Abu Dhabi Festival Kicks Off With A Contemporary Art Exhibition

BY Farah Abu-Zaid / Feb 7 2018 / 19:55 PM

To celebrate 100 years since the birth of the founding father of the Emirate, Abu Dhabi Festival stages From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi, an exhibition including works from MACBA in dialogue with Emirati art

Abu Dhabi Festival Kicks Off With A Contemporary Art Exhibition
Photography by LR Ferran Barrenlit
His Highness Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, president of MACBA Foundation Ainhoa Grandes, and chairman of Emirates Fine Art Society Nasser Abdullah at the opening night of the exhibition

Curated by Ferran Barenblit, director of Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), and Nasser Abdullah, chairman of Emirates Fine Art Society, From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi is the first Arab world display of one of Europe’s most significant collections. On display is a wide range of works by more than 70 artists, juxtaposing pieces from the MACBA collection alongside works by 20 Emirati artists.

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

Juan Munoz. The Nature of Visual Illusion. 1994. Courtesty of the MACBA collection.

Varying in different perspectives, spanning 90 years, and crossing five continents, the exhibition revolves around three overall concepts: ‘Figure’, ‘Environment’, and ‘Form’. Presented are works by some of the most recognised artists of the contemporary art world, including Esther Ferrer, Francis Alys, Bruce Nauman, and Henri Michaux adjacent to works by UAE artists such as Hassan Sharif, Layla Juma, Khalif Mezaina, and Ebtisam Abdul Aziz. From the photography of Xavier Miserachs to the expansive installation of Juan Munoz, such pieces are juxtaposed with those by Emirati artists Shamma Al Amri’s, such as her achromatic study drawings, and the vintage visual diary of photographer Ammar Al Attar.

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

Farah Al Qasimi. It’s Not Easy Being Seen 2. 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Third Line Gallery.

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi suggests the idea of a journey whereby we reflect on the role of art in society. Each theme offers a visual conversation with works from the MACBA collection in the rooms with black flooring, corresponding to the works by Emirati artists in the rooms with white flooring. There are no visible chapters in this dialogue, rather, it is a unified conversation between two distinct cultures. The exhibition offers a discussion exploring the principals of art and primary human experiences, giving way to a multitude of different subjects and styles. 

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

Layla Juma's Settlement (2017) installation on display. Courtesy of the artist. 

Upon entrance to the exhibition, the visitors are greeted with a large-scale Arabic and English typographical installation piece titled Some Objects of Desire created by Lawrence Weiner in 2004. The work is also on display in MACBA Barcelona, and is composed of similar text in English, Catalan, and Spanish. Weiner attempts to address the viewers by distinguishing between objects of desire, necessity, and objects of no concern.

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

Lawrence Weiner. Some Objects of Desire. 2004. Courtesy of the MACBA collection. 

John Baldessari, the world-renowned American artist, is also one of the many artists whose work is on display in the ‘Form’ section of the exhibition. His piece, titled Dwarf and Rhinoceros (With large black shape) (1989), explores the element of form in art. It strays away from the realistic depiction experimenting instead with abstraction. The relationships between form and space, colour and meaning, matter and absence are examined in his pieces. This is comparable to works of Nasir Nasrallah, Gego, Khalil Abdul Wahid, Jordi Benito, and several other artists who are on display in this division of the gallery.

From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

John Baldessari. Dwarf & Rhinoceros (With Large Black Shape). 1989. 

In contrast, Emirati artist Farah Al-Qasimi’s It’s Not Easy Being Seen (2016) is a series of energetic photographical works that center around the human form. Her pieces concentrate on personal experiences and human emotions such as self-reflection and mortality.

With a variety of different mediums such as sculptures, installations, paintings, drawings, and photography, the artworks in From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi come together through their corresponding concepts and the questions that they pose: What makes us human? Where and how do we live? What is art? And maybe, just maybe, we will find the answers here.


From Barcelona to Abu Dhabi runs till the 17th of March. For more information on the exhibition and Abu Dhabi Festival, go to Abudhabifestival.ae