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. 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.
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled,” wrote the visual culture critic John Berger. Five decades later, his words remain as relevant as ever. 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.
The exhibition includes a number of seminal works that relate, in various ways, 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, or 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.