Guggenheim New York.

“I don’t paint for therapy. I don’t paint for fun. I only paint if I have a pressing or challenging question,” said Rosenquist – and he was very clear to encourage aspiring artists to find their niche. “It’s not about money. It’s about self-exploration unlike anybody else’s.”

On Tuesday, the Chinese artist Feng Mengbo, whose computer-based art installations have gained him popularity, unveiled Long March: Restart, an 18x8 metre interactive video game that features Chairman Mao as Super Mario being defeated by a Red Army soldier armed with Coca Cola cans.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has already acquired 42 paintings that form a storyboard of the game and, although it is only in place temporarily on Saadiyat Island, the installation represents a realisation of that original idea.

“I have been working on the idea for 14 years. The paintings are like the design and the draft and this is the result,” said Feng. The artist added that he was happy that audiences in the UAE would be experiencing his work.

“The last time I came to Abu Dhabi was in 2010 for the art fair and I didn’t really feel a strong interest towards art but now things are really changing.

“To be honest, in the beginning, I thought [bringing the Guggenheim and the Louvre to Abu Dhabi] was a political or a commercial strategy but now I realise the true focus is on art and culture and I am very happy to be part of it.”

The other artists joining Rosenquist and Feng in the three-day series of panel discussions were El Anatsui, Adel El-Siwi and Youssef Nabil.

El Anatsui is a Ghanaian sculptor whose piece Earth’s Skin is a wall hanging made from thousands of pieces of crushed aluminium with copper wire. Nabil and El-Siwi are both Egyptian artists; the first is well known for his photographic works and the latter for emotion-driven paintings. They formed the panel last Wednesday, the final day of talks.

By becoming part of the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, all five artists are earning themselves a place in the history books as influential contemporary talent and all seem extremely positive. “I think there will be a future here and a chance for everyone,” concludes Feng.

The Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority confirmed that further acquisitions for the Guggenheim will be revealed during Abu Dhabi Art in November.

aseaman@thenational.ae

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