Spain to Saadiyat, via Sharjah: a contemporary art mashup?

Barcelona isn’t the most obvious candidate for comparison with Abu Dhabi, but defying the obvious is probably one of the chief goals of contemporary art. So the exhibition slated for the Manarat al Saadiyat on 2 February, lumpily titled ‘From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: Works from the MACBA Art Collection in Dialogue with the Emirates’, should be interesting.

Mattar Bin Lahej, Rhapsody of Culture; 2013

Juan Muñoz, The Nature Of Visual Illusion; 1994

Layla Juma. Settlement; 2017

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, On the nature of things: Eye Model; 2006

Constant (Constant Nieuwenhuys), Construction with Transparent Plans; 1954

Mohammed Kazem, Scale; 2012

John Baldessari, Dwarf and Rhinoceros With Large Black Shape; 1989-2013

Farah Al Qasimi, It’s Not Easy Being Seen 2; 2016

Organised as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival, the exhibition partners artworks from the UAE with examples from the collection of MACBA, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

MACBA showcases the work of mostly Spanish and Catalan artists from the last 60 years, with regular curated exhibitions from elsewhere. The building itself, the huge white monolith designed by Richard Meier and pictured above, is worth the visit alone (especially if you’re a skateboarder – it’s one of the world’s iconic boarding spots).Inside there’s the MACBA collection, too big to show in its entirety because it runs to nearly 6,000 works dating from the mid-20th century on – mostly the 1940s to the 70s, plus a large selection of contemporary art. Predictably enough the focus is on post-1945 Catalan and Spanish art, but international artists are also well represented.

MACBA is highly thought of. True, there was a minor blip in 2015 when the then-director resigned immediately after cancelling a show that would have featured an Ines Doujak artwork depicting the former Spanish king Juan Carlos and Bolivian labour leader Domitila Chúngara being sodomised by a dog on a bed of SS helmets; and a private collector, Philippe Méaille, has called back the 800 works he loaded to MACBA because of fears over political instability following the Catalan referendum last October. Otherwise though the museum has followed a deft pathway through contemporary art issues with a commendable curatorial policy of mixing local and international appeal, emphasising its study centre and educational programmes as much as its exhibitions.

It does seem that the current management is keen to look beyond its immediate horizons, however. Many of those exhibitions and programmes are run in collaboration with other players – international museums, art centres, universities – and the 2018 schedule includes more touring shows. From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi represents a combination of both principles, with a selection of works from the MACBA collection despatched to the Manarat to be shown alongside Emirati artists.

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi is co-curated by MACBA’s director Ferran Barenblit and Nasser Abdullah, chairman of the Emirates Fine Arts Society; it has work by 20 Emirati artists including Mohammed Kazem, MA Ibrahim and Ebtisam AbdulAziz, with the Barcelona side featuring around 70 works from the likes of Ana Mendieta, Nancy Spero and Hans Peter Feldmann … plus the examples in the sidebar, of course.

Barenblit’s contribution should be interesting. An Argentinian who studied in Spain and New York and has worked extensively in contemporary arts institutions in both, he was appointed after the censorship-related resignation with a self-penned mission statement to the effect that “the museum has to be, above all, a public service that reflects and launches a critical and diverse culture in the city” while “MACBA has to continue being a strong voice at international level”.

His academic credentials are excellent, but his curatorial decisions have been good too – he has championed the rather cool RAQS collective from New Delhi, for instance, and in an earlier job managed to put on an entire Sonic Youth exhibition. Last year there was a a collaborative exhibition by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian, who won the 2017 Han Nefkens/MACBA prize. So we’re expecting an interesting selection of MACBA works – as yet though there’s no list of exactly what’s coming.

According to the blurb on the website, “the exhibition proposes a journey that allows us to think about the role of art in contemporaneity. A place for ideas and emotions, a place to be and to share, where life could be more livable. The point of departure is what defines us as humans: who we are, how we grow up, how we perceive the world. The exhibition focuses on our common rules of life in our cities and the way in which we relate to our natural environment. Finally, we will look at art itself: and its capacity to transmit ideas …”

That should cover it. At the very least this will be an interesting opportunity to compare the work of some of the UAE’s best known contemporary artists with the kind of thing their peers are producing in Europe.

The exhibition runs to 17 March, with a number of individual events as part of the ‘dialogue’. Most have limited spaces, so use this form to pre-register.

Curator’s Tour 2 Feb, 3–4:30pm Ferran Barenblit and Nasser Abdullah lead a tour of the exhibition, joined by Abu Dhabi-born and New York-based artist, photographer and musician Farah Al Qasimi

Sharp Tools – Reflecting on Filmmaking and Friendship 4 Feb, 7pm Nujoom Al Ghanem shares excerpts from her documentary on Hassan Sharif, discussing her work as a filmmaker and the challenges and privileges of creating this intimate portrait. Nujoom will be joined by Mohammed Kazem and Nasser Abdullah. The talk will be followed by an exhibition tour

Express Art! Tuesdays, 11am–1pm: 6, 13, 20, 27 Feb and 6, 13 Mar. Fridays, 2–4 pm: 9, 16, 23 Feb and 2, 9, 16 Mar Activities for children aged 6+ and tours for adults

Less Sticks, More Bricks: Construction for Kids 10 Feb 11–1pm and 1–3pm Shaikha Al Mazrou talks about her epic sculptures, children aged 12–15 get hands on

Street Photography Walk 17 Feb, 1–5pm Photographer and mixed media artist Ammar Al Attar leads a street photography walk through Abu Dhabi

From Sharjah to Abu Dhabi: Two Emirates, Two Exhibitions, One Curator 14 Feb, 11–8pm Meet Nasser Abdullah at Sharjah Art Museum Main Entrance for a guided tour of the 35th Annual Exhibition of the Emirates Fine Arts Society before travelling to Manarat Al Saadiyat for ‘From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi’. Free bus both ways.\

Drawing Rhapsody – Form and Harmony: freehand drawing workshop 28 Feb, 11–1pm Teacher-led drawing experience (with live oud accompaniment) under the guidance of Mattar Bin Lahej, whose work synthesises music, collective and personal cultural contexts

Panel Discussion: Collecting Contemporary Art – Public vs Private in Europe and the Middle East 2 Mar, 6–7:30pm Barcelona-based art critic and curator Montse Badia will be joined by a UAE-based collector (name tbc) to discuss contemporary collecting

Art Trilogy: Figure, Environment, Form 10 Mar 2–4 pm Workshop with Emirati artist Al Anood Al Obaidly using everyday things to consider how objects become invested with meaning and how they accumulate to shape our physical and emotional environments. For ages 10-15

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: The End of the Journey – Final Co-Curator’s Tour 17 Mar, 6–7 pm A farewell look at the exhibition with Nasser Abdullah

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