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Etel Adnan at MASS MoCA

Untitled, 2017 Oil on canvas, 13 × 9 1/2 inches (33 × 24 cm) © Etel Adnan, courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co.

From April 7 to December, 2018, the MASS MoCA presents A yellow sun A green sun a yellow sun A red sun a blue sun, the first U.S. survey of the prolific Arab-American painter and poet Etel Adnan. How does the experience of reading poetry differ from the experience of looking at a painting? What reveries can a poem evoke that a painting cannot, and vice versa? Presenting a selection of paintings in oil and ink by Etel Adnan, alongside a small reading room with her written works, the exhibition focuses on the possibility of expression within and beyond the limits of communication. For Adnan, painting and poetry are two languages of many that she has mastered over a lifetime. Like a translator, she moves between them in pursuit of pure meaning.

Etel Adnan’s career spans several decades and encompasses a wide range of media –including painting, drawing, tapestry, film, ceramics, and leporello artist books – as it does traditions and locations.  Adnan was first an author of poetry and prose, often addressing and protesting against the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the Lebanese Civil War.  Informing her writing and later her artwork as well, was the landscape, its own history and her emotional and physical response to it.  For Adnan, the landscape is mingled with memory, especially a sentiment of displacement, as she was born and raised in Lebanon, but has lived, studied, and worked in France and California throughout her life. In 2012, Adnan was included in Documenta (13) in Germany. Since then, numerous museums have presented solo exhibitions of the artist’s work, including Etel Adnan: The Weight of the World, Serpentine Galleries, England (2016); Etel Adnan: La joie de vivre, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, Switzerland (2016); Etel Adnan, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ireland (2015); Etel Adnan: Writing Mountains, Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria (2014-2015); and Etel Adnan in All Her Dimensions, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar (2014). Adnan’s work is included in major public collections such as the British Museum, England; Centre Georges Pompidou, France; Institut du Monde Arabe, France; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; M+, Hong Kong, China; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Tunisia; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Adnan was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1925. She currently lives and works in Paris, France.

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The exhibition is made possible by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in support of MASS MoCA and the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, and with the support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. The exhibition is curated by Elise Chagas, a second-year student in the Williams College Graduate Program.