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Honouring a legacy
Muhammad Yusuf June 30, 2016
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The Jean-Paul Najar Foundation (J-PNF) is a very recent nester at the Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, the emirate’s arts district. The permanent space displays the foundation’s collection of European and American abstract art from the 1960s onwards.

To create the foundation for her father, Jean-Paul Najar, in whose honour it is named, and to house his collection, his daughter Deborah Najar Jossa, brought the legendary architect Mario Jossa out of retirement to design the Bauhaus-inspired foundation building. J-PNF aims to ensure and expand on Najar’s legacy through the mix of new acquisitions, educational programmes and temporary exhibitions.

“By making its home in Dubai, the Jean-Paul Foundation, presented in partnership with Alserkal Avenue, is honoured to connect this seminal period of contemporary art history to the extraordinary energy of such a burgeoning international art destination”, says J-PNF.

The new dedicated space designed by Jossa (Marcel Breuer & Associates) offers a full programme of exhibitions and related public events. A non-profit private museum and registered ICOM (International Council Of Museums) member, J-PNF has three main goals: to present its permanent collection; to support its artists and to converse with a new generation of collectors.

To achieve this, it also aims to have guided tours and Friends of the Foundation events, engaging the audience and opening a conversation.

After a successful pop-up event in November 2015, the inaugural exhibition ‘Jean-Paul Najar: Vision & Legacy’ curated by Jessamyn Fiore (March 14 – June 30), reflects on the founder’s understanding of the artists.

It presents not only a prime selection of artworks from the collection, but also archival materials that build a robust picture of his stewardship of the work and his close relationship with the artists.

“Presenting individual masterpieces from the last half century, as well as letters and ephemera from several artists throughout the decades, the show provides an insightful look into Jean-Paul Najar’s lifelong friendships with artists”, Fiore said.

Though the J-PNF collection has evolved through time, it stays true to its anchor in abstraction, while gathering conceptual works that try to challenge and inspire contemporary art.

Artists include Martin Barré; Jene Highstein; Richard Nonas; Doug Sanderson; James Bishop; Gordon Matta-Clark; Suzanne Harris; Marcia Hafif; Christian Bonnefoi and Linda Francis, among others.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1948, Najar lived most of his life in Paris, France. An economist by training with a degree in Economics from the University of Paris, he was a pianist, photographer, art collector, sculptor and fashion designer.

While building his own personal art collection beginning in the mid-1960s, he also amassed an impressive collection of furniture, vinyl records and art books from the same period.

His life’s work was his art collection, and it is regarded as an extraordinary example of collecting as a creative act. The great conversation in which he took part occurred in Paris in the 1970s between American and European artists looking towards abstraction and philosophy as means to present reality, not merely representing it.

Najar’s active participation in this dialogue was demonstrated by his lifelong friendships with artists and his correspondence with them, as well as his support of their work through production and exhibitions.

“I believe that every human being … has a subjective and objective relationship to the object … (And) the king of objects, the emperor of objects, is painting. All the other objects are permutations of what could have been art on the wall”, he said.

His passion as a creative collector motivated him to maintain and protect this body of work for decades. He organised many contemporary art and photography exhibitions in Paris and throughout the world. In addition, he was a prolific writer, publishing numerous articles and catalogues around contemporary art practice, theory and philosophy.

He was also deeply involved in the planning of the foundation, guiding its mission. However, he passed away in 2014, in Barcelona, Spain, before seeing its final realisation. His legacy is being preserved and celebrated by the foundation.

“Where does it come from, this necessity?” he asked. “Probably the necessity of collecting is related to the necessity of giving a sense to our biologic life. And through art, sublimation is completed in a way that my brain, my spirit, is totally satisfied”.

Fiore is the curator of J-PNF. Based in New York City, she is also a writer and the co-director of the Gordon Matta-Clark Estate. She was the Director of Thisisnotashop, a not for profit gallery space in Dublin, Ireland, where she also received a Masters degree in contemporary art theory, practice, and philosophy at The National College of Art and Design.

Exhibitions curated by her include 112 Greene Street: The

Early Years (1970–1974) at David Zwirner in New York (2011), which led to her editing the eponymous catalogue, published by David Zwirner and Radius Books (2012).

Recently, she curated II Machines: Clive Murphy & Trevor Tweeton at the Knockdown Center in Queens, and solo exhibitions with Nathaniel Mary Quinn and Lilja Birgisdottir at Rawson Projects, NYC.

Jossa, born in Rome, Italy, began his career at Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), New York, where he collaborated on projects for Armstrong Cork Laboratories, Altman Department Stores and Texas Gas Company.

His projects include the Spanish Pavilion for the New York World’s Fair; the development of extensive master plans

for the new towns of Sadat City and Nasr City in Cairo, Egypt; the new town of Bayonne, France and regional studies for the redevelopment of the Aquitaine region in France.

Projects as the European Partner with the firm of Marcel Breuer & Associates in New York and Paris include the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Hans Hartung Foundation, Antibes, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, DC.

He obtained architectural degrees from the Catholic University of America and the Polytechnic Institute of Milan, Italy. He is a member of the French Order of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Alserkal Avenue is one of the region’s foremost arts and culture neighbourhoods located in Al Quoz, Dubai. Since it was established in 2007, “the Avenue” has grown to become a platform for the development of home grown artistic and cultural initiatives, supporting a community of contemporary art galleries and alternative art spaces, together with design, media and industrial studios. In 2015, it began introducing its own in-house programmes as an arts organisation.

In September, J-PNF will kick off the 2016-2017 Dubai arts season by hosting New York City-based artist Judy Rifka for a two week residency. Dubai based curator Wafa Jadallah is overseeing the programming, to include workshops, talks and a unique apprenticeship for a UAE-based artist to work with Rifka.

During this time the artist will create a series of works that will be revealed for the solo show ‘Judy Rifka: RETROactive’ alongside works from the 70s and 80s from the Jean-Paul Najar Collection (Sept. 5 – Oct. 31).

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