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All at see
by Muhammad Yusuf July 12, 2018
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NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, New York University Abu Dhabi’s academic museum will open its fall exhibition titled ‘Ways of Seeing’ on Sept. 3. The international group exhibition is curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, founders of the multi-disciplinary curatorial platform ‘Art Reoriented’, and co-chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation.

The exhibition is based on John Berger’s seminal 1972 text on visual culture, ‘Ways of Seeing’, in which he shifted the emphasis of art criticism away from the professional art-expert to relocate it for the grasp of a layperson.

In taking its cue from Berger’s argument, it invites the viewer to actively engage with the artwork, and to explore the ways by which artists assign forms and concepts that seem familiar, with restructured appearances and meanings.

‘Ways of Seeing’ first opened at ARTER – Space for Art in Istanbul last summer. The curators then reconfigured the exhibition for its second venue, the Boghossian Foundation – Villa Empain in Brussels last winter, bringing a number of new artists and artworks.

The third iteration of the exhibition premieres in Abu Dhabi, and has been adapted to include new works by Andreas Gursky, Mona Hatoum, Lateefa bint Maktoum, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Hassan Sharif, Cindy Sherman and Thomans Struth, among others. Bringing together 26 artists and artist collectives with 41 works, it spans a variety of media from painting, sculpture, and photography to sound, film and installation. In addition, historical artworks and objects too are present in the form of contemporary displays.  Through these works, the curators present various strategies that artists employ to re-configure our perception as viewers, of the world around us.

Several artists in the exhibition such as James Turrell, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Fred Sandback, blur the boundaries between the artwork and the space in which it is displayed. Others such as James Webb, Vik Muniz and Gustav Metzger, offer the viewer new ways of accessing it.

A few, like Shana Moulton, James Casebere and Andreas Gursky, push the technical and formal possibilities of their genre. It is hoped that works by Salvador Dali, Mona Hatoum, Alicja Kwade or Hassan Sharif, will change our perception of familiar objects in the way their functions are altered.

Finally, images of people engaged in the act of looking, in works by Thomas Struth and Lateefa bint Maktoum, make us reflect on the way in which narratives are constructed through how and what we see.

Bardaouil comments that “artists use form and technique to express something about themselves and the world. Each of the artworks on display beckons us to take a second look, on which the contours of a new reality begin to emerge”.

Fellrath said that “we encourage viewers to be active rather than passive in the way they look at the works in this exhibition. There is no one ‘correct’ way to look at art, and our wish is that our audiences should both be aware of and embrace their individual reactions and points of view, as these are borne of unique personal experiences”.

Maya Allison, Founding Director and Chief Curator of NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery said: “This remarkable exhibition brings together an incredible roster of world-class artists. The curators depart from traditional exhibition narratives and put the artworks into dialogue in a unique way that draws out how these artworks invite the viewer to see them”.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated, bilingual English/Arabic catalogue, published by NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, and edited by Bardaouil and Fellrath, with contributions by Mary Acton, Bardaouil, Fellrath and Stephanie Moser.

Other artists featured in ‘Ways of Seeing’ include Ghada Amer, Frédéric Borgella, David Claerbout, Paul and Marlene Kos, Grayson Perry, Markus Schinwald, Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger, John Speed and Kim Tschang-Yeul.

‘Ways of Seeing’ will be accompanied by a programme of public events, including talks, workshops and family-friendly activities. Further details will be announced closer to the time of the inaugural.

How John Berger sees it

The uniqueness of every painting was once part of the uniqueness of the place where it resided. Sometimes the painting was transportable. But it could never be seen in two places at the same time. When the camera reproduces a painting, it destroys the uniqueness of its image.

As a result, its meaning changes. Or, more exactly, its meaning multiplies and fragments into many meanings. This is vividly illustrated by what happens when a painting is shown on a television screen.

The painting enters each viewer’s house.There it is surrounded by his wallpaper, his furniture, his mementoes. It enters the atmosphere of his family. It becomes their talking point, it lends its meaning to their meaning.

At the same time it enters a million other houses and, in each of them, is seen in a different context, Because of the camera, the painting now travels to the spectator rather than the spectator to the painting. In its travels, its meaning is diversified.

- From ‘Ways of Seeing’.

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