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Show of Syrian artists to inaugurate Rem Koolhaas’s first UAE building

Multi-purpose space, called Concrete, is at the heart of burgeoning Alserkal Avenue art district

by Gareth Harris  |  7 December 2016
Show of Syrian artists to inaugurate Rem Koolhaas’s first UAE building
An exterior rendering of Concrete, designed by Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) (Image: courtesy of Alserkal Avenue)
An ambitious exhibition of works by Syrian artists will open next year in a 600-sq. m building in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, designed by Rem Koolhaas’s architectural practice Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). The venue, which is called Concrete, is the first project in the United Arab Emirates designed by the high-profile Dutch architect.

Concrete, described as a "multi-purpose events venue", has movable walls and full-height transparent sliding doors. Fashioned from four former warehouses, it will be used for large-scale shows, symposia and corporate events. The building dominates Alserkal Avenue, a commercial and artistic district launched in 2007 by Abdelmonem bin Eisa Alserkal whose family have owned the site since the late 1970s.

The launch show, Syria: Into the Light (9 March-3 April 2017), features works by emerging artists including Elias Zayyat and Modern masters such as Fateh Moudarres, who died in 1999.

All of the works are drawn from the non-profit Atassi Foundation, an offshoot of the Atassi Gallery which was co-founded in Homs in the late 1980s by Mouna Atassi and her sister Mayla. Under Mouna Atassi, the gallery moved to Damascus’s Rawda district in 1993. According to the Dubai-based newspaper The National, Mouna Atassi has amassed more than 400 works by Modern and contemporary Syrian artists.

A spokeswoman for the Atassi Foundation tells The Art Newspaper why the organisation decided to mount a show in Dubai. “The size of Concrete as a space provides us with the flexibility to show works of various generations, and [in different] mediums.  This is a chance for us to bring to light Syrian art on a relatively large scale,” she says. Timing is also key as the show will coincide with the 13th Sharjah Biennale (10 March-12 June 2017) and Art Dubai (15-18 March).

Alserkal Avenue is a platform for art from across the Mena region (Middle East and North Africa) and a “meeting point for many cultures”, says its director Vilma Jurkute. When asked about the motivation behind the show, she says: “Syrian art has not only played a very important role in the region’s art history and cultural development, it has been under represented on the global stage.”

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