Located in Saudia Arabia’s eastern province of Dhahran is one of the world’s most impressive new structures: Ithra, or the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture. Developed by Saudi Aramco and inaugurated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on 1 December 2017, the Center houses a cinema, a museum, library, theatre, materials lab, and numerous exhibition halls. Designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta, the building has recently unveiled its latest addition: a monumental new artwork specially-commissioned for the Center by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone.
Titled Source of Light and inaugurated on 3 May, the 90-foot tall work comprises three towering bronze trees that extend from the base of the work inside an atrium-like outdoor space inside the physical core of Ithra. The three towering bronze trees rise up more than 92 feet in height and are supported by branches of a fourth, larger and centrally placed tree, which has been divided into several hollow sections. A quick look inside from below reveals a telescope-like viewing of the work from below to high above as it juts, almost magically, into the sky.
Giuseppe Penone. Courtesy of Archivio Penone
As Ithra’s largest permanent art commission, Source of Light celebrates the belief in creative change that is core to Saudi Arabia’s new landmark. “In our quest to foster cross-cultural exchange, this work offers visitors a unique and tangible example of global artistic expression. With the Source, Penone has synthesized memory and nature in dialogue with architecture to inspire our consideration of what has yet to be discovered,” said Director of King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) Ali Al-Mutairi.
Penone’s powerful oeuvre can be found in pivotal locations throughout the world. The Italian artist and sculptor is known for his large-scale sculptures of trees that emphasis a connection between man and the natural world. His work has graced the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York, the Tuileries in Paris, Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Fendi's Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome. In 2014, he was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award. His work, as found in Source of Light, is continuously inspired by a range of organic systems and natural forms including, wood, resin, stone and the human body. The work at Ithra connects the earth with the sky above offering a metaphorical statement on the Center’s belief in the power of creativity and a new era for the Kingdom.
Source of Light. Courtesy of King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture
“Source of Light emphasizes and represents the energy extracted from the earth that helps life and growth,” said Penone. “It symbolizes the Source, where oil needed for the growth and development of the world's economy was discovered. It celebrates with its own form and materials, including the gold that covers the central tree’s inner surface, the elevation of life.”
Just like the undulating curves Snohetta’s architecture, said to represent four giant high-tech rock-like structures referencing Saudi Arabia’s surrounding landscape, Penone’s Source of Light shoots out from the depths of Ithra linking the past, present and future through art, nature and the energy which, as the artist says, “elevates life.”
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