In DESIGN

The Guggenheim lights up Manarat al Saadiyat in anticipation of its Abu Dhabi opening in 2017

What subject can we all engage with, no matter nationality, age or education? Light, the radiant energy, whether waves or particles, needs no lingual nor cultural bedrock to be understood.  “Diverse meanings and associations – from the physical to the intellectual and from the spiritual to the scientific – are explored through the artworks on display in Seeing Through Light,” says Maisa Al Qassimi, assistant curator of the  Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s preview show currently on at Manarat Al Saadiyat until 19 January next year.

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Light is at once a contemporary theme and a medium, its all-encompassing sensory nature presenting an abstract narrative for us to interpret as we see fit. Seeing Through Light’s ephemerality is further refracted into five categories here: activated, celestial, perceptual, reflected and transcendent. American greats from the Light and Space group are present, such as Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler and Larry Bell, as well as members of the German ZERO movement: Otto Piene and Heinz Mack. This region is represented by Iran’s Monir Shahroudy, Palestine’s Samia Halaby, Egypt’s Hassan Khan and India’s Bharti Kher, amongst others.

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Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away is a real treat to experience, particularly when it’s not accompanied by hours of queues, as happened when it showed in New York’s David Zwirner gallery last year. Coming face to face with many versions of yourself in an infinite loop of light and colours is an experience that’s attracting new audiences – and their smartphones – something the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will of course be chasing.

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Otto Piene   Hängende Lichtkugel [Hanging Light Ball], 1972   Perforated and chromium-plated brass sphere, chromium-plated brass spheres, light   bulbs with electric motor   223.5 x 68 cm Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Otto Piene Hängende Lichtkugel [Hanging Light Ball], 1972 Perforated and chromium-plated brass sphere, chromium-plated brass spheres, light bulbs with electric motor 223.5 x 68 cm Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Doug Wheeler’s native Arizona desert is the inspiration behind his pioneering work in the Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 1970s, so Untitled, 1968/2013 has a particular affinity with its new home, having only been showcased previously in Fort Worth Community Art Centre Museum in Texas. This neon square glowing in its own black room brings to mind the absolute darkness in the night-time sand dunes nearby contrasting with the sky above. Robert Irwin is another pioneer of that American era to have a piece here – painting softly becomes sculpture in Untitled, 1967-68.

Robert Irwin   Untitled, 1967–68   Acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic plastic   116.8 cm, diameter Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Robert Irwin Untitled, 1967–68 Acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic plastic 116.8 cm, diameter Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

The Guggenheim New York and the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal will show a retrospective of more than 50 years’ of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s abstract geometries next year, and her mirrored glass piece Untitled, 1976 is included. Her oeuvre is inspired by old mosques, and the Iranian decorative form known as aineh-kari, and the work here is beguiling in the way it manages both complexity and simplicity.

As a foretaste of what we can expect from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi,  Seeing Through Light maps commonalities where there is boundless possibility. “The richness and flexibility of this exhibition’s theme – and the collection in general – has particular relevance across cultures and time periods,” concludes Maisa Al Qassimi.


A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Rose Tinted issue #28, on page 118.

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