Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award winner unveiled

Anna Kurkova’s DUNESCAPE, the winner of the 2017 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award, has been installed at NYU Abu Dhabi. It will be there till 11 May, then moves to Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi (18 May to 3 June).

Anna Kurkova – an NYUAD graduate who is currently doing a Master’s at Paris Sorbonne–Abu Dhabi – has produced a series of three interconnected see-through cubes that appear to contain desert sand. In fact it’s crushed glass, which is of course made from sand.

The result is a sculptural installation that speaks both of modern architecture (straight lines, blocky construction) and the fluid, changeable beauty of the desert (dune-like drifts within the boxes).

Given that this contrast between urban development and the natural world is hardly a revolutionary conceit, DUNESCAPE is surprisingly effective as a comment on the relationship between modernity and tradition that characterises the UAE. You can read more into it, too; it could be about containing and constraining the wilderness, or environmental sensitivity, or recycling, or cultural memory, or the connection between raw materials like sand and man-made products like glass … There’s a gratifying amount of intellectual meat here.

At the unveiling. Left to right: Anna Kurkova,Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo, Christo, DUNESCAPE

Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo, founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, which backs the Award, called DUNESCAPE “deeply relevant in both concept and vision” and said it “allows us to experience the profound juxtaposition between the manmade and natural environments of the UAE today”.

Open to UAE-based students and graduates within the last five years, The Christo and Jeanne-Claude Award was established to encourage the creation of new artwork in the UAE, acting as a launch pad for visual artists across the Emirates and offering the winner an insight into professional life as an artist from commission to exhibition. Anna Kurkova, who was selected from 30 applicants, received $5,000 towards the project materials and a further $10,000 to support her career – which apparently she plans to use the money to fund the final year of her art history Master’s at PSUAD.

Director of the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery Maya Allison said: “Art in the public realm is among the most technically challenging forms, but reaches a far wider audience than most museum exhibitions. We are proud to play a role in UAE arts education beyond the boundaries of our campus.”

She summarised the Award as “a key opportunity for young artists to gain professional experience creating public art” and Christo himself commented that “The value of great art cannot be measured but it can be enjoyed by all people, of all cultures … I am glad to support the Award and to see the young artists of the UAE realise their ambitions.”

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