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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Artworks by Christian Bonnefoi now at the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation in Dubai

The Frenchman is known for his collage-style works that encourage viewers to take a much closer look at art.
Double Take, an exhibition currently on at the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation on Alserkal Avenue, includes pieces by French artist Christian Bonnefoi’s Babel and Eureka series. Musthafa Aboobacker / Jean-Paul Najar Foundation
Double Take, an exhibition currently on at the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation on Alserkal Avenue, includes pieces by French artist Christian Bonnefoi’s Babel and Eureka series. Musthafa Aboobacker / Jean-Paul Najar Foundation

Amid the plethora of contemporary art on show in the galleries on Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue sits a private art museum, showcasing the impressive collection of the late Jean-Paul Najar.

Najar, whose parents were Egyptian and Colombian, was born in Buenos Aires, and spent most of his life in Paris gathering work by American artists.

His collection, of abstract and conceptual works from the 1960s to the present day, is considered to be one of the world’s most important and, about a year ago, it found its new home in Dubai. Najar’s daughter, Deborah, has been living in the city since 2004 and wanted to showcase her father’s collection in a proper museum setting.

“[I was] blown away by how quickly the art scene has grown to become a truly international platform for art,” she says. “So, when Alserkal Avenue ­announced the new expansion, we thought bringing a western art collection and opening a museum in their already buoyant artistic community would make a lot of sense – and so did they.”

Now Najar runs the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, which rotates its programme between solo shows of European and American artists, as well shows and group shows with robust educational initiatives.

“We always try to invite our artists to the UAE for a residency in the run-up to their show,” says Najar. “We also understand that an institutional show is always very important for an artist, so we try to support and accompany their careers at the most valuable time.”

Currently, the space is dedicated to the work of prominent French artist Christian Bonnefoi, whom Najar credits as being an “essential artist and one whose practice transcends beauty and aesthetics”.

Bonnefoi is originally a professor in semiology, but his first encounter with collage art changed his life – he sold his first work to Jean-Paul Najar.

Featured in this show is a selection of works from 1974 to 1981, a period during which Bonnefoi created seminal works leading to all his subsequent paintings.

Bonnefoi’s principal interest is in the materiality of surfaces. His art poses a question: is it the surface that defines the work of art – or is the essence behind the surface, or beyond what is initially visible, more important?

Bonnefoi began his practice using a very light and thin cotton called tarlatan, with a large, open weave that gives it a transparent quality. In the pieces on display in Dubai, he painted in geometrically shaped sections – some on the front and some on the reverse of the material, as well as leaving some sections unpainted. He stretched the cotton over metal frames, and from afar the artworks look like minimalist geometric paintings. Up close, the different textures of paint and material make the viewer question which is the front and which is the back.

“The form is the result of my concept, but also the result of movement, and it is movement with which I was most interested,” says Bonnefoi. “Using different elements and planes means that although the end result is a static object, inside the possibilities are always open. There is the presence of movement without the actuality of it, and I am interested in this paradox.”

The exhibition is called Double Take, a title that hints at this fascination with dimensions and also the difference between what the eye sees at first glance and when we look deeper. “When you look at a painting, it is really like a succession of viewings, where you always see something new,” Bonnefoi adds. “Little by little, the painting reveals itself.”

The oldest piece in the show is a small study from 1974, which shows Bonnefoi beginning to experiment with the collage style. There are also key pieces from his Babel and Eureka series, which continue his inquiry into surface and form.

• Christian Bonnefoi’s works are on display at the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation in Dubai until February 28; www.jpnajarfoundation.com

aseaman@thenational.ae