Out of Context is an exhibition that seeks to reassert the primacy of the artwork within the constellation of elements in and around an exhibition. It does so by creating the viewing conditions to contemplate artworks individually, and not within the context of an (imposed) overarching narrative or theme. It therefore invites the viewer to engage in an activity which has been under increasing duress - to look, seriously and quietly, and see. The viewer is called upon to slow down, apprehend the formal qualities of an artwork, and open up to a potentially revelatory encounter. This practice is derived from what the German Neo-Kantian aesthetes, such as Heinrich Wölfflin called sehen lernen (learning to see), and it is one which distinguishes itself from mere connoisseurship on the one hand, and metaphysics on the other.
This exhibition reconsiders the tradition of seeing as central to the knowledge assimilated from artistic judgements. However, as John Berger’s famous book Ways of Seeing has revealed, these judgements are not “pure;” to engage with an ideology critique of visual material also entails seeing. Starting from such a practice of observation, the viewer may come to read an artwork, and this encounter may yield new narratives.
3 May - 22 June, 2019
18 April - 25 May, 2019
In Mazen Rifai’s small-scale paintings, thick brushstrokes traverse the horizontal axis of the canvas, often interrupted midway by more abundant planes of color ranging from pastel to night blue. A thin powdery white line, moving in parallel, marks the skyline. Rifai produces anti-illusionistic abstract works, but they are also landscapes of the Bekaa Valley. His move away from illusionism in the landscape is indebted to a modernist legacy of Lebanese painting in this genre, whose high point is often considered to be the artwork of Saliba Douaihy. Rifai’s landscapes are morphologically distinct from Douaihy’s, but a similar operation is at play in both, in which the move toward abstraction denaturalizes, and yet maintains, the referent.