Critics’ Picks

Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque, ca. 1977, C-print, 37 x 47".

Gordon Matta-Clark, Office Baroque, ca. 1977, C-print, 37 x 47".


“Artist Run New York: The Seventies”

Jean-Paul Najar Foundation
45 Alserkal Avenue
March 10–June 30, 2017

America has never been hard to see in the Gulf, but until recently, its artists have been. Save for the odd institutional retrospective of works from overseas, Dubai’s art scene has mostly been dominated by the regional and the contemporary. The city predicates its self-mythology on a fetishization of the new (newer! newest!), and galleries follow suit. Yet just as decades of rapid expansion have given way to an embrace of infill architecture, so too has the art world begun to look backward, with a spate of historical—particularly Western-focused—shows. With a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates film, performance, experimental music, and archival material, this exhibition is one of the few that lands.

High windows flood the gallery with light, washing out a projection of Babette Mangolte’s 1978 film Water Motor. Trisha Brown’s movements are as fluid and beautiful as ever, but with the show opening nine days before her passing, it feels like an elegy. The short performance plays once in real time, then repeats in slow motion. It serves as a synecdoche for the show, which bypasses treacly nostalgia in favor of a distillation to gesture and a singular moment. Line is a leitmotif, recurring in spare drawings from Robert Grosvenor, Richard Nonas, Richard Tuttle, and John Torreano. Despite their formal synergies, the works here consider how a space, especially one outside the gallery system, becomes a place. It’s a sentiment echoed in Tina Girouard’s suspended fabric panels and Gordon Matta-Clark’s photographs of rewardingly lyrical incisions into abandoned office buildings, while Richard Landry’s photographs convey the spirit of friendship that underscored these artists’ various collaborations. This show arrives at a time when the local art scene struggles to translate commerce to community. Maybe we could take a few notes from the era documented here.