Critics’ Picks

Wafa Hourani, Qalandia 2087 (detail), 2009, mixed media, 18 x 30’.

Wafa Hourani, Qalandia 2087 (detail), 2009, mixed media, 18 x 30’.


“The Future of Tradition - The Tradition of Future”

Haus der Kunst
Prinzregentenstrasse 1
September 17, 2010–January 19, 2011

In this smartly curated homage to the largest-ever display of Islamic art, held in Munich in 1910, roughly thirty of the exhibition’s original objects, dating from as early as 600 CE, are joined by contemporary works from artists with ties to Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Dubai, Palestine, Turkey, and Jordan. The 1910 exhibition was groundbreaking in its rejection of ethnographic approaches to display, and it drew visitors including Henri Matisse, Franz Marc, and Wassily Kandinsky, who saw in Islamic art’s aniconic forms alternative models for abstraction.

For its part, the 2010 iteration disavows a uniform vision of “Islamic art,” presenting instead a broad (though uneven) array of methodologies, forms, and styles. Samir El Kordy’s stunning maze of textile walls divides the main hall into slivers that allow for intimate encounters with the older objects, whose superb craftsmanship threatens to upstage the newer works. Contemporary artists have other concerns, however, namely the confluence of political, economic, and geographic transformation in the region. Pathetic construction methods and materials are employed strategically, as in Yto Barrada’s train-set-like sculpture Gran Royal Turismo, 2003, wherein a ghost town mechanically transforms into a modern city moments before the arrival of an important cavalcade; or Wafa Hourani’s ramshackle model of a Palestinian refugee camp, Qalandia 2087, 2009, which poignantly imagines a future time when the West Bank barrier is eliminated, only to exist in memorial form as a great, two-sided mirror.

While the 1910 show accompanied Oktoberfest’s centennial, the context of its restaging is far less happy, though apposite. Two weeks after its opening, German Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin published a controversial book arguing that Muslim immigrants are undermining German culture, instigating calls to expel him from the party––proceedings that may continue into 2011, the fiftieth anniversary of the legislation that first brought Turkish guest workers to Germany.