Melissa Gronlund

  • Pushpendra Singh, The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs, 2020, digital video, color, sound, 110 minutes.
    film November 30, 2020

    Short Circuit

    THE SHARJAH FILM PLATFORM—the third edition of Sharjah Art Foundation’s film festival—opened earlier this month, in a country whose low coronavirus cases have allowed it to resume regular, though masked operation. But the weeklong platform seemed like a telegram from another time—or a harbinger of what’s to come. Whenever life returns to normal, and whatever that normal is, our viewing habits will have changed significantly from the cinematic paradigm, with its collective, focused, and non-serial engagement with singular subjects. The festival’s focus on shorts gestured toward the freedom in

  • Rund Alarabi, Mahjoub Sharif, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 2 minutes 24 seconds. From “Durational Portrait: A Brief Overview of Video Art in Saudi Arabia.”

    “Durational Portrait: A Brief Overview of Video Art in Saudi Arabia”

    “Durational Portrait: A Brief Overview of Video Art in Saudi Arabia,” curated by Tara Aldughaither and Afia Bin Taleb, brought together work by forty-eight artists from the late 1990s to the present, with sections labeled “Beginnings,” “Identity,” “Connection,” and, for the most current work, “Recovery.” Though it didn’t claim to be exhaustive, it was an outstanding exhibition, one of the first to essay a proper historical survey of an important medium in Saudi art.

    The works reflected global political events as well as internal changes in the kingdom. Some of the works in the “Identity” section

  • Ho Tzu Nyen, 2 or 3 Tigers, 2015, two-channel HD video, color, sound, 18 minutes 46 seconds. From “Animalesque/Art Across Species and Beings.”

    “Animalesque/Art Across Species and Beings”

    This is the best of times and the worst of times to make an exhibition about animals. The question of humans’ relationships with other species is becoming ever more current, with animal studies positioning itself as one of a number of social movements challenging fixed hierarchies. “Animalesque / Art Across Species and Beings,” which has traveled to the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art after originating at the Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden, is a cross-generational look at art projects that have engaged with animals, whether as subjects or as icons. Curated by Filipa Ramos, the show suggests three


    NO ONE EXPECTED the internal dispute among the Arabian Gulf states to last this long. Since June 2017, four of the states—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt—have severed economic and diplomatic relations with Qatar. The dispute doesn’t just exist on a government level but weighs on the minds of residents: Those living on both sides of the divide privately lament the crisis while publicly—i.e., on social media—refraining from liking posts by or openly communicating with friends from estranged countries. It has also affected the operations of the art world, both in terms

  • View of “Hassan Sharif,” 2017–18. From left: Towel 3, 2013; Slippers and Wire, 2009; Rug 6, 2014.

    Hassan Sharif

    Hassan Sharif, who died in September 2016, is broadly credited with bringing international art idioms such as Conceptualism to the United Arab Emirates; he was, by all accounts, the center of the generation of Emirati avant-garde artists of the 1980s and ’90s who broke with traditional art forms. Coming a year after his death, this retrospective is situated somewhere between an homage to the artist and an attempt to come to grips with his vastly productive, unruly practice.

    “Hassan Sharif: I Am the Single Work Artist” is curated by the Sharjah Art Foundation’s president and director, Hoor Al

  • Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Louvre Abu Dhabi, 2017. Photo: Mohamed Somji.

    the Louvre Abu Dhabi

    WHAT MORE CAN BE SAID about the Louvre Abu Dhabi? Since the original agreement was signed between France and the United Arab Emirates in 2007, buckets of ink have been spilled about the museum on Saadiyat Island, sixteen hundred feet off the coast of Abu Dhabi. And not just in the popular press: There are conferences and book-length studies that have been devoted to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and to the larger phenomenon of starchitect museums in the Arabian Gulf—despite the fact that this phenomenon has yet to fully materialize. (Of the seven museums that are planned, in Abu Dhabi, Doha, and

  • Yazan Khalili, Copy of a Copy of a Copy, 2017, posters, ink-jet print, shipping pallet. Installation view. Photo: Alexander Wolfe.

    Yazan Khalili

    Yazan Khalili’s show “On the Other Side of the Law” analyzed life in Ramallah from the standpoint of legality, focusing on the often-absurd contortions to which Palestinians must submit their daily routines in order to accommodate international laws. Khalili connects questions of lawfulness to a discourse on the circulation of images, adapting a strand of recent critique to illustrate the larger political failings of a system ill-equipped for the realities of its subjects’ lives. 

    The three-channel video installation Robbery in Area A, 2013–16, for example, highlights flaws in the West Bank’s

  • Lantian Xie, Woodland Fern No. 4, 2014, paint, fluorescent tube light, ashtray, lighter, cigarette butts. Installation view, Grey Noise, Dubai, 2014–15. Photo: Musthafa Aboobacker.


    DUBAI LOOMS LARGE in the world’s cultural imaginary: To many, it is the ultimate no-place, a site of extreme inauthenticity and soulless globalization, pure capital solidified into glass and steel. Swatting away those clichés is a favorite pastime of those who actually live here, who know that the city’s polyglot character—a staggering 83 percent of residents in Dubai are foreign—often forms the basis of new identities.

    For the artist Lantian Xie, who was raised in Dubai by parents of Chinese heritage, the city’s heterogeneity is a rich source of material. In his installations, scripts,

  • Translation of letter concerning ISIS Antiquities Division leadership, November 21, 2014. Original document obtained in a May 16, 2015, US Special Forces raid of Abu Sayyaf’s Syrian compound and made available on the US Department of State website.

    “Safeguarding Cultural Heritage”

    THIS PAST DECEMBER in Abu Dhabi, a group of high-level dignitaries convened to discuss an especially horrible facet of the current crisis of Islamist terrorism: the systematic and wholesale destruction of sites and artifacts of world heritage. The conference, “Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage,” was held at the opulent Emirates Palace, where its hosts, France’s President François Hollande and the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, gave remarks, and Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, and ministers from countries around the world delivered speeches.

  • Christian Bonnefoi, JANAPA II, 1978, acrylic on tarlatan, metal frame, 74 3/4 × 98 3/8". From the series “JANAPA,” 1978.

    Christian Bonnefoi

    Christian Bonnefoi creates large, multicolored canvases of diagonals and stripes, squiggles and turns, that are steeped in the history of abstraction and the theories that have accompanied it. Bonnefoi’s recent show, “Double Take,” concentrated on paintings from 1974 to 1980, with just six later works, and was curated by Sylvie Turpin, who has long collaborated with the artist. In many of them, large canvases are stretched across metal or wooden frames, which remain visible through the gauzy muslin that Bonnefoi characteristically uses—an extremely delicate material called tarlatan. He

  • Hamed Ewais, Le Gardien de la Vie (The Protector of Life), 1967–68, oil on canvas, 52 × 39 1/2". From “The Short Century.”

    “The Short Century”

    A major problem of twentieth-century art history in the Arab region has been one of visibility. Even the high points of Arab Modernism, the movement that flourished across the Maghreb and the Middle East from the 1950s to the ’70s, are often little seen. This owes as much to regionalism as to the fact that most twentieth-century Arab work was privately collected, and these collections either were dispersed by war, as was the case for many Iraqi collectors; remained on view only in private homes; or were bequeathed to museums with only a limited sense of social responsibility.

    This is the background

  • Stephen Sutcliffe, The Hidden God, 2014, HD digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes 31 seconds. From “Artists and Archives: Artists’ Moving Image at the BBC.”

    Maeve Connolly’s TV Museum

    “THERE’S SOME KIND OF a haunting here that I’m picking up,” warns Mindy, a late-night psychic on a fake public-access television show in Phil Collins’s latest film, Tomorrow Is Always Too Long, 2014. “Does it make sense to ask yourself: Who have I become? . . . When did touch turn from a skin-to-skin contact into the glow of a missed FaceTime call?” Collins’s restaging of public-access spots is one of a number of artists’ sympathetic explorations of television within artistic work over the past fifteen years. TV has emerged as a subject of not only formal but also social and what might be called