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Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Jay Levenson, director of International Program at the Museum of Modern Art; and Ahmed Mater, director of the Misk Art Institute in Riyadh, at Mada'in Saleh, an archaeological site in northern Saudi Arabia. Photo: Stephen Stapleton, December 2017.

Recently Launched Misk Art Institute Reveals Details of Its 2018 Program

The Misk Art Institute in Saudi Arabia, a new cultural organization established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s Misk Foundation, announced today the details of its programming for 2018, its first full year of operation. At a press conference hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, artist Ahmed Mater, director of the institute, outlined the major upcoming initiatives of the cultural center, which include the commissioning of the first Saudi pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale, the development of a cultural exchange program in California, and the launch of a New York–based festival dedicated to Arab art.

As Glenn D. Lowry, director of MoMA, introduced the Misk Art Institute team, he spoke of the museum’s longterm strategy to engage with various groups from around the world at the grassroots level and stressed that Saudi Arabia’s recognition of Misk as an artist-led institution dedicated to encouraging cultural exchange and artistic experimentation will lead to its success. Mater, a former physician who became an artist known for scrutinizing the contemporary realities of Saudi Arabia, said that the institute was a collaborative venture for artists, designers, makers, and thinkers. “As with all projects the idea for this started with a small catalyst . . . We hope in time, we will all share in its making,” he said.

The institute has selected Michele De Lucchi of aMDL, Skene Catling de la Pena, and Factum Arte as the architects of its new headquarters, which will be located in Riyadh, the country’s capital and a financial hub. The facility will include galleries, theaters, offices, public gathering spaces, and areas for educational programming. The cultural complex will also run a community-focused art center in Abha, the capital of Asir, a region in southwestern Saudi Arabia. “Our intention is the work with the directors of Misk to develop a project rooted in the cultural history and natural environment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that will be recognized as one of the most progressive art centers in the world,” the architects said in a joint statement. “It will be a new type of artists’ studio embedded within exhibition spaces and production workshops where new technologies and craft skills can merge.”

In December 2017, the institute issued an open call for proposals for the first Saudi pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Located in the Arsenale, the exhibition will focus on the concept of the undesigned space. A jury is currently reviewing the sixty-six submissions it received and will announce its selection at a later date. The institute is also currently planning the New York Arab Art Festival, which will bring exhibitions, lectures, and other programming to partner institutions over the course of two to four weeks in October. In November, ten young Saudi artists will travel to California to participate in “Create and Inspire.” Valeria Mariani, the Misk staffer organizing the cultural exchange program, said that California was chosen as the destination for the initiative because it is the “birthplace of generational movements—the hippie movement in the 1960s and the more recent tech movement—providing a unique context for learning, comparison, and inspiration.”

With support from Misk, the Museum of Modern Art will publish Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, a collection of one hundred primary documents on Arab art that range from artist manifestos and transcripts of roundtables to letters, diary entries, and even gallery guestbook comments, this spring. The text has been in production for five years and will include newly commissioned essays by artists, critics, historians, and other important cultural figures.

The Misk Foundation was founded as part of the crown prince’s 2030 Vision Program—a blueprint for Saudi Arabia’s long-term goals, which include becoming less dependent on oil, diversifying the economy, and increasing the number of Saudi Arabians in private employment, including women, who were recently given the right to drive. In alignment with this milestone, the institute said that it embraces this new era of “female empowerment” and is backing its words by employing a staff of mostly women. Seventy percent of its employees are female, most of whom are in managerial roles.

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