Illustration by Anastasiia Zubareva
Despite latching onto NYU New York’s legacy in many ways, NYU Abu Dhabi has been forging its own path for the last seven years. A series of firsts as well as calibrated initiatives have been slowly forming the institution’s own culture and legacy. Given the ever-shifting nature of our student population, Student Interest Groups and courses, students often turn to installations and exhibitions on campus as marks of greater permanency. This inevitably brings up questions of preservation, a theme that significantly motivates two current art exhibitions on campus.
Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City 1952-1965 opened on Oct. 4 at the NYUAD Art Gallery. Headed by Maya Allison, the display mirrors the exhibition held at NYU New York’s Grey Art Gallery in January. As a hub for artists and artistic practice, the city was an obvious venue for the exhibition, along with the fact that the exhibition is about aspects of New York City. Bringing Inventing Downtown across the ocean to Abu Dhabi showcases the attempt to establish consistency and connections between NYU’s main campuses; it contributes to a shared legacy.
The works all originate from artist-run galleries around New York — mostly around 10th street — during the 1950s and 1960s, when young artists encouraged each other to innovate and develop their practices. Amid the rise of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism, artists sought to develop inventive pieces of artwork. The organizational structure within the exhibition space presents this concept and is divided into five themes: Leaving Midtown, City as Muse, Space and Time, Politics as Practice and Defining Downtown. These are interspersed among a variety of mediums such as painting, photography and sculpture.
Allison asserted that one of the core missions of the NYUAD Art Gallery was to engage “topics of local concern and international significance.” Despite being separated by both time and geography, NYU New York and NYU Abu Dhabi as well as the cities they are surrounded by are linked more deeply through abstract concepts such as the goal to educate their students and to welcome multicultural points of view. This notion is projected by Inventing Downtown.
“The impulse to create spaces for art to develop is not unique to New York, nor to Paris [at] the turn of the 20th century, nor to the UAE at the turn of the 21st century — it manifested throughout the Gulf, and in other urban centres around the world, from Beirut to [Mumbai] to Mexico City,” said Allison.
In order for this spirit to be preserved more easily, the material artifacts that keep it alive must be monitored carefully. NYUAD has loaned out the artworks on display and with them a piece of not-so-distant history that could be in jeopardy if this attempt at establishing legacy is not treated with care. Visitors are to use pencils instead of pens inside the exhibition space and are not allowed to cross the lines laid out on the floor in front of some artworks.
This is also a challenge faced by some pieces of artistic furniture and shelter displayed around campus, which were produced in Professor David Darts’ classes Nomads and Wood. These pieces can be mostly found in and around the corridors of the Arts Center. They were created in a collaborative classroom environment with the aim of fostering students’ practical skills. Inspired by the Bedouin tribes as well as the connections between wood, technologies and forests and the rise and fall of civilization, the two classes fabricated mobile structures that have become an addition to the students’ daily interactions with the campus. Some installations have been around for an extended amount of time, with the possibility of sticking around for even longer.
“[I want to] produce these objects as archival materials that would lead people to knowing about the possibilities here on campus in terms of resources and artistic production,” Darts commented.
From the Nomad Pad to the brain-shaped bookcase, the pieces are meant to be both spacious and used leisurely. As opposed to New York, the Abu Dhabi campus has a lot more floor space available and so there are few limitations with respect to size. However, Darts does admit that preservation was a major concern when creating such a legacy and interaction with the art, especially given the humid, warm weather conditions in the UAE.
“In this region, if you leave something out with the elements, [its] legacy is pretty short and they take a toll pretty quickly. We built a dwelling that lived for two years on campus. However, I finally took it down because the weather had taken a toll and the UV rays were starting to degrade some of the plastic ties, so we replaced them all. This was a fairly big procedure but it was a labor of love,” said Darts.
As these two exhibitions show our community, it is important to handle on-campus artworks with care, especially due to the sought-after legacy that they can help construct. Being respectful toward the opportunity of having and creating the pieces should be prioritized so that their spirit will endure beyond their material presence.
Natalie Kopczewski is Deputy Features Editor. Email her at [email protected]