Etel Adnan, Untitled, 2010. Oil on canvas, 7 7/8 × 9 7/8 in. (20 × 25 cm). Collection of Karen E. Wagner and David L. Caplan, New York. © Etel Adnan
Exhibition Highlights Six Decades of Work by Beirut-born Artist and Writer, Including Paintings, Tapestries, Films, and Works on Paper
Exhibition: Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Location: Rotunda levels 1 and 2
Dates: October 8, 2021–January 10, 2022
From October 8, 2021, through January 10, 2022, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure. This focused survey, installed along the first two ramps of the museum’s rotunda, marks the first solo exhibition of the artist’s work at a New York City institution.
Over the course of a lifetime that spans almost a century, Etel Adnan’s creative and intellectual vision has been expressed in many forms. In addition to being a visual artist, she is a renowned poet, a prominent journalist, and the author of Sitt Marie Rose (1977), one of the defining novels of the modern Arab world. Adnan’s biography is notable for its rich convergence of cultural influences. She was born in Beirut in 1925 to a Greek mother and Syrian father; grew up speaking French, Arabic, and Greek; and as an adult has lived for extended periods in Lebanon, the United States, and France. She began to paint in the late 1950s, while working as a professor of philosophy in Northern California. It was a period when, in protest of France’s colonial rule in Algeria, she renounced writing in French and declared that she would begin “painting in Arabic.”
While Adnan’s writings have been unflinching in their critique of war and social injustice, her visual art is an intensely personal distillation of her faith in the human spirit and the beauty of the natural world. She has stated, “It seems to me I write what I see, paint what I am.” Adnan creates her paintings decisively and intuitively. Seated at her desk with her small canvases laid flat, she applies pigments directly from the tube, using a palette knife to render compositions of radiant immediacy. Simple geometries recur throughout her work: a red square anchoring abstract forms, a bright circle for the sun, horizontal bands that suggest the sky over the ocean. Her abiding subject of Mount Tamalpais—the view seen from her home during decades spent living in Sausalito, California—is evoked in innumerable guises, shifting with the light and weather, and continually dancing between figuration and abstraction. Despite their modest scale and formal economy, her paintings and drawings are potent visualizations of the sensations of memory and momentary perception that shape our inner lives. Adnan’s partner, the artist Simone Fattal, has described her works as playing “the role the old icons used to play for people who believed. They exude energy and give energy. They shield you like talismans. They help you live your everyday life.”
Installed on the first two levels of Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling rotunda, this exhibition surveys Adnan’s practice since the midcentury, encompassing paintings, tapestries, and drawings. It also presents the Super 8 film Motion (1980–89/2012) and a selection of the artist’s leporellos: accordion-fold paper books that straddle her linguistic and pictorial registers. On the upper levels is a presentation of the work of Vasily Kandinsky, an artist Adnan has studied throughout her life. She perceives in Kandinsky a spirit akin to her own, describing his abstract painting as “folklore reexperienced on a cosmic plane. It’s about unity sought everywhere, at the cellular level, in history, in astronomy.”
Following Etel Adnan: Lights New Measure, solo exhibitions of the work of Jennie C. Jones and Cecilia Vicuña will each be installed alongside Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle, a presentation of works by Kandinsky drawn from the museum’s permanent collection.
Support for Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure is provided by The Macallan Scotch Whisky; Galerie Lelong & Co.; White Cube; Étant donnés Contemporary Art, a program developed by FACE Foundation and Villa Albertine; the French-American Cultural Foundation; the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation; the Barjeel Art Foundation; and Karen E. Wagner and David L. Caplan.
Additional funding is provided by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s International Director’s Council.
About the Artist
Etel Adnan lives and works in Paris. Born in Beirut in 1925, the artist attended the Sorbonne, Paris (1949); University of California, Berkeley (1955); and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1957). From 1958 through 1972, Adnan taught Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics at Dominican College in San Rafael, California. She is the author of over twenty books of poetry and fiction, including Sitt Marie Rose (1977), for which she was awarded the Amitié Franco-Arab Prize, Association de Solidarité Franco-Arabe, France (1977). Adnan has had solo exhibitions at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha (2013); CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2013); Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria (2014); Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2015); Serpentine Gallery, London (2016); Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern (2018); Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams (2018); San Francisco Musum of Modern Art (2018); Mudam (Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean), Luxemburg (2019); Aspen Art Museum, (2019); and Pera Museum, Istanbul (2021), among other venues. The artist’s work has also been shown in Documenta 13 (2012), the Whitney Biennial (2014), the Istanbul Biennial (2015), the Sharjah Biennial (2015), and the Rabat Biennale (2019).
About the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation was established in 1937 and is dedicated to promoting the understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art through exhibitions, education programs, research initiatives, and publications. The international constellation of museums includes the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; and the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. An architectural icon and “temple of spirit” where radical art and architecture meet, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is now among a group of eight Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the United States recently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. To learn more about the museum and the Guggenheim’s activities around the world, visit guggenheim.org.
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