Art Dubai to partner with Saudi Arabia’s Misk Art Institute

A new collaboration between the Dubai art fair and the Misk Art Institute supports Arab modernism

A detail of Shakir Hassan Al Said's untitled painting from 1957, part of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art
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Art Dubai has announced a new partnership with the Misk Art Institute, the Saudi cultural organisation founded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation and headed by the artist Ahmed Mater.

This is the largest partnership to date in the region for the institute, which was set up in 2017, and has announced a series of collaborations with high-profile international organisations including the Venice Biennale.

Misk Art Institute will be the main supporter for the fair’s Modern section and its symposium, which was added last year under its incoming director Myrna Ayad.

It will specifically support the Modern section's new "museum-quality" show, as Ayad puts it, organised by curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. The pair, who collaborate under the rubric Art Reoriented, are well known for their extensive research and curatorial projects in the field of 20th-century Arab work, and last year they curated "21-39", the international art exhibition held annually in Jeddah. Bardaouil and Fellrath's show for Art Dubai, That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life, surveys modernist schools in five Arab cities between the 1940s and the 1980s: the Contemporary Art Group in Cairo, the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, the Casablanca School of Art, the Khartoum School and Dar Al-Funoon Al-Saudia in Riyadh.

Mohammed Melehi's 'Untitled,' 1976. Melehi's work, part of the Casablanca School of Art of the 1960s and 70s, will be on show in Art Dubai's show 'That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life'.
Mohammed Melehi's 'Untitled,' 1976. Melehi's work, part of the Casablanca School of Art of the 1960s and 70s, will be on show in Art Dubai's show 'That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life'.

“The title is taken from the 1951 manifesto from the Baghdad Group for Modern Art,” Ayad says. “It really encapsulates the passion and vision with which all modernists practising in those times leapt forward in their practices.”

The institute will also be supporting three out of the planned 12 talks at the fair’s Modern Symposium, including one on modernity in the Gulf, for which Bardaouil and the art historian Nada Shabout will be in conversation.

Shabout, who advised on That Feverish Leap, is also one of the editors of Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, the collection of primary material – manifestos, letters, diaries, transcripts of roundtable discusssions – that MoMA is producing in partnership with Misk, and which is due out this spring.

Although the bulk of the Art Dubai partnership is in modern work, Misk is also showing the video Reframe Saudi, directed by Matteo Lonardi, which will appear in Virtual Reality in the contemporary section. The video portrays a number of young Saudi artists – Dana Awartani, Ahaad Alamoudi, Zahra Al Ghamdi – at work. 

Misk Art Institute's commitments come as part of Prince Mohammed's recent investment in culture. He tapped Mater, a leading figure in the Saudi art establishment who has been critical of the kingdom's reliance on oil, to lead the institute; architectural firms including aMDL and Skene Catling de la Pena have been commissioned to build its headquarters in Riyadh.

The institute announced in January that it will be supporting the first Saudi Arabia Pavilion at the International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale this spring, a cultural exchange programme in California, and a festival in New York dedicated to Arab art.

“Misk is a cultural organisation that is looking to implement strategic and long-term visions that are focused around cultural appreciation, education and very much the same values that we as Art Dubai reflect in our mission,” Ayad says.

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