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DXB A Riot Towards Landscapes
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Noor Riyadh Shines Light on Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Art Strategy


By Global Art Daily’s Editorial Board

Published on April 16th, 2021

           
            This March, Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh made international headlines for the opening of their massive Noor Riyadh art festival. Dedicated to the theme of ‘light’, the festival brought together the works of over 60 artists, including the forerunners of the 20th and 21st century Light Art movement Daniel Buren, Yayoi Kusama, Dan Flavin, and teamLab and 23 Saudi-based artists, such as Ahmed Mater, Ayman Zedani and Ayman Yossri Daydbanwho together represent the leading voices of Saudi Contemporary Art. The artists selected are either known for incorporating light elements into their practice or have been commissioned especially for the festival.

Running from March 18th to June 12th, Noor Riyadh’s main attraction is an exhibition titled The Light Upon Light: Light Art since the 1960s hosted at the King Abdullah Financial District Conference Center (KAFD). The festival also presented a citywide installation program that ended on April 13th. 

Below are our highlights.

Noor Riyadh Citywide Installation
March 18 - April 3, 2021

Organized by Art Riyadh
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The Noor Riyadh citywide program included 33 installations encompassing all forms of light art and was curated by Dr. Eiman Elgibreen, curator of the Saudi National Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, Pam Toonen, curator at Light Art Collection, and Vincezo de Bellis, International Artist and Curatorial Consultant at the Walker Art Center Museum in Minneapolis.

The choice of Light (Noor in Arabic) as the main curatorial theme for the Festival speaks of the accessibility of Noor Riyadh. The festival aims to “remove, reduce, or overcome physical, cultural, social, financial, intellectual, psychological and emotional barriers to public participation and engagement,” reaching an audience beyond traditional art audiences and into the wider public.


The choice of Light (Noor in Arabic) as the main curatorial theme for the Festival speaks of the accessibility of Noor Riyadh.



1. Ayman Zedani, Earthseed, 2021. 3-channel video installation. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: © Riyadh Art

2. Aleksandra Stratimirovic, Northern Lights, 2015. Programmed LED. Width 5000 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Light Art Collection. Photo: © Riyadh Art

3. Angelo Bonello, Run Beyond, 2015. Iron and LED lights. 5300 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Light Art Collection. Photo © Riyadh Art

4.Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, SKALAR, 2021. Reflections on Light and Sound. Light and sound installation. Courtesy of the artists. Photo: Christopher Bauder



Noor Riyadh, Light Upon Light: Light Art Since the 1960s
March 18 - June 12, 2021

King Abdullah Financial District Conference Center (KAFD)
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

This exhibition, the largest retrospective of Light Art from its inception in 1960s to today, features the work of 30 artists from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. 

Light Upon Light was co-curated by Susan Davidson, a former senior curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and Raneem Zaki Farsi, Co-Curator of Desert X-Al Ula and an expert in Saudi Contemporary Art. 

5. Ahmed Mater, Antenna (Green), 2010. From the series Antenna. 150 x 150 x 50 cm. Courtesy of a private collection. Photo © Riyadh Art 2021

6. James Clar, Render (Tree), 2016. Artificial Tree, rubber, paint, LED lights, metal. 223.52 x 60 x 60 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Jane Lombard Gallery, New York. Photo: ©️ Riyadh Art 2021


7. Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room - Brilliance of Souls, 2014. Mirror, wooden panel, LED, metal, acrylic panel, water. 287 x 415 x 415 cm. Courtesy of Royal Commission for AlUla. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

8. teamLab, Flowers and People – A Whole Year per Hour, 2020. Interactive Digital Work, 12 channels (6 channels x 2 rows), endless. Sound: Hideaki Takahashi. Courtesy ©teamLab, Pace Gallery and Superblue. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

9. Urs Fischer, Leo (George and Irmelin), 2019. Paraffin wax, microcrystalline wax, pigment, stainless steel, and wicks, 214.9 x 98.1 x 146.7 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

10. Lucio Fontana, Ambiente spaziale a luce rosso, 1967. 600 x 480 x 220 cm. Courtesy Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milano. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

11. Anila Quayyum Agha, Hidden Diamond- Saffron, 2019. Laser cut, lacquered steel, and electric light. 121.9 x 121.9 x 121.9 cm. Courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

12. Dan Firman, Butterfly, 2007. Neon tubes. 350 x 635 cm. Courtesy the artist and the Farjam Collection. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

13. Ayman Yossri Daydban, Somewhere beautiful, 2021. Film stills on TV monitor. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: © Riyadh Art 2021

14. Abdullah AlOthman, Casino AlRiyadh, 2021. Courtesy the artist. Photo: © Riyadh Art


Noor Riyadh has certainly put the Saudi capital on our post-Covid art map. According to the official press release, Riyadh is on a “ten-year mission to become one of the world's most liveable and competitive cities,” as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

The fact that Riyadh Art, the umbrella organization for Noor Riyadh, is focusing on contemporary art to further that vision speaks of a new keyword for any studies of global contemporary art: activation. As the art world becomes more inclusive, not only geographically but also in terms of creative disciplines and digital distribution, institutional exhibitions are often a tool to create a wave of artistic gatherings and youth-led initiatives, leading to the development of a sustainable creative economy and new business investments.


As the art world becomes more inclusive, not only geographically but also in terms of creative disciplines and digital distribution, institutional exhibitions are often a tool to create a wave of artistic gatherings and youth-led initiatives, leading to the development of a sustainable creative economy and new business investments.



Art activations work because of a push-pull dialogue between local spaces and a global audience, a dialogue which artists particularly excel at. With a young and rapidly growing population of 7+ million residents, Riyadh is betting on large-scale art festivals to lead the city into a “vibrant, cosmopolitan” – and you guessed it – global future.


Art activations work because of a push-pull dialogue between local spaces and a global audience, a dialogue which artists particularly excel at.



Comparing Noor Riyadh to other art initiatives in the Gulf brings some insights. Alserkal Avenue in Dubai comes to mind, as the ultimate success story of an urban “art activation.” Unlike Alserkal Avenue, which sports a unique public-private sponsorship, Noor Riyadh is a government-led initiative. In this sense, it is more similar to initiatives in Abu Dhabi, the home of many of UAE’s publicly sponsored exhibitions and museums with global aspirations.

Advisor of brand and marketing to the Royal Commission for Riyadh City Hosam Al-Qurashi believes Noor Riyadh “will have a profound and positive effect on enriching the lives of citizens, residents and visitors alike.” Betting on digital inclusiveness is also part of the plan: the festival also includes a program of over 270 special activities of tours, talks, workshops, film screenings, and music, many of which are available online allowing the festival to be enjoyed by a wider audience outside of Riyadh and Saudi Arabia.



Noor Riyadh is a citywide festival of light and art commissioned by Riyadh Art, which ran from March 18 – April 3, 2021. Light Upon Light: Light Art since the 1960s is up at King Abdullah Financial District Conference Center (KAFD), Riyadh, until June 12, 2021.

Visit Riyadh Art’s website.
Follow Riyadh Art on Instagram.

Visit Noor Riyadh’s website.
Follow Noor Riyadh on Instagram.


Special thanks: Sala Shaker.