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National identity, international understanding
by Muhammad Yusuf January 03, 2018
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Louvre Abu Dhabi has invited renowned contemporary artists to create site-specific installations, inspired by the museum’s ethos, architecture and collections, as part of an ongoing commissions programme.

On view now are the first commissions by Jenny Holzer and by Giuseppe Penone. Their monumental installations are being displayed under the museum’s dome in open air.

Holzer and Penone have worked closely with Louvre Abu Dhabi’s team and master architect Jean Nouvel to develop sculptures and installations that integrate into the architecture and reflect the universal stories of the museum.

Holzer’s textual installations - titled ‘For Louvre Abu Dhabi’ - inscribe the museum’s celebration of cross-cultural dialogue into the very walls of the museum.

She has selected three important historic texts from three distinct world traditions, and reinterpreted key passages in immense scale as engravings on the museum’s walls.

The content and aesthetics of the three texts are, individually and collectively, unusually well-suited to Louvre Abu Dhabi’s declared “universal vision”. Though they originate from different civilisations in different parts of the world, they each reveal an author grappling with essential truths about humanity and reflect on the origins of civilisation, the recording of history and the dynamics of cross-cultural exchange.

The oldest of the three texts is a Mesopotamian clay tablet which recounts a creation myth imagined almost 4,000 years ago, and tells the story of the creation of humans from blood and clay. Bilingual in Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform scripts, it is an early example of the art of translation, which can be traced back to the birth of writing in Mesopotamia. Excavated from the ancient city of Assur in present-day Iraq, the clay tablet is part of the Vorderasiatisches Museum collection in Berlin, Germany.

From the Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun, Holzer reproduces three pages which explore the soul, spirit, music and language, and present a poetic ode to the art of calligraphy. In his text, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), the father of modern historiography, considered how societies can understand their pasts, while producing a lively picture of humanity’s achievements in Islamic theology, philosophy, natural sciences, chemistry, alchemy and aesthetics. Dating from 1377 and written in Arabic, the Muqaddimah is part of the collection of the Atif Efendi Library in Istanbul.

The third source text is Michel de Montaigne’s Les Essais. Holzer has drawn on Montaigne’s own 1588 manuscript from the Bibliotheque de Bordeaux, which contains copious handwritten annotations supplementing the printed text. The selected pages, written in Old French, feature Montaigne’s revisions to three essays devoted to self-determination, the challenges of writing, the tasks of criticism and the celebration of poetry, and demonstrate his quest to understand the true nature of the world through discussion, dialogue and conversation. Les Essais is regarded as a bridge between ancient, Renaissance and modern thought.

“I made my walls in close relation to Jean Nouvel’s building, which I saw as an ideal archaic village under a most beautiful futuristic sky dome”, says Holzer. For more than 35 years, she has presented her astringent ideas, arguments, and sorrows in public places and international exhibitions, including 7 World Trade Center, the Venice Biennale, the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

‘Germination’, the three-part installation by Penone reveals the connections between humanity, nature and art through organic materials, while interacting imaginatively with Louvre Abu Dhabi’s architecture.

The central element of the installation is ‘Leaves of Light’, a vast bronze tree that reflects Nouvel’s ‘rain of light’ through mirrors placed in its branches. Soaring 16 metres high towards the dome which floats above the museum’s waterfront promenades, the tree becomes a symbol of life, shared by all cultures.

Penone, who was born in 1947 in Italy’s Piedmont region, is based in Italy but has maintained close ties with France for many years. His world-renowned oeuvre has been shown in many major institutions and includes a retrospective at MoMA in 1970, four Documentas in Kassel since 1972, five Venice Biennales since 1978 and exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in 2004, the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2012 and the Chateau de Versailles in 2013.

To him, the dialogue between Nature, Man and Art is essential and shapes his whole vision.

Louvre Abu Dhabi will present four special exhibitions each year, curated and organised in collaboration with French partner institutions and Agence France-Museums. On line in 2018 is ‘The World in Spheres’, an exhibition which explores the representation of the world from antiquity to present day through a collection of important globes.

The first globes were produced in the 4th century BCE by the Greeks, but between the 8th and 15th centuries, Muslim astronomers were at the forefront of astronomic research, and created exquisite globes and astrolabes. 125 celestial globes from the Islamic world remain in existence today, with the oldest dating from 11th century.

This ancient science was passed through Muslim Spain in the 10th century and re-emerged in Europe as scientists began generally to accept the theory of a spherical Earth. ‘The World in Spheres’ will be curated by Catherine Hofmann, Chief Curator at Bibliotheque Nationale de France and Francois Nawrocki, Chief Curator at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve.

Also in 2018 will be ‘Opening the Album of the World: Photographs, 1842-1896’, which will look at early photographs produced using the first methods in different parts of the world, created by Western explorers as well as the very first local and international photographers.

Drawing on the collections of the musee du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac and other institutions, the exhibition travels from continent to continent through a selection of photographs produced between 1842 and 1895 by various practitioners.

It includes many images captured by international photographers utilising the new technology for their own ends, including Colombian, Turkish, Indian, Brazilian, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian photographers, and a variety of different photographic formats, from daguerreotypes to travel albums.

The exhibition will also present the first images of the Arabian Gulf region: 1850s photographs of Yemen, and an image of the Hejaz from 1861. It will be curated by Christine Barthe, Curator, Head of the Photographic Collection at musee du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac.

‘The Nabis and modern decoration: An East-West dialogue’, will conclude the roll call and will present around 30 decorative paintings from the group of artists known as the Nabis, from the collection of musee d’Orsay, alongside a number of Japanese prints and folding screens from musee Guimet and Louvre Abu Dhabi.

It will highlight the dialogue between Eastern and Western traditions and will demonstrate the fundamental contribution made by the Far Eastern aesthetic to the development of modern decoration. Active in France between 1888 and 1900, the Nabis hoped to break down the barriers between different artist genres, and embraced decorative painting and scenery-making for stage productions.

Core members of the group were particularly influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e, and the exhibition will include four sections illustrating the aesthetic principles espoused by the Nabis through their paintings in dialogue with Japanese art. The exhibition will be curated by Isabelle Cahn, Chief Curator for paintings at musee d’Orsay.
 

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