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Exclusive New England display rethinks mid-century abstract art from the Middle East
Abdallah Benanteur (Mostaganem, Algeria, 1931–Ivry-sur-Seine, France, 2017), To Monet, Giverny, 1983. Oil on canvas, 47.3 × 47.3 in. Collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE.



CHESTNUT HILL, MASS.- After a period of closure to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College will reopen from May 12 through June 13, 2021. Safety protocols—including a requirement that visitors wear masks and maintain social distancing—will be in place. To schedule a visit, go to https://www.bc.edu/sites/artmuseum/book.html

On view in the Daley Family and Monan Galleries is the exclusive New England display of Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s. The groundbreaking exhibition is organized by the Grey Art Gallery at New York University and is drawn from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Taking Shape explores mid-twentieth-century abstract art from North Africa, West Asia, and the Arab diaspora—a vast geographic expanse that encompasses diverse cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. It comprises nearly ninety works by artists from countries including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and the UAE. The paintings, sculpture, drawings, and prints reflect the wide range of nonfigurative art practices that flourished in the Arab world over the course of four decades.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to present to our audience this landmark exhibition,” said Inaugural Robert L. and Judith T. Winston Director of the McMullen Museum of Art Nancy Netzer, a BC professor of art history. “Taking Shape opens new avenues of inquiry into traditional understandings of the development of abstraction in the mid-twentieth century by introducing the works of fifty-eight artists from the Middle East and beyond, most relatively unknown in America.”

Taking Shape raises a fundamental question: How do we study abstraction across different contexts, and what modes of analysis do we use? Examining critically the history and historiography of mid-twentieth-century abstraction, the exhibition rethinks art historical canons and expands discourses around global modernisms, according to organizers.

The artists featured—a varied group of Arab, Amazigh (Berber), Armenian, Circassian, Jewish, Persian, and Turkish descent—sought to localize and recontextualize existing twentieth-century modernisms, some forming groups to address urgent issues. Moving away from figuration, they mined the expressive capacities of line, color, and texture. Inspired by Arabic calligraphy, geometry, and mathematics, Islamic decorative patterns, and spiritual practices, they expanded abstraction’s vocabulary—thereby complicating its genealogies of origin and altering the viewer’s understanding of nonobjective art.

The McMullen display of Taking Shape features video interviews with several artists as well as with co-curators Suheyla Takesh (Barjeel Art Foundation curator) and Lynn Gumpert (Grey Art Gallery Director) and Barjeel Art Foundation Founder Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi.










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