Living in the landscape: NYUAD Art Gallery’s new show

Blane De St. Croix, Over Ice (detail, 2020); cast white cotton paper. Shown at his MassMoCA exhibition How to Move a Landscape in 2020-21

If you only do three exhibitions a year, there’s an unavoidable imperative to make sure that they are good exhibitions – relevant, accessible and of the very best quality. It looks as though The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery will be hitting all three targets with its fall exhibition, Blane De St. Croix: Horizon, which opens in a couple of weeks.

Bane De St. Croix himself has been widely lauded for his art, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Joan Mitchell Fellowship Award in Sculpture, and a Pollock-Krasner Award. He’s also a recent recipient of the Lee Krasner Award for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement, and has just been confirmed for a National Science Foundation grant for research which will see him produce work around the impact of climate change on indigenous communities in the Yukon Arctic.

Most immediately, this is an exhibition that responds to both the UAE’s landscapes in general and the Year of Sustainability in particular. Blane De St. Croix has developed a practice that involves extended periods of field research to document and question the relationship between humans and the contemporary landscape – and the ecological and geopolitical conflicts that may be embedded in that relationship.

This is characteristically realised as large collages or immersive sculptural installations. For his first exhibition in the Gulf, The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery will be showing a number of never-before-shown works by the artist; but it has also commissioned four major new works that follow this model. They resulted from an extended residency – the artist has spent much of the last year in Abu Dhabi – and involved in-depth collaborations with NYUAD faculty.

The major project is Salt Lake Excerpt, developed with theatre director and NYUAD Arts Professor of Theater Joanna Settle. The two are creating a 150m2 sculptural installation inspired by the sabkhas and shallow estuaries of the UAE; the sculpture is made of PET flakes, the product of recycling around 50,000 plastic water bottles, which undulate gently with light and sound.

The three other commissions are a series of ‘infinite landscapes’ based on the UAE’s deserts. This work was developed from research conducted with NYUAD’s Research Visualization and Fabrication lab and in collaboration with the lab’s Assistant Director Jumaanah Alhashemi, who is herself a transdisciplinary artist and designer.

Executive Director of The NYUAD Art Gallery Maya Allison, who has curated the exhibition, is clearly pleased that the landscapes of the Emirates made such a powerful – and stimulating – impression on Blane De St. Croix. “The desert here offers him new ways of seeing the interconnected challenges that face us with regards to the environment. We are excited that his collaborations with our faculty have resulted in this new body of work.”

She also sees a complementary position, particularly in view of the imminent COP28 meeting: “In a sense this exhibition not only reflects the UAE landscape, but also the intellectual landscape of our university and Abu Dhabi. These perspectives are valuable as COP28 approaches and we at NYU Abu Dhabi contribute to the debate around climate change solutions.

“We hope audiences will find this a vital new experience, as one of the defining characteristics of The Art Gallery is that each project is a new adventure that is much broader than any single curatorial framework or narrative.”

The exhibition is being held in the same period that NYU Abu Dhabi is chairing the Universities Climate Network (UCN). Comprising UAE-based higher education institutions, the UCN collaborates on facilitating dialogues, workshops, public events, policy briefs, and youth participation in the lead up to and beyond COP28.

Blane De St. Croix: Horizon opens on 3 October 3 and runs through to 14 January. The Art Gallery is open 12-8pm Tuesday to Sunday, and entry is of course free.

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