Friday, July 30, 2010

Mirror images - Spicing up Musée Guimet - Economist

Source: Economist

EMILE GUIMET’S bequest of the Asian treasures he had bought on a round-the-world tour in the 1870s fuelled the French craze for Asian antiquities and helped put the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques on a par with the British Museum and the Baur Collection in Geneva.

This summer the French collection has added a twist. Amid a huge show that ranges over eight centuries of Ghandara statues devoted to depicting the face of Buddha, are scattered the works of a playful and eagerly collected young Pakistani photographer, Rashid Rana.

Using computer software to mix his images, Mr Rana creates works that are both ironic and disturbing. A giant box (pictured) that seems from a distance to depict a city skyline is actually made up, when you get close, of hundreds of small photographs of houses in Lahore, a teeming mosaic of urbanity that includes shops, traffic and dusty street corners. Similarly the postage-stamp squares of scenes from a slaughterhouse—pale carcasses, spilled blood and amputated limbs—when you step back, are arranged to depict, in all its richness and comfort, a red oriental carpet. A show to look at over and over.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Songs of the Saints, With Love, From Pakistan - NY Times

Source: NY Times

Joshua Bright for The New York Times

The Soung Fakirs at the New York Sufi Music Festival on Tuesday in Union Square.


Hands waved overhead. Voices shouted lyrics and whooped with delight. Children were hoisted onto parents’ shoulders. In the tightly packed crowd a few dancers made room to jump. T-shirts were tossed to fans from the stage.

Yet in the songs that Abida Parveen was singing, saints were praised. They were Islamic saints, the poets and philosophers revered by Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam.

It was the first New York Sufi Music Festival, a free three-hour concert on Tuesday in Union Square, and it had music from the four provinces of Pakistan, including traditional faqirs who perform outside temples, Sufi rock and a kind of rapping from Baluchistan.

The concert was presented by a new organization called Pakistani Peace Builders, which was formed after the attempted bombing in Times Square by a Pakistani-American. The group seeks to counteract negative images of Pakistan by presenting a longtime Pakistani Islamic tradition that preaches love, peace and tolerance.

Sufism itself has been a target of Islamic fundamentalists; on July 1 suicide bombers attacked Pakistan’s most important Sufi shrine. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, spoke between sets on Tuesday. “What we’re here to do today,” he said, is “to be at peace with all of America.”

The music’s message was one of joyful devotion and improvisatory freedom. Ms. Parveen, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated musicians, was singing in a Sufi style called kafi. Like the qawwali music popularized worldwide by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, kafi sets classical poems — about the love and intoxication of the divine, about seeking the spirit within — to visceral, handclapping rhythms and vocal lines that swoop and twist with passionate volatility.

Ms. Parveen carried songs from serene, hovering introductions to virtuosic euphoria. Long, sustained notes suddenly broke into phrases that zigzagged up and down an octave or more; repeated refrains took on an insistent rasp and became springboards for elaborate leaps and arabesques; quick syllables turned into percussive exchanges with the band. Each song was a continual revelation, making the old poems fully alive.

While the crowd was there for Ms. Parveen’s first New York City performance in a decade, the rest of the program was strong. The Soung Fakirs, from Sachal Sarmast Shrine in Sindh, danced in bright orange robes to devotional songs with vigorous, incantatory choruses. Akhtar Chanal Zehri, though he was introduced as a rapper, was backed by traditional instruments and seemed more of a folk singer, heartily intoning his rhythmic lyrics on a repeating note or two and, eventually, twirling like a Sufi dervish.

Rafaqat Ali Khan, the heir to his family’s school of classical singing (khayal), was backed only by percussion, pushing his long-breathed phrasing into ever more flamboyant swirls and quavers. The tabla player Tari Khan, who also accompanied Rafaqat Ali Khan, played a kinetic solo set that carried a 4/4 rhythm through variants from the Middle East, Europe, New York City and (joined by two more drummers) Africa. There was also instrumental music from the bansuri (wooden flute) player Ghaus Box Brohi.

On the modernizing side, Zeb and Haniya, two Pakistani women who started their duo as college students at Mount Holyoke and Smith, performed gentler songs in the Dari tradition, a Pakistani style with Central Asian roots, with Haniya adding syncopated electric guitar behind Zeb’s smoky voice. Under wooden flute and classical-style vocals the Mekaal Hasan Band plugged in with reggae, folk-rock and a tricky jazz-rock riff. But the lyrics quoted devotional poetry that was 900 years old, distant from the turmoil of the present.

Friday, July 23, 2010

‘Heat Wave’: Lombard-Freid Projects


Source: NY Times

One of Bani Abidi’s photographs of Christian and Hindu residents of Karachi, Pakistan, during Ramadan, from the exhibition “Heat Wave” at Lombard-Freid Projects in Chelsea.

Lombard-Freid Projects, which moves to a new Chelsea address in September, closes out its tenure in its current digs with a show of five youngish international artists, all of them interesting, even if they don’t come across at full strength here.

Atmospheric photographs by Bani Abidi, who was born in Pakistan, make the strongest impression. In them, individual residents of Karachi are seen alone at dusk in a neighborhood street, doing chores or relaxing as if they were in their homes. Dates in the titles indicate that the pictures were taken during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, though the people portrayed are members of the city’s Hindu and Christian minorities. They look at once isolated and conspicuous.

Mural-size cartoon fantasies by the Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho were a hit of the 2007 Asia Pacific Triennial, and the small drawings and embroideries in this show of human figures with architectural appendages catch something of their surreal flavor.

Mounira al Solh, born in Lebanon, shows photographs and a video focused on a clubby group of middle-aged men in Beirut who pass their days, in times of war and peace, working on their tans.

War, or conflict, is the overt subject of work by two artists, Noa Charuvi and Maya Schindler, born in Israel and now living in New York. Ms. Charuvi’s semi-abstract paintings of ruined homes in Gaza are effective in being slow to register their exact content. Ms. Schindler’s installation of paint-stiffened flags and graffiti-style paintings feels at once hectoring and vague.

Fikret Atay’s video “Batman vs. Batman” is about a very specific conflict, though one that could not be described as dire. Mr. Atay introduces us to the mayor of his hometown, Batman, Turkey, who in 2009 was suing Warner Brothers over rights to the city’s name, which has been appropriated (according to the suit) by a certain American action hero. The mayor, an amused and amusing man, energetically presents his case for Mr. Atay’s consideration, then shrugs and basically says, “Hey, what do I have to lose?” — a nicely judged exit sentiment for a heavy-light show. HOLLAND COTTER

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rashid Rana at the Musée Guimet, review - Telegraph


France’s national museum of Asian art is being transformed by the integration of contemporary work by Pakistani artist Rashid Rana into its collection.

By Gareth Harris

Inviting closer inspection: A detail from Rashid Rana's Red Carpet

A quiet revolution took place in the French museum world this week. Over 20 works by leading Pakistani artist Rashid Rana went on show at the venerable Musée Guimet, France’s national museum of Asian art (‘Perpetual Paradoxes’, until 15 November).

For the first time, contemporary works have been integrated into the museum’s permanent collections with Rana’s striking digital photomontages and sculptures, dating from 1992 to today, placed alongside ancient Buddha statuettes and effigies of revered deities over two floors.

Guest curators Arianne Levene and Eglantine de Ganay of A&E Projects have managed to maintain the delicate art ecosystem of the Guimet, with Rana’s intriguing, rather than imposing, interventions inviting closer inspection (always a sign of intelligent art).

The most in-your-face piece is ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise’ (2007-8), a Kaba-esque stainless steel cube sliced through with pixelated images of Lahore. The work throws up a plethora of issues about the interplay between 2D and 3D perspectives (the city photography springs to life in the mirrored reflection of the cube’s grid structure), a technical and thematic transmutation deftly developed by Rana.

“I have always been interested in the ‘idea of two-dimensionality’; it has manifested [itself] in the form of a grid which has inadvertently, and more often advertently, always been present in my work, from my deceptively abstract grid paintings of the early 1990s to recent pixel-based photo works of recent years,” explains Rana.

‘Desperately Seeking Paradise’, a conglomeration of numerous minuscule details, sets the tone for the show. Looking beyond the basic form of the work is key to assimilating the art. ‘Red Carpet-1’ (C print, 2007), resembles a traditional Persian rug but look closely, and you’ll find that the garish red detail derives from the blood of slaughtered animals (this 21st-century mosaic is actually an assemblage of images taken in the abattoirs of Lahore). Meanwhile, an early digital print, ‘I Love Miniatures’ (2002), turns out to be a historic Mughal portrait composed from a multitude of small-scale billboard advert imagery (Rana, it appears, enjoys making mischief).

Subsequently, most of the imagery blurs into abstraction and nothing remains concrete. Even the carnal acts of a pornographic image (‘Sites-1’, 2009) are indecipherable, a mass of pixelated cubes melded together through a palette of pinks and purples (these component parts are taken from fashion and science magazines; once again, Rana builds an entity from the most disparate of sources).

But what’s the motivation? “To puzzle the audience is not the main objective; it’s more to do with taking fragments to create something very familiar. But when one looks at both the bigger and smaller picture together, it is then that preconceived notions about certain phenomena are challenged. Then they (the audience) make new connections and a meaning through very familiar imagery.

The aim is to make the viewer challenge stereotypes,” comments the artist. There is tension between what the eye sees and misses (the view of the whole and its accumulated parts) as well as tension between artifice and reality (ornate carpets vs. animal butchery).

And crucially, how has the museum reacted? Jacques Giès, president of the Musée Guimet, realises that a modern institution must reflect the link between heritage and contemporary life:

“The museum is much more than a safety-deposit box for antiques. In view of the value of the Asian dynamic in our modern-day world – where Asian cultures are for the first time in Western history making a place for themselves that grows larger every day- the time has come, we believe, to reflect on and reconsider our notion of the museum.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rashid Rana - Musee Guimet exhibition - Opening Night

Perpetual Paradox opened with great fanfare at Musee Guimet. Pakistan Art News (PAN) is told that Rashid was treated like a rock star (and that he is!). Enjoy the opening's photographs.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Contemporary art - Art-fair musical chairs

by The Economist.

Contemporary art

Global frameworks
Art-fair musical chairs
Jun 24th 2010 Basel

CONTEMPORARY art is a futures market in which “derivative” is a bad word. Art Basel, which ended on June 20th, heard a lot of phrases adapted from the financial markets. To be a good bet against near-zero interest rates and unpredictable currency fluctuations, art needs the potential of a global market. Thus, “local artist” has become a synonym for insignificant artist and “national” damns with faint praise. “International” is now a selling point in itself.

Aided by banks and royalty, international art fairs are spreading belief in contemporary art. UBS sponsors Art Basel and its sister fair, Art Basel Miami Beach; Deutsche Bank subsidises London’s Frieze Fair and the Hong Kong International Art Fair. In the Middle East, local rulers are patrons of Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art.

Art fairs accelerate the transnational exposure of artists and Art Basel is the unrivalled leader in this, partly because it has always defined itself as international. This year, its 41st, the fair featured 300 galleries from 37 countries. Careful curation is required for this global mix to be properly diverse. As Lucy Mitchell-Innes of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, a New York gallery, warns: “It’s a problem if four or five booths have the same artist’s work. A good international fair wants Chinese galleries to bring talented Chinese artists, not another Antony Gormley.”

There are many components to the globalisation of art. Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer, co-directors of Art Basel, suggest that private collections internationalise in the process of becoming more serious. “Collectors often start by acquiring art from their own nation, then their own region, then finally internationally,” explains Mr Spiegler.

The hierarchy of fairs is different from the auction market. The top three cities for auctions are New York, London and Hong Kong, in that order. But the hierarchy of fairs is in dispute. Everyone agrees that Basel comes first, but it is unclear which comes next: Miami or London. Or if New York, with the Armory Show and Art Dealers Association of America show, or Paris with FIAC, is third. The situation in the lower tiers is even more volatile. Madrid’s ARCO fair used to be the most important fair for South and Latin American galleries but it has been usurped by Miami. Now ARCO is perceived as an afternoon of cultural exposure for Spanish punters rather than a pressing business occasion.

Two newcomers are shaking things up. The Hong Kong International Art Fair, which took place at the end of May, boasted 155 galleries from 29 countries. Hong Kong is the financial and geographical centre of Asia, a transport hub where people from West and East feel equally at home, and there are no duties on art. Lehmann Maupin, a New York gallery, was one of many delighted with the results. As the primary dealer on a range of Asian artists including Do Ho Suh, a well-known South Korean, Lehmann Maupin’s inventory proved attractive to the pan-Asian audience that had flown into town.

The other fair that is the subject of much discussion is Abu Dhabi Art. Last November it welcomed 50 galleries from 19 countries as a first move towards interesting visitors in a vast museum building project that will see its first openings in 2013. David Zwirner Gallery was convinced to participate in the next edition of the fair by Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim Museum. As Mr Zwirner explained, “The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will open soon, so it has to get cracking with its acquisition programme. The fair is therefore a key venue. My business model relies on museums educating the public.”

The globalisation of art is not all about money. A growing number of not-for- profit biennials are being developed alongside the market structures. Massimiliano Gioni, a curator based in Milan and New York, who is overseeing the Gwangju biennial, which opens in South Korea in September, recalls that the avant-garde was “built on a transnational community of kindred spirits,” adding, “sometimes I long for that.” Art has often aspired to universal values. Perhaps it is finally in a position to have them.

Rashid Rana at Musée Guimet - Perpetual Paradoxe - 7 July – 15 November 2010

Musée Guimet Exhibitions Contemporary Art Rashid Rana - Perpetual Paradox

7 July – 15 November 2010

The Musée Guimet presents the exhibition « Perpetual Paradox » and exhibits for the first time in France the contemporary creations of Rashid Rana, considered to be Pakistan’s greatest contemporary artist because of his digital photomontages, sculptures and video installations.
Roughly twenty of his disconcertingly paradoxical pieces will be scattered among the museum’s permanent collection, offering a unique opportunity to compare contemporary art with the Musée Guimet’s age-old Asian pieces, thus placing a question mark above tradition and the “illusion of permanence”, from the depths of time to the modern age.

With this daring, new exhibition, the Musée Guimet steps into the realm of contemporary art. Jacques Giès, President of the Musée Guimet, justifies this new approach: “The museum is much more than a safety-deposit box for antiques. In view of the value of the Asian dynamic in our modern-day world – where Asian cultures are for the first time in Western history making a place for themselves that grows larger every day- the time has come, we believe, to reflect on and reconsider our notion of the museum.”

Originally a painter, well-known in the public eye in Pakistan and several other Middle-Eastern and European countries, Rashid Rana has for the last ten years chosen to work on digital imaging, allowing him to associate opposing elements in the same piece by inlaying micro-photographic details and creating pixellated images. By associating the seen with the unseen, the artist highlights the hostility between cultures, holding responsible those who create today’s images and therefore play a role in the construction of tomorrow’s traditions … “In this age of uncertainty we have lost the privilege of having one world view. Now every image, idea and truth encompasses its opposite within itself.” –Rashid Rana.

The exhibition “Perpetual Paradox” appears hand-in-hand with the current exhibition, “Pakistan: Where Civilisations Meet. Art from the Gandhara, 1st-6th centuries AD” which runs until 16 August, and offers a unique opportunity to discover 200 Greco-Buddhist pieces characteristic of the Gandhara, mixing classic Greek and Indian art in a fusion of genres and styles.

These two exhibitions dedicated to Pakistan provide a one-off chance to experience ancient heritage alongside contemporary creations.

Note: This exhibition contains images that may offend sensitive viewers.

Musée Guimet:
Jacques Giès, President of the Musée Guimet
Caroline Arhuero, Documentary Researcher

Guest Curators:
Arianne Levene
Églantine de Ganay

Friday, July 2, 2010

Charles Saatchi donates gallery to the nation


The Saatchi Gallery in The Duke of York's Headquarters, Chelsea Photo: CLARA MOLDEN

"Saatchi's collection includes a number of very important works of art from contemporary Pakistani artists like Rashid Rana, Shezad Dawood and "

Art collector Charles Saatchi is gifting more than 200 works and his Saatchi Gallery to the nation, he has announced.

The Saatchi Gallery in The Duke of York's Headquarters, Chelsea Photo: CLARA MOLDEN The works, by artists including Tracey Emin, Jake & Dinos Chapman and Grayson Perry, are worth more than £25 million.

The Saatchi Gallery in London's Chelsea will become the Museum of Contemporary Art, London (Moca London).

The works will be donated to the Moca London foundation and the Saatchi Gallery is in discussions with potential Government departments, which would own the works on behalf of the nation.

The permanent collection that Saatchi is gifting includes the Richard Wilson Oil Room installation, and Emin's signature work My Bed.

The Chapman Brothers' work Tragic Anatomies, with mutated mannequins frolicking in a garden setting, last seen in the Sensation exhibition, will be another major holding.

Also included is the recent installation by Emily Prince, which filled a gallery room with more than 5,000 drawings of dead US servicemen and women from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which she continues to build upon with the death of each soldier.

Another recently-seen work is from the Saatchi Gallery's Indian show, with a wall of bones forming the text of a speech by Gandhi, by Indian artist Jitish Kallat.

From the gallery's 2009 survey of Middle Eastern artists, the Kader Attia room of hundreds of life-sized praying figures made from aluminium foil will also form part of the museum's permanent collection.

The disturbing work Chinese Offspring by Zhang Dali, with life-size naked figures strung up by their feet from the rafters, will also be included.

The museum will be free to display artworks at all times, but when they are not being exhibited, the Government body may lend the works to other institutions.

A statement issued on the collector's behalf said: "Saatchi's view is that it is vital for the museum always to be able to display a 'living' and evolving collection of work, rather than an archive of art history."

Alongside a permanent collection, the gift will include several works which the museum may trade, using the cash raised to acquire new works.

New acquisitions will be added to the foundation's holdings to enable the museum to remain involved in spearheading the "newest developments in contemporary art".

This would continue in the traditions followed by the Saatchi Gallery since it began presenting public exhibitions a quarter of a century ago.

The London gallery sat in first place out of the UK attractions in a recent league table of global exhibition and museum attendance figures carried out by the Art Newspaper.

The Saatchi Gallery's exhibition The Revolution Continues: New Art from China, which opened in October 2008, drew more than 4,100 daily visitors.

The statement said the Saatchi Gallery's management team will ensure that the museum will continue to be free to the public, and run as it is today by securing sponsorship, and by using revenues from its facilities and hosting events.