Dutch museum buys 'significant' Saudi art purchase

The show opened to art enthusiasts in the Kingdom’s capital

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Ala?n Artspace re-opened its doors for the 2014 season on April 3, with the exhibition titled “The Questions/More Questions”, presenting the work of Saudi artist Abdullah Al Othman in his first-ever solo exhibition.

The show opened to art enthusiasts in the Kingdom’s capital and received international attention during this last week of the exhibition, with the announcement of a significant purchase by the Greenbox Museum, in Amsterdam. The show closes Friday (May 30).


Greenbox has purchased the centerpiece of the exhibition, entitled The Question, which was created by Al-Othman with the intent to provoke personal engagement, from both the participants in the artwork, as well as viewers of the piece. The unusual and bold video installation demonstrates the diversity of art forms being generated in the Kingdom. The Question had its international premier in June, at the 53rd Venice Biennale, and the exhibition at Ala?n represents the homecoming of the installation.

Greenbox Museum was established in 2008 “to research, collect, enjoy and discuss the visual arts of Saudi Arabia.” It was and is the belief of the founder, Aarnout Helb, a Dutchman with Indonesian heritage, that Saudi Arabia “because of its treasured position in Makkah, is important to the world and able to fulfill an exemplary role as an advanced society connected to its heritage and the world. “Helb said the world is interested in Saudi Arabia, not only for the wealth that its oil has provided, but also for its poetic and moral understanding of society.

The Greenbox Museum displays its art collection by Saudi Arabian artists in a single space in Amsterdam, in a similar way to the methods of display found in the earliest museums in Europe, in order to create intellectual debate and understanding among visitors. The Greenbox Museum appeals on social media to over one million young people from mostly Islamic nations.

“It’s wonderful to see talented young Saudi artists have the chance to gain public recognition, especially in the city where they developed and honed their craft,” said Sadaf Sofi, who attended the opening of the exhibition. “This exhibition is particularly interesting as it allows you to examine your own reactions to the reactions of others. What Abdullah Al Othman has done through his artwork is both confounding and ingenious – the questions he asks are not meant to have answers, but to incite further questions. The point is not to find a solution, but to engage in the process of discovery within.”

In a statement announcing the acquisition of several of Al-Othman’s work, Helb wrote: “The work by Al-Othman demonstrates with great clarity that there are many elegant and infinite ways in which visual artists can express their insights freely. The museum appreciates the experimental nature of the artist’s work and the manner in which he searches deeper and finds ideas that are personal and fragile.”

The “Questions/More Questions” exhibition closes on May 30, which coincides with the opening of Ala?n’s men’s ‘majlis’ section, the latest addition to the gallery’s multi-use space. Located on the ground floor, adjacent to the gallery, the ‘majlis’ will offer men an eclectic array of informal dining options, in a setting that merges the contemporary with the traditional, a trademark of Ala?n.

The day after the show comes down, much of Abdullah Al-Othman’s first solo show will be packed and transported to its new home in the surprising, small, green-walled museum of contemporary Saudi Arabian art in Amsterdam.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 28, 2014.

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