The Looting of the Museum of Art
Pomegranate Gallery, NYC
via Artnet Magazine (2/9/06):
by Ben Davis
"Ashes to Art: The Iraqi Phoenix," Jan. 19-Feb. 22, 2006, at Pomegranate Gallery, 133 Greene Street, New York, N.Y. 10012
The current group show at SoHo's Pomegranate Gallery is the first American glimpse of contemporary art from war-torn Iraq. It paints a picture of a national school in formation, and offers a subtle essay on the many things that art can mean in dire times.
Pomegranate, which has only recently opened, claims the distinction of being the first U.S. space dedicated to contemporary art from the Middle East. The setup is a little unusual. A large coffee bar occupies the front of the space, and the gallery is filled with tables where people can chat and have lunch. Gallery director Oded Halahmy, a sculptor who is an Iraqi Jew by birth, says he wanted an atmosphere that recreates the social vibe of cultural spaces in the Middle East. In any case, the works in the current show are considerably more interesting than what might typically hang on café walls.
"Ashes to Art," as the show is called, features painting and sculpture by five members of the "Iraqi Phoenix" group (several of whom are friends of Steve Mumford, the American artist who went to Iraq with a press pass from Artnet Magazine, as well as of Steven Vincent, the former art critic and journalist who was murdered in Basra last year). The "Phoenix" label, like most such categories, is a construction for the consumption of outsiders, coined by the present show’s curator, Peter Hastings Falk. Nevertheless, it does represent a set of coherent esthetic concerns.
The Phoenix group is characterized by a strange two-sidedness. Their work clearly resembles late modernist expressionism -- apparently, Catalan mystic painter Antoni Tàpies was a big influence on an earlier generation of European-trained Iraqis -- while at the same time making use of materials that pack an inevitable political charge. [read on...]
Qasim Sabti’s Untitled, from the "Book Cover Collage" series
New York to host Iraq art exhibition
Sunday 15 January 2006, 11:46 Makka Time, 8:46 GMT
Tattered book covers salvaged from the Iraqi Academy of Fine Arts and wax sketches of US bombs blowing up Baghdad are part of an exhibition of Iraqi artists in New York's Soho gallery district.
Ashes to Art: The Iraqi Phoenix will be on display at the Pomegranate Gallery from 19 January through 22 February. The exhibitition concentrates on subject matter from the most recent chapter of Iraq's history, beginning with the March 2003 bombing of Baghdad.
Artist Qasim Sabti, who graduated from the academy in 1980, wrote in his statement for the exhibitition: "The morning after that first sleepless night, I went to check on a place most dear to me, the Academy of Fine Arts."
He described entering the academy's library, which had been burned. Sabti turned books he refers to as "survivors" into collages by exposing and reapplying layers of their delicate bindings which are on show in the exhibitition.
Hana Malalla, the only woman among the 10 artists represented in the exhibitition, submitted the painting The Looting of the Museum of Art, which she created on wood that she cut, burned and painted.
The exhibition's curator, Peter Hastings Falk, points out that a charred element exists in nearly all works in the exhibition. "This is the aesthetic of the country," he said. [read on...]