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The Opening of Louvre / Abu Dhabi

Long heralded, regularly maligned and largely misunderstood, the Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened its doors to the public on November 11, 2017. Nestled on the shores of Saadiyat (Happiness) Island in the United Arab Emirates’ capital city, the fledgling institution is the first of a bevy of starchitect-built museums that will, one day, dot this luxury tourism/cultural island destination.

For the moment, though, Jean Nouvel’s “city within the city” stands supreme, its latticed mashrabiya-like dome crouched practically to the level of the Gulf waters, which lap away at the blazing white buildings splayed below the vaulted 180-meter-diameter disc. As the broiling sun sifts through the emblematic dome (the museum’s logo is in fact abstracted in the canopy’s porous intricacies), the open-air passages and mini-agoras are dappled with what the Pritzker Prize-winning architect calls, rather prosaically, a “rain of light.” The building deftly sidesteps the predictable pastiches of arabesque motifs, the tiresome tropes of medina-as-warren. It seems of here, yet not from here: it is a re-creation of a local visual patrimony, rather than a reproduction of one. Everyone agrees: it is a wonder.

Step inside, however, and opinions start to divide. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is touted as the first “universalist” museum of the twenty-first century, and certainly the only one of its ilk in the Arab world. Universalism, in the minds of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s reigning regents, stands in contrast to the encyclopedic ethos that has driven the monstres sacrés of the West, the Musée du Louvre on the banks of the Seine and London’s British Museum being the standard bearers of the genre. Where encyclopedism is in-depth, exhaustive, specialized and, ultimately, compartmentalized (think of the Paris Louvre’s physical split into departments), universalism is a cultural mix. Its vocation is to connect diverse works (archaeological, decorative, “fine art”) to an extremely long timespan across world cultures. A walk through its galleries is an encounter with a sort of manifold universal memory. A twelfth-century lion sculpture from Muslim-ruled Spain “dialogues” with a Chinese dragon sculpture of the same era that had meandered into the collection of the Stoclet Palace in Brussels (provenance is critical for the Louvre Abu Dhabi); a red sandstone Buddha head from Northern India in the fifth century is paired with a white marble Qi dynasty Buddha bust from nearly the same time; Marcel Duchamp’s Porte-bouteilles (1913) rubs shoulders with a wood and metal “magic statue” from the Batsangui culture in Gabon (1900–30), the readymade-meets-totem ricochet conjuring all manner of questions.

Simply put, this is the story of mankind — from the first settlements through the rise of world religions and trade routes, to the princely court, modernism and our contemporary moment. The vicissitudes of this saga are told through the museum’s own burgeoning collection, the fruit of an acquisition spree that began in 2009 with the purchase of Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black (1922) from the Yves Saint-Laurent/Pierre Bergé estate (provenance, again). The works now total around 650. Complementing this bedrock are some three hundred pieces on loan from the consortium of French lending institutions known as Agence France-Muséums, created at the time of the intergovernmental accord between France and the UAE that sealed the deal in 2007, granting the Emiratis use of the Louvre name for thirty years (only twenty remain).

Local intelligentsia, while smitten by the sudden array of treasures permanently displayed at arm’s reach, remain skeptical: has the Louvre Abu Dhabi decentralized the implicit Western-centric cultural viewpoint as successfully as it has dismantled the rigid encyclopedic methodology, itself the fruit of Enlightenment idealism and imperial opportunism? While some works on loan from the Musée Guimet and the Musée de la Quai Branly (providing Oriental and Asian, African and Oceanic artworks, respectively) amplify the Global South feel, critics bemoan an underrepresentation of Arab modernists, manifested by a token Saloua Raouda Choucair sculpture.

Alongside this threadbare modernism is a willful nationalist narrative. As expected, we find the soft power innuendo that frames the country as a tolerant, enlightened, cultural bridge-builder: the side-by-side Quran-Bible-Torah display; instances of nudity (Bellini’s 1480–85 Madonna and Child, bronze dancers by Degas) nimbly foiling foreign journalists’ finger-pointing to puritanism and censorship.

The UAE seems to have taken the opportunity of the universalist vitrine to write itself, meaningfully, into global history. Neolithic pottery hailing from Mesopotamia yet unearthed on nearby Marawah Island, for example, lends credence both to the land’s ancientness and its role as a fulcrum of early maritime trade. Emirati artist Abdullah al-Saadi gets pride of place, as his Naked Sweet Potato (2000–10) sculpture and single-channel video are the final pieces in the contemporary gallery. Even Giuseppe Penone’s commissioned work, Germination (2016), a single line spiraling across Sèvres-manufactured porcelain tiles, holds at its center the thumbprint of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, founding father of the nation.

Jenny Holzer’s monumental texts, another commission with a mission, seem carved into the very flesh of the building, as if they had somehow always been there. They include a creation myth written in Acadian and Sumerian, an excerpt on self-determination from sixteenth-century philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s Essais, and a passage from thirteenth-century Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, which neatly casts the universalist conceit as homegrown.

For such a young museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi already has a rocky history: accusations of laborer exploitation, a succession of false-alarm opening dates, and persistently fuzzy local understanding of its affiliation to the Louvre mère. To be clear: this is an autonomous Emirati institution. It is not an off-the-shelf franchise deal, nor is it the by-product of the Paris Louvre sniffing out juicy emerging markets. Agence France-Muséums will not only spearhead temporary exhibitions, it is contractually bound to lend an average of three hundred works per year until 2026, regularly rotated. The Louvre Abu Dhabi relies on the technical, curatorial and educative guidance of its French partners but, at one point, it should attain self-sufficiency. After all, in only twenty years, the right to the Louvre name will vanish.

What that self-sufficiency might look like is hard to imagine today. The stakeholders believe hard and fast in education. So much so, they have even concocted a “Children’s Museum” — a museum-in-the-museum with actual artworks displayed at kid’s-eye level and mediators galore. But after the euphoria of opening week settles, the hard work of promotion begins, with one burning question: How do we keep people coming back?

by Kevin Jones

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The Opening of Yves Saint Laurent Museum / Marrakech

Enamored by Marrakech, Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé acquired the famous 1930s Majorelle Garden in 1980 to save it from demolition. It was a bohemian refuge for the designer to prepare his collections — an oasis that made him nostalgic about his childhood in Oran, and where the colors of zelliges, zouacs, djellabas and caftans evoked the sketches of Delacroix and Matisse. As Saint Laurent said, he owed the boldness of his work “to this country, to its forceful harmonies, to its audacious combinations and to the fervor of its creativity.”

The opening of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech coincides with the opening of the new Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris (located in the former fashion house where Saint Laurent designed his collections from 1974 to 2002, and the current headquarters of the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent). Both museums will house more than five thousand haute couture garments, fifteen thousand accessories, and thousands of drawings, sketches, collection boards, photographs, prototypes, warehouse records and retail books collected by the designer since he founded his couture house in 1961.

Situated on Rue Yves Saint Laurent, adjacent to the Majorelle Garden (where the former studio of Jacques Majorelle is today a museum dedicated to Berber culture), the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech offers a significant selection from this collection, including key pieces from the designer’s late work.

The Red City edifice, designed by the French architectural firm Studio KO, sprawls across four thousand square meters. The building — made of traditional rose-colored ochre terracotta bricks — creates a pattern of cubes with a lace-like covering of bricks, similar to threads in fabric.

The classic YSL logo welcomes you in an entrance inspired by both James Turrell and Moroccan courtyards. Beyond a curved lobby wall made of traditional stained glass, one enters a four-hundred-square-meter permanent exhibition space, designed by Christophe Martin, which is currently showcasing more than fifty haute couture creations set around central themes in Saint Laurent’s work: Black; Africa and Morocco; Imaginary Voyages; Masculine-Feminine; Gardens; and Art.

Iconic pieces exhibited include the Mondrian dress, the “Le Smoking” suit and many of Saint Laurent’s most important creations inspired by Morocco. All the exhibition’s spotlit models are backdropped by black-painted walls, and surrounded by projections mixing words, photographs and films that contextualize the exhibited garments. Some parts of the walls are covered by images from his sketchbooks, magazine covers, fragrance campaigns and hundreds of gowns — but no trace of any of the erotic drawings that caused a scandal when they were revealed to the public a year ago.

The museum’s temporary exhibition space opens with a show of thirty artworks by French Orientalist pompier-painter Jacques Majorelle, which depict an ethereal view of the Arabic way of life. His paintings and drawings are displayed on walls painted in the famous Majorelle Blue — a color created by Yves Saint Laurent himself, who as a dandy made his entire life a work of art.

by Timothée Chaillou

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The Reopening of The Bass Museum of Art / Miami Beach

“I call that Bazooka Joe pink,” says the man dispatched from New York to spruce up Ugo Rondinone’s forty-two-foot-tall Miami Mountain (2016) in preparation for the reopening of the Bass Museum of Art on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

He’s gazing up at the topmost boulder in the stack of five, all freshly repainted in a rainbow of graffiti-resistant fluorescents, but could just as easily be describing Miami’s signature hue. According to Rondinone, whose clown-filled solo exhibition “good evening beautiful blue” inaugurates the renovated Bass, “Day-Glo color is the most artificial color that you can get.”

Nature and neon, art and artifice flourish under the blistering Miami sun, and the two-year, twelve-million-dollar transformation of the Bass, founded in 1964 by the city of Miami Beach with the donated collection of residents John and Johanna Bass, promises to extend the institution’s role as a cultural hub well beyond the annual bacchanal of Art Basel. Rondinone’s Miami Mountain, an Instagram sensation since it was installed outside the museum last fall to kick off a decade-long collection-building initiative, is just the tip of the iceberg.

“The Bass is Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum, and what we’ve done with this new design is create spaces where you can spend more time with the art,” says executive director and chief curator Silvia Karman Cubiñá. Architect David Gauld, working with Arata Isozaki (who designed the museum’s previous expansion, completed in 2001), carved out an additional forty-seven percent of exhibition space within the existing building, a 1930 Art Deco edifice by Russell Pancoast that began its life as a public library, bringing the total area to 41,000 square feet.

A series of clever moves — replacing the space-hogging central ramp with a sleek staircase, enclosing a terrace to create a sky-lit pavilion for special events, reconfiguring another part of the first floor to make a dedicated space (and entrance) for educational activities — and cosmetic enhancements (an overhauled lighting system, fresh floors and finishes, new signage) combine to create a more polished, integrated and flexible museum that is intuitive rather than daunting to navigate.

Once lobby-less, the new Bass boasts a central gathering space with ample comfortable seating. On one side is a constellation of LED signs that read “welcome” in an array of languages. This Welcome Wall is a new site-specific work by Cameroon-born, Belgium-based Pascale Marthine Tayou, whose solo show “Beautiful” shares the opening bill with Rondinone’s. An exhibition of recent work by Mika Rottenberg will debut in December.

“We’re an urban museum,” says Cubiñá. “You bump into this museum while you’re walking to the beach or a restaurant, and we take that responsibility quite seriously because if people can bump into art, the possibilities are endless.”

by Stephanie Murg

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Blanche de Lestrange on Parades / FIAC

The second edition of FIAC’s Parades, a special program dedicated to performative practice, will take place October 18–22, 2017, in conjunction with the international art fair held in Paris. Flash Art spoke to FIAC Head of Programs & Cultural Development Blanche de Lestrange.

The inclusion of a performance program in an art fair has been a trend in recent years, and it raises questions about exploiting performance art as a means of offering fair audiences something presumably lighter and entertaining. Are you interested in exploring this potential or are you trying to avoid it?

Blanche de Lestrange: This issue was central to us when designing the program for Parades. We have always been motivated by a desire to offer artists and performers unprecedented settings to present their projects, to give them a stage that could make their works potentially even more powerful. We strive to provide optimum conditions for the artists who perform in the context of FIAC. The idea is definitely not to show their works in a thoughtless way in the middle of the fair, disguised as entertainment, stripped of all intention and meaning.

The second edition of Parades is an homage to Trisha Brown. Why and how are you paying tribute to her work and legacy?

Our program honors the pioneers of performance and investigates intersections between music, contemporary dance, theater, performance and poetry. Over the last three years we have developed a focus on contemporary dance, with invitations extended to historical figures of postmodern dance such as Simone Forti, Yvonne Rainer or younger choreographers such as Jérôme Bel. Trisha Brown is a monument to contemporary dance. When she passed away earlier this year, it seemed obvious that we should pay tribute to her as one of the most creative choreographers of the twentieth century. Thus we invited the company to present historical works in various museum settings, such as the Petit Palais, the Orangerie and the auditorium of the Louvre Museum.

Trisha Brown’s practice corresponds to the identity of Parades: the idea of presenting dance not only on stage, but also outside, in museum contexts, in the street, on roofs as she did for Roof Piece (1971), and other unusual and atypical places. In the context of an art fair, it is fascinating to reflect on how her work connects with the visual arts. She was a bridge between disciplines, something we really want to encourage during FIAC. She is one of the main figures responsible for bringing an urgent form of contemporariness to dance, by underlying daily gestures, repetition, organic abstraction and human mechanisms. Trisha Brown was and still is an inspiration for successive generations of dancers and choreographers. With this homage, we seek to honor her sense of modernity and audaciousness.

What are some highlights of this edition?

We collaborated with the Ballet national de l’Opéra de Paris for two performances: Á bras le corps (1993) by Dimitri Chamblas and Boris Charmatz and Pour un abîme (2017) by Nicolas Paul. These are exceptional choreographers, who continue challenging the notion of body and weight, of relations and relationships. In the gardens of the Petit Palais, François Chaignaud and Marie-Caroline Hominal will present Duchesses (2009), exploring an unearthly, all-encompassing and captive dance, using the hula-hoop as an incessant choreographic instrument. It is important to us that the vast majority of the works we present in the context of Parades are performed in iconic spaces, and interact with their identity in a very unique way. In collaboration with the Festival d’Automne, we are featuring two projects by Gerard & Kelly at the Palais de la Découverte and the Centre Pompidou. With Songs and Book (2016) by Ivo Dimchev, we will present a medley of songs of his own composition. It will be a wonderful opportunity to discover the fascinating practice of this Bulgarian artist. His voice and his poetic universe are fascinating.

As stated earlier, every art fair in the international circuit offers a performance program. What makes FIAC’s performance program unique?

What is very central to Parades is that performances are held in prestigious spaces such as the Palais de la découverte, the Louvre or the Petit Palais — iconic venues that belong to Paris’s heritage. Each project is initiated in an intimate dialogue with the artists, giving them innovative possibilities for creating new works or adapting proposals. We are thrilled when artists create specific performances only for FIAC — and indeed for the fair format itself.

Among the most interesting proposals within your program, there is a performance that made the history of contemporary dance, the aforementioned duet À bras le corps. On this occasion it will be performed by two classical dancers of the Ballet national de l’Opéra de Paris. Can you explain the main differences between the two versions?

When Boris and Dimitri presented À bras le corps at the Centre Pompidou in 1993, the performance had the effect of an electric shock. It was one of the most striking duets in recent choreographic creation: a story of friendship but also conflict, of confrontation but also dependence between two men. The choreography pushes the dancers to the very limit of exhaustion. Yet although fatigued, sometimes seemingly reduced to a state of collapse, they always strive to stand. This year, the Opéra de Paris added to its repertoire À bras le corps. Dimitri Chamblas and Boris Charmatz transmitted this powerful choreography to two prominent étoile dancers from the Opéra de Paris, Karl Paquette and Stéphane Bullion, although they will also continue to perform it themselves.

During the fall season, with the presence of Le Festival d’Automne as well, Paris confirms its tradition as a leading capital for dance and theater.

Historically, France has developed a very unique relationship to dance and performance. It is refreshing to see that we are not only famous for our classical tradition, but also for innovative and pioneering endeavors in so many disciplines. Our ambition for Parades is that, in its own way, it can perpetuate this tradition. As an art fair, it is crucial for us to be a rendez-vous for high-level transactions in the art market, but also to make a concerted and energetic effort to support creation even when it is immaterial and therefore falls outside the usual logic of commercial exchange; to facilitate the emergence of projects, however ambitious; to create the conditions in which collaborations can be concretized; and to foster the public’s discovery of contemporary creation in its many diverse forms.

by Patrick Steffen

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Silvia Ammon and Clément Delépine on Paris Internationale

The third edition of Paris Internationale, the “convivial” art fair supporting a younger generation of galleries and artists, will take place October 18–22, 2017, in the former headquarters of Libération, the legendary French newspaper cofounded by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973. Flash Art spoke with Paris Internationale co-directors Silvia Ammon and Clément Delépine.

With art fairs proliferating, a clear identity is pivotal to the success of newer ones. How do you define Paris Internationale in that regard?

Silvia Ammon and Clément Delépine: A large-scale art fair can be intimidating even to veteran fairgoers. The term “convivial” was used a lot in reference to Paris Internationale — to such an extent that it became a private joke among the team. One particular comment we received from our exhibitors and visitors is that they enjoyed the “deceleration” and being able to take the time to more thoroughly discuss an artist’s work. The fair is nomadic, founded by five galleries to promote the work of a generation of like-minded galleries.

One of the main new features of this edition of Paris Internationale is its location in the multistory car park previously home to the newspaper Libération. Can you elaborate on this choice?

The inaugural edition in 2015 took place in a grand but derelict mansion undergoing renovation. In 2016 we used a truly magnificent hôtel particulier, which was originally the Parisian residence and home to the collection of Calouste Gulbenkian. For the upcoming edition, we wanted to propose something new and to completely depart from the aesthetic codes we’ve explored thus far. On our first visit we were immediately drawn to the brutalist feel of this building.

The fair will be located in the heart of Paris, between the politically loaded Place de la République and Le Marais, Paris’s traditional gallery district. Will this new location color the fair?

Politically speaking, this venue is an appropriate context to address current challenges to journalism, freedom of speech and urban development. We worked closely with the Parisian collective The Cheapest University, which organized a program of collaborative work events titled “What’s in My Bag…?” Inspired by the eponymous TV show, the reflection was driven by the current security-driven political climate in which bags of citizens are systematically inspected. This year again, we benefit from the support of the Fondation d’entreprise Ricard to organize the public program.

One of the distinctive features of Paris Internationale is the presence of nonprofit art spaces. What is their role within the fair?

Nonprofit spaces spearhead and promote an emerging scene. In Paris specifically, nonprofits are definitely agents of the city’s dynamism, which is why we decided to focus on Parisian spaces this year. PI always supported nonprofits by inviting them to partake. As you know, the venue was originally conceived as a parking lot. Libération had platforms built along the spiraling ramp to install journalists. We positioned the nonprofits on these platforms, at the very center of the fair.

by Charles Teyssou

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Adam Pendleton’s Black Dada Reader

The assembled texts in Adam Pendleton’s Black Dada Reader (2017) are varied, difficult and niche in all the weirdest ways. Black Dada is a theoretical proposition, “a way to talk about the future while talking about the past,” the American artist explains in his manifesto. The poets and artists and literary theorists he selects each deconstruct, in their own way, the significance of both representation and language.

Although at first writings by the likes of Hugo Ball, W.E.B. Du Bois, LeRoi Jones, Ron Silliman and Gertrude Stein seem discordant alongside artist projects by Ad Reinhardt, Adrian Piper, William Pope.L, Sun Ra and Thomas Hirschhorn, under the general concept of Black Dada they function well because of how they inform one another. It is implied that in conjunction their ideas offer an approach to understanding Black Dada as a concept.

The nearly four-hundred-page hardcover book is an expanded version of a 2011 spiral-bound zine of photocopied texts Pendleton brought together to contextualize his work. This new version is organized into parts. It opens with several original essays by critics and curators presenting different interpretations of Black Dada and how it informs Pendleton’s performance, video, painting and photographic collage. Then the “FOUNDATIONS,” “LANGUAGE” and “ARTIST’S POSITIONS” sections round out a broad foundation of influences and exemplars of the concept.

Pendleton is concerned with black life and the absurdity of our present grammars of being. “It has been said that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but what about the people the master treated as tools? That is, the ‘tools’ that were themselves capable of practicing abstraction, those three-fifths?” Pendleton asks in his afterword. “Black Dada is the name I borrow for the immanent historical possibility of this transformation: Black for the open-ended signifier projected onto resisting objects, Dada for yes, yes, the double affirmation of their refusal.” In many ways Dada allows a reconsideration of traditional “identity politics” discourses, which have been so inextricably tied to representation. Pendleton wants an afro-conceptualism. He suggests the subject-self can shift away from objecthood through abstraction, that politics are in fact an implicit part of abstraction.

In a very straightforward way, Black Dada Reader provides a theoretical background for engaging with Pendleton’s practice. By selecting the texts and outlining what Black Dada came from and can be, the artist deftly shapes an emergent concept.

by Yaniya Lee

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