Otto Piene, Hängende Lichtkuge (Hanging Light Ball), 1972. Perforated and chromium-plated brass sphere, chromium-plated brass spheres, light bulbs, and electric motor, 223.5 x 68 cm. Photo © Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Seeing Through Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection, a pre- opening exhibition has continued to be a major point of attraction at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Since the show opened at a museum located at the Manarat Al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island, it has attracted a lot of art lovers, including Emiratis and Western tourists.
The exhibition features artworks by 19 international artists dating from the 1960s to the present all of which explore the theme of ‘light’. The artworks were acquired specifically for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi collection. Also included in the show are two key loans from its partner institution, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Divided into five sections namely, Perceptual, Reflected, Transcendent, Activated, and Celestial, the artworks in each area examine the theme of light in a way that engenders new meaning and understanding of light. From video to paintings, sculptures and art installations in immersive environments that visitors can move around in and even through, viewers are presented with the opportunity to experience light in all of its spatial, sensory, and perceptual phenomena.
Perceptual Light, the first section of the show includes works by Larry Bell, Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin, Keith Sonnier, and Douglas Wheeler who were early practitioners of the light art movement. Alongside Perceptual Light, is Reflected Light, a brilliantly curated section that includes artworks by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. The two artists who were active in the 1960s as founders of the Zero group presented artworks that brought a unique approach to the use of light as art. Otto Piene’s Hängende Lichtkuge (Hanging Light Ball), 1972, for instance, borrows from the entertainment world to create an art form that illuminates the space it is situated. Made from perforated and chromium-plated brass sphere, chromium-plated brass spheres, light bulbs, and electric motor, the 223.5 x 68 sculpture creates amazing and stunning refection in the installation room. In the room, flicking lights combine with dots and flashes to achieve dramatic moments and abstract expressionist atmosphere in space. Piene’s work is part of a major retrospective titled Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s currently on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It includes work of artists of a younger generation such as Ghada Amer and Rachid Koraïchi.
Monir Farmanfarmian, Samia Halaby, Shirazeh Houshiary, and Y.Z. Kami are the artists included in the section categorized as Transcendent Light. The four artists, all of whom are painters, use light thematically to explore the contemplative. In her work, Samia Halaby, the Palestinian artist born in Jerusalem in 1936 uses abstraction and colors in a way that attracts emotion and generate excitement. The excitement is also evident in Activated Light section that includes artists Angela Bulloch, Hassan Khan, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer whose artworks explore advanced technologies to activate light.
The section on Celestial Light delves into the infinite and spirituality. The artists in this section include Bharti Kher, Yayoi Kusama, and Song Dong, who use a range of media to produce artworks that emulate the infinite. Yayoi Kusama’s installation project titled Infinity Mirrored Room reminds viewers of the heavenly. Made from mirrors and LED Bulbs, the installation has been one of the major attractions for art lovers who have been trapped by its aesthetics.
Although the exhibition was held in a location that will be occupied by the new The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi when it is finally built, the show presents an insight into what to expect when the museum is finally built and takes a pride of place in the Abu Dhabi landscape. Rita Aoun-Abdo, Executive Director, Culture Sector, TCA Abu Dhabi notes that Seeing Through Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection is an insight into what to expect in future as the museum will host major transcultural exhibitions that will highlight various legacies of modernism and the emergence of contemporary art in the region. She said:
The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not yet a physical place, but it is already providing a dynamic platform for interrogating the history of art and contemplating both the present and future of contemporary art. This exhibition introduces visitors to the type of special exhibitions that will be exhibited at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, with the intent to foster a transcultural perspective on the history of art and to encompass various legacies of modernism and the emergence of contemporary art in the region. Through the artwork exhibited and various supporting community and education programmes, TCA Abu Dhabi aims to foster this perspective and encourage the emergence of home-grown talents.
Presented by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, there is no doubt that this is a great way to celebrate the beginning of a museum of such enormous stature. Organized by Susan Davidson, Senior Curator, Collections and Exhibitions, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, with Sasha Kalter-Wasserman, Assistant Curator, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Project, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and Maisa Al Qassimi, Programmes Manager, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, this is a brilliant show that sets the path for future shows and collection.
Through Light a collection of artworks illuminates not just the creativity of the artists whose works were presented during the show, but also what the future holds for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Just like the artworks in the show, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s future building designed by Frank Gehry, bears testament to the relevance of light. The architecture design, a monument to light, is characterized by glass-covered cones that are bound to become a major attraction on the cultural landscape of Abu Dhabi.