Michael Ernst on Lynn Gumpert & Suheyla Takesh. Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s. New York: Grey Art Gallery, January 14–April 4, 2020. Exhibition and Catalogue.
Since the waning multiculturalism of liberal establishments past was eclipsed by the “nativism” of a resurgent radical right in the United States, the task of resisting the siren call of insular xenophobia has fallen in part to curators who—luckily for those of us who affirm the value of cultural exchange over border walls and militarized police—have lately dedicated ample exhibition space to non-Western modernisms. Modern and contemporary art from the Arab world has only recently slipped past the gatekeepers of canonical art history and begun decking the hallowed halls of art institutions around the globe. The Barjeel Art Foundation, which has long sought to foster this development, is becoming a household name across the Northeast. By organizing exhibitions, lending works, and participating in numerous pedagogical initiatives, Barjeel has consistently demonstrated its ambition to unsettle the myopic and Eurocentric historiography of modern art. The steadily growing interest of Western art institutions in coeval modernisms and Barjeel’s evident drive to acquaint Western audiences with modernism from the Arab world have culminated, most recently, in Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.