September 3, 2018 - NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery - Ways of Seeing
September 3, 2018

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

Thomas Struth, Hermitage 3, St. Petersburg 2005, 2005. Chromogenic print, 114 x 144.8 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

Ways of Seeing
September 3–November 17, 2018

Opening Reception: September 3, 6–8pm

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
Saadiyat Island
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
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NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery presents Ways of Seeing, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, Founders of the multi-disciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented, Chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation, and Affiliate Curators at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.  The exhibition brings together 26 artists through 41 works spanning a variety of media from painting, sculpture and photography to sound, film and installation.

Taking its cue from John Berger’s 1972 groundbreaking BBC television series and his respective critical book on visual culture, Ways of Seeing invites the viewer to investigate the manifold ways by which artists accord forms and concepts that are otherwise familiar with renewed appearances and meanings. “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled,” Berger wrote. Five decades later, his words remain as relevant as ever. In revisiting Berger’s seminal treatise, the exhibition raises not only the possibility for diverse viewpoints to coexist, but also the necessity to safeguard art’s ability to confront us with various points of view. Berger’s thesis acquires increased agency within the context of the UAE, and its heterogeneous society that is grappling with questions of modernization and tradition against a backdrop of accelerated cosmopolitanism.

Building on Berger’s proposition, the curators seeks to focus the viewer’s awareness on the various formal strategies that artists use to reconfigure our perception of the world. In doing so, the exhibition shifts the locus of art criticism away from the so-called professional art-expert, to that of the lay viewer. Berger developed his case using three main lines of reasoning, which, ever since, have opened up new avenues of critical inquiry for artists, providing them with rigorous possibilities of conceptual and formal engagement with their practice. This is evident in the works in the exhibition, along with the respective creative processes from which they hail. 

First, Berger called for a renewed way of looking at pictures that acknowledged the wide range of contexts within which images of artworks can now be experienced due to mechanical reproduction. Several artworks in the exhibition represent largely familiar art-historical pictures in nonconventional ways. The novel summoning of Picasso’s Guernica through James Webb’s sound installation The Scream (2008), as well as James Casebere’s hyper-realist photographic reproduction of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice (1823 – 24) in Sea of Ice (2014), each offer a revised vision of artworks that have otherwise become arguably static in their meaning.

Second, Berger de-centralised the patriarchal hegemony over the European tradition of the female nude, reflecting, and in some ways anticipating, many of the leading revisionist writings on art history. Works in the exhibition such as Untitled #466 (2008) by Cindy Sherman, and Glimpse into a New Painting (2018) by Ghada Amer, are largely informed by a feminist reading that echoes Berger’s critical stance on the depiction of women within sweeping art-historical narratives.

Third, Berger criticised the European tradition of anthropological depictions of non-European, mostly colonised, cultures, places and people. In doing so, he foreshadowed the discipline of postcolonial studies, which was to become one of the main alternative paradigms for the re-evaluation of the Western-centric art-historical canon. The exhibition features several works that illustrate, within a critical curatorial context, this reductionist portrayal of so-called otherness such as Orientalist painter Frédéric Borgella’s late 19th century painting The Water Carrier, and cartographer John Speed’s Map of the Turkish Empire (c. 1620).

The exhibition includes a number of seminal works that relate to Berger’s multilayered argument.  By inviting the viewer to take a second look, upon which the contours of a new reality begin to emerge, they reflect Berger’s call for the viewer to be actively engaged in the act of seeing. A 1968 projection piece by James Turrell, a 1992 vertical construction installation by Fred Sandback, along with a 1966 mirror installation by Michelangelo Pistoletto, all blur the boundaries between the artwork and the space in which it is displayed. Video pioneers Paul and Marlene Kos's 1976 Lightning video, two of Gustav Metzger's 1996 Historic Photographs, and two photographic prints by Lateefa bint Maktoum from 2011 and 2014 respectively, play on the tension between presence and absence, providing the viewer with new ways of accessing the artwork and its corresponding subject matter. Works by Salvador Dali, Alicja Kwade, Hassan Sharif, and Andreas Gursky change our perception of familiar objects by altering their function, display context, or physical appearance, making us ponder the way in which narratives are constructed through what we see.

Ways of Seeing calls for a return towards a vision of the artist as a maker of things, a skilled technician, who, through their understanding and handling of the formal properties of the creative process, relentlessly remind us that the connection between what we see and what we think we know is never that simple, and that seeing is, at its core, a political act.

It first opened at ARTER – Space for Art in Istanbul and was later adapted for the Boghossian Foundation – Villa Empain in Brussels. For its third iteration at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, the exhibition features a substantial number of new artists and artworks, while keeping core works from its previous presentations. Benefiting from the Art Gallery’s setting within a university context, the exhibition themes will be further investigated through talks, workshops and screenings that draw on NYU Abu Dhabi’s diverse academic disciplines.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, bilingual English/Arabic 181-page catalogue, published by NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery and Akkadia Press, and edited by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath with contributions by Mary Acton, Maya Allison, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, and Stephanie Moser.

Artists: Ghada Amer, Frédéric Borgella, James Casebere, David Claerbout, Salvador Dali, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Andreas Gursky, Mona Hatoum, Paul and Marlene Kos, Alicja Kwade, Lateefa bint Maktoum, Gustav Metzger, Shana Moulton, Vik Muniz, Grayson Perry, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Fred Sandback, Markus Schinwald, Hassan Sharif, Cindy Sherman, Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger, John Speed, Thomas Struth, Kim Tschang-Yeul, James Turrell, and James Webb

About NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

The NYUAD Art Gallery is an academic museum that presents work by internationally-established artists, curators, and scholars, to activate creative dialogue among the university and wider communities, via topics of regional relevance and international significance. It supports scholarly and experimental installations, artists’ projects, and landmark exhibitions, with an emphasis on the uniquely non-commercial, experimental, and scholarly role of a University.

For more information, please contact:

Danielle DeMartini
Brunswick Arts
T +971 56 503 4852                      
NYUADAG [​at​]

Maisoon Mubarak
NYU Abu Dhabi
T +971 50 322 95 32 
Maisoon.Mubarak [​at​]

NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
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