'The Substance of Light' in Dubai

London’s Pace Gallery teams up with Cuadro for exhibition

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It’s not every day in this city that art lovers can clap eyes on museum-grade pieces that have defined an era in art history. But DIFC-based gallery Cuadro is currently displaying some awe-inspiring gems that will make your jaw drop. In collaboration with Pace Gallery in London, Cuadro is showing works by ’60s icons James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Dan Flavin and Larry Bell, the pioneers of the minimalist light and space movement born in California in the ’60s and ’70s. Running until Saturday January 6, the exhibition, entitled ‘The Substance of Light’, features James Turrell’s iconic ‘Boris’ piece, alongside three fluorescent light installations from Robert Irwin, plus works by Dan Flavin. Here, Cuadro director Bashar Al Shroogi tells us why you should see it.

How did you come to be involved with this exhibition and Pace Gallery in London?
We initiated this conversation last March at Art Dubai and we’ve been talking about collaborating on an exhibition here ever since. We settled on the light show because I wanted to show something that was important from a historical point of view. Pace just happened to be working with the founders of the light and space movement.

What do you think it will bring to the Dubai art scene?
There are a lot of artists that are working with light, and whether it’s neon or bulbs, its interesting to go all the way back to the founders of the movement. We’ve tried to do this several times, where we bring in shows that have a real educational component to them. We’re positioning the work into a historical art context. I think it will bring a deeper understanding of the movement and of minimalism. I hope local artists will be inspired by the works.

Can you think of any local artists that are doing similar things?
We work with Manal Al Dowayan, an artist from Saudi Arabia who works with neon lights. She was at the opening and it was incredible to see how she’s approaching the work from a completely different point of view. It’s one thing for us as viewers, but it’s different when you have an artist who’s actually trying to learn how this is done and better their work based on having seen these works.

How exciting is it for you to be exhibiting artists that founded a movement?
It’s incredible – it’s probably one of the most important things we’ve shown at the gallery. It took quite a bit of time for us to modify our space to be able to deal with this. Before, the gallery was predominantly exposed to the outside – you could walk around from the outside and look through our windows. But you’re not able to do that now, because any light that comes into the gallery would interfere with the works. It took about four months of rebuilding walls and making it into a black box so the only light that comes into the space actually comes from the works themselves.

Why is this show important to anyone interested in art history?
In most cases, if you wanted to see this number of works in one place, it would be in a museum. For me, it’s a museum-grade show. James Turrell, for example, created about 80 hologram pieces throughout his entire career, which began in the ’60s. We have eight of them in the gallery, so ten percent of his works are here. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see these works in one place.

How did the concept of light and space transform art?
If you look at the US, on one coast you had this pop art movement: artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein who really created things that were bold and pop. Then, at the same time, on the west coast in California you had this very subtle, very soft-spoken approach to art. This was the minimalism movement, where they were stripping everything down to be as basic as possible, which was just light and space.

Which is the stand-out piece of the exhibition?
It’s hard to pick one, although James Turrell’s piece called ‘Boris’ is very special. It’s sitting in its own pre-built room and you have to go behind a black curtain to see it. It’s not very large – it’s about the size of a computer screen – and the way it throws colour back at you and plays with your sense of depth and dimension is really interesting. It’s almost an optical illusion. You can’t tell how this piece has been made
or what it is that you’re looking it. That’s the one that’s getting a lot of attention right now.

The lowdown

Exhibition: ‘The Substance of Light’ until January 6 at Cuadro, Gate Village 10, DIFC (04 425 0400).
Artists: James Turrell, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Dan Flavin.
Price of works: On request.

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