The NYUAD Art Gallery: Art in a New Dimension

In just three days, NYU Abu Dhabi will celebrate the opening of the NYUAD Art Gallery, where visitors will be treated to the works of world-renowned artists. Excited for the launch of On Site, the gallery's first exhibition, Salaam caught up with Maya Allison, NYUAD Art Gallery director and chief curator, to learn about the space, the philosophy behind upcoming programming, and more.

Why these three themes?
Each area is of particular relevance to NYUAD and its role in the region. The shows may be historical or contemporary, sourced locally or internationally, or curated in-house or by guest curators. And some of these shows will result from an experimental exhibition "lab," the product of a curatorial practicum and cross-disciplinary opportunity for student-faculty working groups to experiment with exhibition strategies.

What inspired the theme of On Site, the gallery’s first show?
This exhibition takes Saadiyat Island as its starting point, to consider how we know, or interpret, where we are, physically and culturally. What suggests a "desert island" or a "lush garden?" How do we understand a place as part of a cultural past or future? The work on display invites us to contemplate the essence and appearance of a location, whether natural or artificial, real or illusory. How do the cues that create a site tell its story?

Viewing the work may conjure the experience of walking through NYUAD's new Saadiyat Campus, a multifaceted site that is itself a garden in a desert, a cultural center among new developments, on an island that is both a repository of significant local memories and a key player in a vision of the city's future.

How were future exhibitions chosen? Is there a method to your planning?
Yes, we have a very specific method. We show two-to-three exhibitions per year, a typical museum schedule. I book exhibitions at least two years in advance — at present we are booked out three years. Every show that goes up begins as a proposal, to be reviewed by an advisory council made up of members of the NYUAD community. I incorporate their concerns and either ask the curators to revise the proposal, or decide against including the show in the program. Typically a show will be curated either by an in-house curator, a faculty member in collaboration with our curatorial staff, or by a guest curator. Curating is a very specific skill set, so our option of faculty curators is unusual even for a university gallery and made possible by our staff structure, which includes a curator who helps guide and produce faculty-curated shows.

What are you most excited for with the opening of the gallery?
To see the many communities around us come together, and each different person's reaction to the work. But most of all, to mark the beginning of a new chapter in art exhibitions at NYU Abu Dhabi. As a non-commercial space (no work is for sale) showing work of artists from all over the world, we could see a fantastic and unusual combination of groups coming out. My fingers are crossed...

Located by the University's Welcome Center, the NYUAD Art Gallery will be open to the public starting November 1. A map, including parking information, can be found here. For more information about the gallery, click here.

My hope is that the gallery will serve as both a refuge for reflection and regenerative nourishment, and a hub for creative conversations across communities.

Maya Allison, NYUAD Art Gallery Director and Chief Curator

The NYUAD Art Gallery…how many years in the making?
At least four. I have worked on the project for two years. The space was designed as part of the plan for the campus, and the detailed program and mission of the space evolved from that.

What is the gallery's mission?
It is our position that a university gallery plays a unique and specific role in a community. It serves the educational mission of the university, not unlike a library or archive, enabling the community — both internal and external — to have first-hand experience with original works of art, to enable them to study and contemplate the surrounding issues. On the other hand, it serves the cultural needs of the community, like a good theater or performance hall would, providing a greater diversity of intellectual, aesthetic, and entertaining activities.

What are your hopes for the gallery?
My hope is that the gallery will serve as both a refuge for reflection and regenerative nourishment, and a hub for creative conversations across communities. I also hope that through focused exhibitions, events, and publications, the gallery will serve as a catalyst and locus of intellectual and creative activity, linking NYU Abu Dhabi with the Abu Dhabi public and a worldwide community of artists, curators, and scholars.

What do you have planned for the gallery?
During the opening years, the gallery will cycle through three themes: The Environment: Built and Natural, Arabic and Islamic Art and Culture, and Art in Global Dialogue.