Leaf from the ‘’Blue Qur’an’’, nonym – North Africa, Spain or Sicily, c. 900. Gold on blue-dyed parchment Louvre Abu Dhabi © Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi/ Photo: APF © ADAGP, Paris 2021
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Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its third season with Abstraction and Calligraphy – Towards a Universal Language. In keeping with the third season’s theme of exchanges between East and West, this international exhibition marks the second major collaboration with the Centre Pompidou and is sponsored by Montblanc, a Maison whose innovative craftsmanship continues to influence the culture of writing. Charting sites of mutual inspiration around the world, and dedicated to artistic practices of abstraction, the show explores how 20th century artists established a new visual language by merging text and image, inspired by the earliest forms of mark-making and, particularly, calligraphy.

The exhibition brings together 101 masterworks on loan from 16 partner institution collections, alongside seven works from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection, and two monumental artworks by contemporary artists whose current-day practices bring recurring themes of the exhibition to life.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things - Ismail Noor
Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things – Ismail Noor

Organised in four themed sections, the exhibition will investigate the timeline of abstraction as a new visual language established by artists in the early 20th century. By highlighting the rich cultural exchange taking place at that time, visitors will discover how the abstract movements were inspired by a plethora of signs and symbols, philosophies and artistic techniques from cultures and societies far from European and American capitals.

Artists including Paul Klee, André Masson, Vassily Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock sought a new universal language that enabled them to express their emotions in response to a rapidly changing society, breaking away from figurative conventions. The show also focuses on how these same influences informed the practices of artists from the region – from Dia Azzawi and Anwar Jalal Shemza, to Ghada Amer, Shirazeh Houshiary and Mona Hatoum. The exhibition is completed with installations from two contemporary artists, eL Seed and Sanki King, exploring how artists today are still seeking new visual forms to respond to current societal changes.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things - Ismail Noor 2
Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things – Ismail Noor 2

In collaboration with the Centre Pompidou and France Muséums, Abstraction and Calligraphy – Towards a Universal Language is curated by Didier Ottinger, Deputy Director, Cultural Programming, MNAM-CCI, assisted by Marie Sarré, Associate Curator, Modern Collections Department, MNAM-CCI. Works on loan will come from Centre Pompidou in Paris, Musée du Louvre in Paris, Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Paris, Administration Jean Matisse, Paris, Galerie Jacques Bailly in Paris, Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, Paris, Musée municipal de St Germain Laval, Musée des beaux-arts de Grenoble, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation in New York, The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, New York, Galerie Michael Werner, Märkisch Wilmersdorf, Trebbin, The McKee Gallery, New York, Mona Hatoum Studio, London, noirmontartproduction, Paris and eL Seed Studio, Dubai. Also included works are from Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things - Ismail Noor
Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things – Ismail Noor

The first section of the show focuses on pictograms, symbolic figurative images that represented words and ideas in writing in ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Work presented includes a painting by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, who – inspired by his travels to Tunisia – created artwork that combined elements of images and letters stemming from his fascination with Egyptian hieroglyphics. This section also includes works from American artist Adolph Gottlieb, inspired by images from Native American art, and French artist André Masson, who was inspired by 17th century Indian figurative inscriptions and Arabic calligraphy.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things - Ismail Noor
Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things – Ismail Noor

In line with the history of writing, the second section focuses on signs, which by their very form can express universal ideas. Works on show include studies of signs by Russian artist Vassily Kandinsky, considered by many to be one of the inventors of abstract art. The show furthermore includes works from French artists Georges Mathieu, who tried to develop a lyric and rapid gesture, and Julius Bissier, who was influenced by the Chinese philosophy of Taoism. Finally, Mona Hatoum’s works endeavour to create a new alphabet of signs through found objects.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things - Ismail Noor
Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things – Ismail Noor

The third section will be devoted to lineaments, revealing how Western artists appropriated the energy of Eastern calligraphy in their brushstrokes to produce free and fluid lines. On display are works by Surrealist André Masson as well as works by Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning, who were all influenced by Masson.

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things - Ismail Noor
Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi Photo by Seeing Things – Ismail Noor

The exhibition concludes with a section showing how both Western and Eastern artists incorporated calligraphy into their practice, such as Spanish artist Joan Miró, who referenced how closely painting and poetry are linked in the East. Viewers can discover how regional artists, including Shakir Hassan Al Said and Sliman Mansour, sought to free calligraphy from its purely linguistic function. This section is completed by two original monumental artworks from contemporary artists—French-Tunisian artist eL Seed and Pakistani artist Sanki King.


The exhibition is on view until the 12th of June 2021
This information is extracted from the press release.

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