On view through the end of August, MoMA PS1 is presenting the first solo museum exhibition in the United States of the work of Simone Fattal. The Lebanese-American artist whose commanding body of work weaves together disparate elements and sources to create new stories and concepts. The show brings together over 200 works created over the last 50 years, featuring abstract and figurative ceramic sculptures, paintings, watercolors, and collages that draw from a range of sources including war narratives, landscape painting, ancient history, mythology, and Sufi poetry to explore the impact of displacement as well as the politics of archeology and excavation.
Fattal’s work regularly mines the idea of otherness, of foreignness as a state from which new formal arrangements and ideas can emerge. The show frequently incorporates narratives of displacement alongside the politics of excavation, themes themes that resonate deeply with the chaotic world stage of 2019. In one room, massive statues stand impossibly in the middle of the gallery, while a series of calligraphic texts seem to emphasize a sort of parallel history, one that remains abstracted to the Western viewer, even as its context and content is relatively abstracted from the landscape of the Middle East as well. In Fattal’s figurative sculptures, modest clay figures are rendered with just enough detail to be discernible as individuals, revealing a preoccupation with the persistence and fragility of the human form. The exhibition also includes sculptural representations of homes, bridges, and walls, as well as animals, trees, and other objects.
Fattal’s work also works at the junctures of longstanding geographic and political tensions, constructing a world that has emerged from history and memory, while its replications and repetitions grapple with the losses of time and memory. Never far from the earth, her works emerge as an unfinished project of telling the stories of ancient history with figures taken from central references such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, Dhat al-Himma, and others. Both timeless and specific, her work straddles the contemporary, the archaic, and the mythic.
Simone Fattal, Works and Days (Installation View), via Art Observed
Alongside these varied sculptural works, the exhibition also includes a grouping of Fattal’s early paintings, a later series of abstracted black and white paintings made in 2013, and a series of watercolors made in 2016, Suite en Jaune N°1, for which she dripped black ink onto paper and then painstakingly filled in the spaces around the black with bright-yellow paint.
Compiling a range of historical threads and constructed thematics, Fattal’s work is an engaging and fascinating look at a world that seems to contain countless new ideas, even as it looks deep into the past.
The show closes September 2nd.
— C. Rhinehart
Simone Fattal, Works and Days [Exhibition Site]