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On your art! Get set! Go!
by Muhammad Yusuf March 23, 2017
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Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, has inaugurated ‘Concrete’, its new space in the Avenue and the first project to be completed in the United Arab Emirates by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), founded by Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Rem Koolhaas.

At the crossroads of modular design and modern architecture, it is a collection of warehouses that have been conserved and re-imagined, offering dimensions and volume of industrial spaces for a variety of projects. ‘Concrete’, it is hoped, will provide a space for international arts and culture events to travel to Dubai. Alserkal Avenue’s collaboration with OMA advances the organisation’s mission to promote progress in the arts and architecture, with ‘Concrete’ as a leading reference point for urban design in the region and beyond.

At the press conference inaugurating the space, it was pointed out by the host that it is fulfilling its commitment to locally based talent and expanding the architectural conversation in the region, since the interior design and engineering was completed by Dubai-based companies.

Said Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, patron and founder of Alserkal Avenue: “Over the last decade, Alserkal Avenue has grown and evolved organically with the arts and culture scene of the United Arab Emirates. The introduction of ‘Concrete’ marks a new milestone in the cultural advancement of the region”.

Koolhaas said: “Dubai is one of the cities that have had a deep impact on our work, and I am very happy that this particular building is our first effort here. In Concrete, we are not introducing a new shape, but instead, were able to infiltrate an existing building with an arts institution.This building is totally produced in Dubai; it is not a foreign ideal, and that I think is significant”.

The project was led by Iyad Alsaka, OMA partner, who said that “the Gulf is an important region for OMA, and we are happy to have been able to collaborate with an organisation like Alserkal Avenue, whose vision is so similar to our own. With this project, we wanted to keep the interior as neutral and flexible as possible, while transforming the existing exterior so that it would stand out from the surrounding buildings”.

Vilma Jurkute, Director, Alserkal Avenue, said: “The OMA team has brought their unique aesthetic and thoughtful approach to urban architecture to the Avenue, and in doing so, they have created a space that has started a dialogue for architectural evolution in the UAE”.

With multiple configurations, the 600-square-metre ‘Concrete’ has double-height ceilings, movable walls and a translucent facade that can be positioned to create seamless indoor-outdoor experiences. It is a multi-disciplinary space that was created with the capacity to host large-scale art exhibitions, symposia, conferences, conceptual fashion presentations, film screenings and corporate events, as well as private functions.

‘Concrete’ has opened with ‘Syria: Into the Light’, the Atassi Foundation’s largest-ever exhibition and its first in the MENA region since its formation last year. The exhibition will be on view until Apr. 3.

Curated by Mouna Atassi, founder, Atassi Foundation, in collaboration with writer and curator Rasha Salti, the show is based on the theme of ‘Portraits and Figures’ and includes more than 60 works by over 40 artists illustrating the landscape of Syrian art from 1924 - 2016.

Through this theme, the exhibition highlights the momentum and shifts of art movements in Syria and its socio-cultural histories, from the early 20th century until the present day, representing different schools, techniques and mediums, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and video art.

Referencing each phase of Syrian art from the early 20th century to the present day, the exhibition showcases the works of artists such as Toufiq Tarek, Fateh Moudarres, Elias Zayyat, Yousef Abdelke and Hiba Ansari, among others.

Many of these works, which are part of the Atassi Foundation’s collection, are on show for the first time in the MENA region. The exhibition seeks to explain the importance of portraits in Syrian art and the socio-political influences that portraiture imbibed from the early 20th century to the present day.

“Looking at Syrian art through the lens of portraiture is not only an attempt to understand the characteristics of the genre but also an attempt to read Syrian art through this theme”, said Atassi.

“The Atassi Foundation was founded on the premise of promoting Syrian art and culture. This exhibition marks a tremendous opportunity to tell the story of a multifaceted country and people by bringing a selection of our private collection to be shown in the first space of its kind in the region”, she added.

The show provides viewers with a compelling narrative of what life was like in 20th century Syria, told through the faces, gazes and postures of the men and women, notables, workers, tradesmen, shepherds, heroes and mythological figures.

In the wider history of modern Arab art, the practice of painting social and political elites was imported from Europe during the 19th century, gaining popularity for a short period before lapsing with the ‘modern turn’.

Its recognition as a genre rose again in the early 20th century, assuming the incarnation of people-hood and at times even bordering on social activism by challenging the prevailing elitism and a society steeped in class distinctions.

Following World War I, however, portraiture became much bolder in its ideology, with artists developing a deeply subjective language that was allegorical in nature.

The exhibition is designed by well-known Syrian architect Michel Zayat, to accentuate the features of ‘Concrete’. Alserkal Avenue also announced that Art Jameel has joined its community with the opening of their Project Space. This serves as a satellite location for Art Jameel through 2018 end, complementing its regional and international initiatives.

The not-for-profit, collaborative, Project Space offers a year-round programme of exhibitions, workshops and events, reflecting Art Jameel’s mandate across the arts, heritage and education.

Project Space Art Jameel has opened with an exhibition by Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme titled ‘And yet my mask is powerful I’. It is a compelling five-screen video installation informed by a series of trips by the artists and collaborators to the sites of destroyed Palestinian villages; the work includes found objects as well as new video and sound material. The exhibition will continue for a month.

“Art Jameel is embarking on an exciting new phase in its development, and we’re delighted to mark this with the opening of a Project Space in Alserkal Avenue, who I’d like to thank for their support”, said Antonia Carver, Director, Art Jameel.

Future exhibitions will feature works from the Jameel Art Collection, while others will be developed in collaboration with partner institutions. Educational programming will begin in mid-April with renowned Madrid-based foundry Factum Arte, who will present a series of roundtables and workshops at the Project Space, culminating in a public talk on Apr. 15. The work of Factum Arte and its non-profit sister organisation, the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, has ranged from the replication of Tutankhamun’s tomb to producing complex works for contemporary artists, such as Rachid Koraichi, Anish Kapoor and Marc Quinn.

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