Rare Van Gogh drawings, ‘forgotten’ Flincks go on display

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Dutch businessman John Fentener van Vlissingen (L) and director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam Axel Ruger (R) look at a recently discovered drawing dated from 1886 by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh entitled "Montmartre Hill with Quarry" (De heuvel van Montmartre met steengroeve) in the Singer Museum in Laren, Netherlands, on January 16, 2018. (AFP)
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This image released by the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation on Tuesday Jan. 16, 2018 shows a drawing titled The Hill of Montmartre (1886). The drawing is housed at the Van Gogh Museum and shares an unmistakable connection to the newly-discovered van Gogh drawing in terms of subject, size, style, technique and materials. (Vincent Van Gogh Foundation via AP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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Rare Van Gogh drawings, ‘forgotten’ Flincks go on display

THE HAGUE: Art lovers are in for a rare treat as four forgotten works by Dutch masters Vincent van Gogh and 17th-century painter Govert Flinck have gone on display, after gathering dust for more than 100 years.
The works include a never-before-seen Van Gogh drawing, which had been in private hands until now.
Called “The Hill of Montmartre with Quarries,” Van Gogh’s monochrome artwork dates from 1886 when he was living in Antwerp and Paris, where he worked at the studio of leading French historical painter Fernand Cormon.
The sketch, together with a second drawing “The Hill of Montmartre,” were unveiled Tuesday at an exhibition at the Singer Laren museum in central Netherlands.
“Such a discovery is always great. It’s really exceptional and does not often happen,” Teio Meedendorp, senior researcher for the Amsterdam-based Van Gogh Museum, told AFP.
Meanwhile, two previously forgotten works by Rembrandt’s student Govert Flinck (1615-1660) were also revealed to the public at the Amsterdam Museum for the first time on Tuesday since disappearing around 1895.
The two portraits were only unearthed after their owner visited an exhibition of Flinck’s work at the Amsterdam Museum.
Researcher Meedendorp said the Van Goghs had undergone an extensive verification process.
For many years “Montmartre with Quarries” sat unnoticed in a private collection until it was brought to the Van Gogh Museum in 2013 for authentication, he explained.
“After it came in we verified that it was indeed a Van Gogh — but we were intrigued by the question of its origins.”
The Van Gogh Museum’s art sleuths discovered the sketch originally belonged to Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, the wife of Vincent’s brother Theo.
It had been sold into a private collection in 1917.
“We authenticated it in 2013, but it took a bit longer because it’s up to the owner and not us to reveal the work,” he added, saying “we had to keep it under wraps for a few years.”
The sketch also gave the museum an opportunity to authenticate a second work in its possession, called “The Hill at Montmartre.”
The type of stationery used in both sketches is identical and “nicely illustrates how he (Vincent) was still searching for his own style in the winter and spring of 1886,” the Singer Laren museum said in a statement.
“It was a very nice investigation about a work that appeared out of nowhere. It was never published, never put on display,” Meedendorp added.

Meanwhile, the Flincks were uncovered after the anonymous owner contacted the museum to offer the portraits for its current exhibition of the 17th-century master, who studied under Rembrandt but later developed his own style.
“The paintings were hung on their owner’s living room walls when he contacted the Amsterdam Museum and asked if they’d be interested in seeing them,” Dutch newspaper Trouw said.
Believed to be portraits of Zeeland province representative Johan de Mauregenault and his wife Petronella van Panhuysm, they were last described in an 1895 auction catalogue.
“Since then the paintings disappeared into thin air until now,” the paper added.


Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

Updated 25 May 2018
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Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

  • The Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future
  • Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion

VENICE: In its debut appearance at Italy’s leading architecture fair on Thursday, Saudi Arabia unveiled a sweeping exhibition exploring the country’s progress over the past five decades. 

Holding its own among the 65 national pavilions at the 16th Venice Biennale’s International Architecture Exhibition, the Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future.

It is the first time the Kingdom has had a presence at the Venice event, which is considered one of the leading forums for international architecture and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe to the city.

At the heart of the display in the Venetian Arsenal — the historic shipyards that house some of the most prominent pavilions at the fair — a set of screens on opposite walls flash clips of Saudi cities showing people wandering along the Jeddah Corniche or drinking coffee at a Bujairy Park cafe in Riyadh.

The reels illustrate the way urban sprawl has unfolded across the Kingdom, where rapid urbanization resulting in settlement-driven growth has skipped over spaces in Saudi cities, leaving vast lots vacant between buildings.

With more than 40 percent of urban land unused, communities are dispersed, creating a sense of fragmentation between neighborhoods connected only by cars.

“The vacant lot is a highly prevalent typology in Saudi cities: anyone passing through them will notice the empty tracts of land everywhere,” said architect Turki Gazzaz, who co-created the pavilion space – which is named “Spaces in Between” — with his brother Abdulrahman Gazzaz.

The duo, who founded Jeddah-based architectural studio Bricklab, beat 70 other entries to secure the commission to create the Kingdom’s first biennale pavilion, which shows the role design can play in restoring the social and structural fabric of Saudi cities.

While outlets for creative expression have previously been limited in the Kingdom, attitudes toward design-led solutions are becoming increasingly favorable. 

“People are becoming more conscious about these critical issues that exist within our urban fabric … this is beginning to spill out into our society and affect it in a positive way,” Abdulrahman said.

Recent reforms rolled out under Vision 2030 have created a channel for creativity to fuel the country’s growth as it looks beyond the oil sector — a turning point highlighted by the pavilion’s use of resin, which is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry.

This has been mixed with sand — a material that both symbolizes Saudi Arabia and links it to the rest of the world — for the giant curved screens that frame the exhibition.

Inside, projections show digital maps of the Kingdom’s main cities, beginning with aerial perspectives that convey their fragmented growth before moving down to street-level snapshots of everyday life in the city.

These pictures have been drawn from social media and most are taken from cars, the dual axis of urban life for city-dwelling Saudis.

Below, old mobile phones, a walkie-talkie and broken motherboards are showcased beneath a glass panel of fragmented electronics to “create a conversation about consumer culture” and comment on the “virtual public space” that people increasingly congregate in at the expense of public places, said Abdulrahman.

Speaking to Arab News at the launch of the Saudi pavilion in Venice on Thursday, Dhay Al-Dhawyan, project manager at the Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs, described the need to “humanize” Saudi cities, something Vision 2030, and the more immediate targets for 2020, are moving toward.

“We want to bring back city centers, walkability, accessibility, connectivity and rework the visual aspects of our cities to make them more lively and functional,” he said.

The overall theme at this year’s biennale is “Freespace,” selected by the Irish curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara to encourage architects to explore how “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity” can contribute to the urban environment.

Tapping into this ethos, the Saudi pavilion curators have compiled a display that blurs the boundaries between development and desert, city border and boundless expanse.

In demographic terms, Saudi cities have always been diverse, but in many cases they lack the infrastructure to encourage interaction, said Jawaher Al-Sudairy, one of the exhibition curators and director of Nahda Center for Research as well as senior program manager at Harvard Kennedy School.

“There are public spaces, but they are under-utilized, so that’s where the conversation should be.”

Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion, which invites visitors to explore the evolution taking place in Saudi Arabia’s skyline and engage with the social shift underway as the Kingdom steps on to the world stage.

“We’re tackling a global issue here; this is not unique to Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, the other half of the female curatorial team at the exhibition.

In keeping with the spirit of the biennale, literature distributed at the Saudi pavilion errs on the side of the aloof and arty, but the experience created by the exhibition is firmly grounded and accessible.

The teams want visitors to identify with the issues raised, which have a global resonance in an era defined by rapid urban growth. “We’re more similar with other nations than we are different … and this is a great way to have a conversation that is not necessarily bound by national boundaries,” said Al-Solaiman, dean of the College of Design at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University.

“The Venice Biennale is an excellent platform to start a conversation around architecture and how were designing and building, and we want to have this discussion with other architects around the world.”

“Our participation in the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an unprecedented moment for Saudi Arabia’s creative community. It’s an opportunity to bring pioneering Saudi thought to an international platform through our creative vernacular,” said Ahmed Mater, executive director of the Misk Art Institute, which organized the Saudi pavilion.

“Coupled with the allocation of an incredible pavilion space, we are very excited about our presentation this year at the Biennale Architettura, but are also looking forward to future years and presentations and what they will draw on from our own community.”

For Al-Sudairy, one of the most interesting projects on the horizon is the Riyadh Metro, which she believes will change a lot more than mobility in the capital. “I can’t wait to see how it changes the way people move around … it’s going to transform the city physically and socially.”

The Metro is one of many large-scale projects underway in the Kingdom that aims to bring a sense of cohesion to the country’s urban environments and unite diverse communities.

The Saudi pavilion opens to the public on Saturday, May 26.

 

The Saudi pavilion exhibition ‘Spaces in Between,’ above and top. (Valeria Mariani)