Thomas Campbell on why he stepped down from the Met

Thomas Campbell declares the Met Breuer open in 2016. Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images
Thomas Campbell stepped down as director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in June, leaving the institution that he first joined as a curator more than two decades ago.

Campbell announced his resignation at the end of February amid growing concern over the institutions financial management, criticism of a $600m planned David Chipperfield-designed wing for Modern and contemporary art and speculation about his future after eight years at the helm. But the timing still came as a surprise. As the Mets board searches for Campbells successor as director, and tackles its annual operating deficit, it has made Daniel Weiss, the museums president since 2015, also its chief executive.

In a statement, the Met said that the next director will be responsible for setting the artistic direction and curatorial priorities of the museum, while Weiss, as president and chief executive, will establish the Mets institutional, capital and infrastructure priorities.

The Art Newspaper: Why did you decide to step down?

Thomas Campbell
: I think Ive moved the museum forward in many respects. Weve really modernised and come into the 21st century. We have an extraordinarily strong programme. Weve grown our audience by 40%. Weve digitised. Weve expanded the Modern and contemporary arena. And weve done a lot of planning for the future.

We are well on track to get the finances to a comprehensive, sustainable budget by 2020. There is no ideal time, but I think it is a moment when I can step away feeling that the museum is in a very strong place. Dan Weiss, with whom I have worked so closely, is up to speed. He is a very strong leader, so the museum is in good hands.

But what about you, personally? Was it a New Years resolution?

I have been approached a number of times over the last few years by other institutions and Ive always turned offers down because Im so focused on the Met. One of the great experiences of being director has been learning about art and cultures beyond my training as a historian of European art. As Ive travelled and talked with audiences and peers around the world, Ive really come to see the degree to which in an ever more connected but divided world art is a critical portal to an understanding of history and culture. So what I am really looking forward to doing is becoming more involved, and teaching, lecturing and writing about art, and why art matters at this critical moment.

Are you moving on to a Kenneth Clark stage in your career, in broadcasting?

I will explore a number of options. I think that museums and cultural institutions have a critical role to play. One of the things Ive loved as a museum director is being a spokesperson, moving beyond to advocate for the arts, podcasting and lecturing.

Looking back, what do you think will be your defining achievements as the Mets director?

It is amazing how much we have done in the past eight years, so there are a number. Working on the Islamic Galleries was one of the most satisfying and rewarding projects I have undertaken in my life. But stepping back from that, I came to the Met as a historian because I saw it as perhaps the only museum in the world that had the leadership, the funding, the leverage and the audience where I might advocate for a subject that I really cared about: European tapestry. I am incredibly proud of the two big tapestry exhibitions that I did because I think they helped change the nature of art history.

When I became a director it was my top priority to ensure that the Met went on being a space where scholarship could flourish and where we would go on pursuing really big, ambitious projects that would change our understanding of the past. So what am I most proud of? I think I am most proud of the fact that that is what we have done. We have perhaps the best programme of any museum in the world, with exhibitions that range from antiquity to contemporarythat are vibrant, relevant. They are not crowd pleasers; it hasnt been by pandering or by doing popular blockbusters. If you look at last year, [weve had] everything from Seljuks and Pergamon to Valentin de Boulogne, Vige Le Brun, Jerusalem, Kerry James Marshall and now the Age of Empires. Its an amazing programme: wide-ranging, engaging and relevant.

How important was making that scholarship more accessible?

I believe profoundly that our mission is to make our collections and scholarships as accessible as possible to as wide an audience as possible. I think that perhaps it is true to say that the Met, for various reasons, was perceived as a rather elitist and not always very friendly place. Tourism is rising in New York, no question. But the growth we have seen in our visitors, from 4.5 million to seven million visitors in the past calendar year, hasnt happened by coincidence. That is a response to the changes we have made in many different ways to make the museum accessible, friendly and not elitist.

Do you feel that, when the Met collected and displayed more contemporary art, it was damned if it did and damned if it didnt?

During the first 40 years of its life, the Met collected a lot of Modern and contemporary art. The Modern of its time was the Hudson River School and the contemporary was Whistler and Sargent and their ilk. The museum kind of lost its nerve in about 1910 because what was coming out of Europe was too drastic, too revolutionary and, of course, there was a hiatus of about 30 years in which time MoMA [Museum of Modern Art], the Guggenheim and the Whitney came into existence. In the 1940s, Met curators began playing catch-up. Part of the museums history in the past 60 or 70 years has been an on-again and off-again relationship with Modern and contemporary art.

When I became director, I was given a very clear mandate by the board, and I believed in it myself, that it was time that the Met embraced Modern and contemporary in a more robust way. Obviously, thats an agenda Ive pursued, I think with great success. Ive always tried to do it in balance with the encyclopaedic nature of our ambitions. What were doing is not aping MoMA or the other institutions. We are doing something unique. I think we are developing something distinctive, valuable in its own right and something that will be an investment for the future as it draws in donors and patrons and gifts.

What do you say to the criticism that the Mets board has been taken over with people with a vested interest in Modern and contemporary art?

There has been so much misinformation. Firstly, to say that the Met has been taken over by Modern and contemporary collectors is not just a caricature; it is a gross misrepresentation. As we have appointed new trustees during my tenure, we always look at a range of different issues. We are always conscious that we are building a board for an encyclopaedic institution and trustees that we have brought on have varied interests.

Was the planned David Chipperfield-designed Modern and contemporary wing a project too far?

The work on the south-west wing came out of a detailed feasibility study, which was led by the architects Beyer Blinder Belle. We identified projects that ranged right across the museum and necessary infrastructure investment. The top project that came out of that on the infrastructure side was the urgent need to replace the roofs over the European painting galleries. It is a huge project; we have been analysing it for two years. It is going to cost $150m and it was for that purpose primarily that we did a $250m bond issue early in 2015 for infrastructure needs.

In terms of elective projects, we had a whole variety of different ideas but the project that seemed of most relevance to the board back in 2013 and 2014 was the very inadequate nature of the galleries in the wing in which we show Modern and contemporary art, recognising that: one, the Met should be very active in this area; and, two, that it is of increasing interest to our audiences.

We cant go out into the marketplace to buy works of art that are $50m, $60m or $70m apiece. What we can do, and what the Met has always done, is build beautiful galleries so that donors and collectors will see us as a worthy destination. Thats what happened with our Chinese collections. We rebuilt our Chinese galleries back in the 1980s and early 1990s and, based on those beautiful spaces, we have received gifts that have turned us into one of the most important destinations for those who want to see Chinese paintings anywhere in the world.

Our board felt, rightly, that we have an opportunity in rebuilding the south-west wing. So that led to an architectural competition and the appointment of David Chipperfield. We have had a very productive relationship with David that has resulted in a very exciting schematic design for what the museum might do in the future. So we now have the basis to go out and do fundraising. We know that there is considerable interest within the community of Modern and contemporary art collectors in that project.

That all said, we also have this huge infrastructure project and as we have studied them together it is clear that we cant do them at once. Clearly the museum has a capacity issue. So we have decided to go ahead with the infrastructure project first and push off work on the south-west wing into the 2020s.

Did you feel harshly treated when the budget deficit of $5m or $6m was reported as a projected deficit of $40m?

I think a lot of misinformation has been put out there about the museum finances. Look, we have a $3bn endowment. We have a triple-A rating, which allowed us to do the $250m bond issue. So the museum is in a very strong position. The situation we were dealing with was that, because of internal inflationary pressure, external factors such as legally having to put more money aside for pensions, our own decision to take on a bond issue and add debt repayment, and some weakening revenue schemes, it was clear we needed to pull back a bit and do some financial restructuring, and that is what we planned a year-and-a-half ago. It is quite difficult; it generates quite an amount of press. We have hit the targets that we set ourselves. We are through some of the most difficult work and we are absolutely on track to have a fully balanced, comprehensive and sustainablea critical word budget by 2020. We added up all the money we have raised over the past five years and it is something like $600m. We have a very strong donor base that is supportive of our multiple activities.

Was the speculation about your relationships with staff that appeared in certain publications the worse thing youve had to deal with as a director?

It goes with the territory. When you are in a high-profile position like this, you are always the subject of gossip and innuendo. This is a very competitive place. It is project driven. In order to move the institution forward I have had to give resources to individuals and teams across the institution who I believed could effect meaningful change. I am proud of the change and achievement we have had both in the digital sphere and elsewhere. There are charges of favouritism but quite frankly that is what leadership is all about. Its about making decisions.

Its always been a he that runs the Met so far, but do you think it is ready for a female director as your successor?

I cant opine on that. Its something for the search committee. I would say that across the country there is a big demographic shift going on. In the AAMD [Association of Art Museum Directors] there are a great many women directors, more than there were 20 years ago. There are some very capable individuals out there and, internally, something like 70% of our staff are women and many of my senior executive staff are women. So I think our search committee has a very strong field, both male and female, to work with.

David Lamelas: time zones

David Lamelas (Image: Andreas Gegner)

The conceptual art pioneer David Lamelas has used sculpture, photography, film and live performance to explore space and time since the 1960s. He attracted widespread attention in 1968 when, aged just 21, he represented Argentina at the Venice Biennale, making the work Office of Information About the Vietnam War at Three Levels, which used a desk, a chair and a telex that received constant updates on the Vietnam war, relayed live by a news reader. He then studied at St Martins School of Art in London in Anthony Caros sculpture department, where he made his first film. He showed in the Documenta 5 exhibition in 1972 and is back for Documenta 14 this year in Kassel and Athens, with a version of his ongoing project Time as Activity. Next, he has two shows opening in Los Angeles in September, including a career survey as part of the Gettys Pacific Standard Time (PST) LA/LA.

The Art Newspaper: Pacific Standard Time focuses on Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, yet national identity seems a fluid concept for you.

David Lamelas: Nationality is not that important to me. When I moved from Argentina to London in the late 1960s I became this British artist, and then when I moved from London to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s I had to rebuild an identity; I had no idea what the United States was about and they had no idea about who I was or my previous work. Opening myself up to a new culture was very exciting, and little by little I became an Angeleno and left my London base behind. But it has always stayed in my heart. I never really leave any of the places I live. Now, having this show is forcing me to think about my work and all these comings and goings between Argentina, Los Angeles, London and Europe. In a way, the past becomes the present and, as you know, I am very interested in memory and the dimension of time.

Your Pacific Standard Time show includes work from the 1960s up to recently made pieces. How did you decide what to select?

When I was in London I wrote ten points to follow in my work; one was that it has to have its own identity and evolve naturally. Like when a child evolves into a grown-up and then into an older person, I wanted my work to have its own consciousness and a life of its own, separate from mine. Some of the works in the retrospective have evolved into grown-ups but there are also some that are still children; I love them, too, because they are my young works. And Im still a child.

What was the thinking behind your piece at the Venice Biennale in 1968?

I always liked reading newspapers and following world politics. The most important political issue at that moment was the Vietnam War. So I decided to make a display that exposed how the information about the Vietnam War gets disseminated throughout the world. The work was about systems of information rather than a comment about the war itself. But one thing leads into another. I wanted to show what was going on in the real world, and changing that into art was what really fascinated me.

How were you drawn to the complex notions of time, space, dematerialisation and memory that run through your work?

At art school in Buenos Aires it was a very traditional training, but I was always interested in social issues and expanding the idea of an artists work. I have always connected my work with all the things that interested mepolitics, architecture, cinema, musicand felt that I should expand my thoughts around other areas to question what art is. When I was a teenager I used to go to the British Council library where I was familiar with Studio International magazine and so knew what was going on in England. I also went to the Lincoln Library where they had American newspapers and magazines. I was also lucky that it was a more progressive time in Argentina. Just for a small number of years there were one or two presidents who were democratically elected; it was a brief moment of hope and freedom when the young and their ideas were well received. It was at this time that a few curators started to pay attention to my work.

After the Biennale you studied sculpture at St Martins. How important was that time?

Talking about it now, my skin shivers with emotion. I arrived at just the right moment when there was the move from the British sculpture of the 1950s and 1960s to a new conceptualism. I had the seeds of this within me, and it was like a tree that just grew and grew. One of the things I loved about that time was that there was no competition; we were all one and the idea was to move ahead with a new perception of art. To this day, I feel thankful for what happened to me in London.

So why did you leave for Los Angeles?

Claire Copley Gallery asked me to show in LA and I thought it was the right moment. Although I was very happy in London, by then I felt conceptual art had gone into a cul-de-sac. Id started working in film as soon as I first arrived in London and thought that moving to the US and opening myself to a new culture would expand my workand myself. I made The Desert People there but went back to London for the post-production.

How was the Los Angeles scene in comparison to London?

I didnt understand that, in Hollywood, film is entertainment. I wanted to make my conceptual films, but I came up in front of a wall. So I decided to make my own independent, small films rather than going around town having lunches and trying to get money. Ive nothing against entertainment, but my departure point is different. In fact, Im just about to go back to LA to make a new film, which Im very excited about.

David Lamelas: a Life of Their Own, University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach, 17 September-10 December; David Lamelas, Sprth Magers, Los Angeles, 5 September-4 November

Guggenheim Bilbao celebrates 20th birthday with Bill Viola

A still from Bill Viola's The Space Between the Teeth (1976) (Courtesy of the Bill Viola Studio © Bill Viola ; photo: Kira Perov)
A major Bill Viola retrospective opening today (30 June) at the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao marks the US video artists special connection to the museum, says its director Juan Ignacio Vidarte. He describes the show, which runs until 9 November, as a highlight of the year-long programme of exhibitions and events honouring the 20th anniversary of the Frank Gehry-designed museum in the northern Spanish city. 

Violas installation The Messenger (1996), originally commissioned for Durham Cathedral in England, was screened at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 1997, the year it opened. The museums 2004 exhibition of the artists works catalysed its long-term engagement with film and video art, Vidarte says. A black box gallery dedicated to the medium opened there in 2014.

The museum had harboured a wish to produce a larger-scale project with Viola for years, Vidarte says, but the time was right for the 20th anniversary. The result spans four decades of work and the evolution of video as an artistic medium, ranging from grainy 1970s single-channel films, such as The Reflecting Pool (1977-79), to recent multi-screen installations. 

But the show also draws out the universal themes of the human experiencebirth, death, emotion and spiritualitythat Viola has explored since his earliest works. It culminates in Inverted Birth (2014)his most positive statement about the continuity of life, says Kira Perov, the executive director of the Bill Viola studio and the artists wife.

A centrepiece of the exhibition, Going Forth by Day (2002), was one of Viola and Perovs most ambitious productions, made up of five high-definition projections featuring more than 200 performers. The work is configured to the precise dimensions to which it was originally commissioned by the Deutsche Guggenheim Museum in Berlin. A parallel display in the museums educational space, designed by Perov, includes an interactive digital reproduction of the notebook Viola used to document ideas for the project, revealing how he was inspired by the religious fresco cycles of the Italian Renaissance. 

The show also re-stages works that Viola created for the US Pavilion at the 1995 Venice Biennale and the 2005 Paris Opera production of Wagners Tristan and Isolde. The Greeting (1995), a slow-motion tableau vivant of three female figures, echoes Pontormos Mannerist painting The Visitation (1528-29)with which it is currently paired in Violas Electronic Renaissance exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence (until 23 July). Tristans Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain under a Waterfall) and Fire Woman (both 2005), which were re-edited with sound in place of the original opera, run back to back on a single towering screen. 

Bill Viola: a Retrospective is sponsored by the Bilbao-based electricity company Iberdrola, which is supporting free late-night entry to the exhibition over the opening weekend (8.30pm to 11.30pm, 30 June-2 July). 

Three to see: Manchester International Festival

Glenn Brown's Dark Angel (for Ian Curtis) after Chris Foss (2002) (© Glenn Brown and Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler)
The bands New Order and Joy Division are inextricably bound with Manchester, with their music an integral part of the northern citys cultural heritage and identity since the 1970s. The exhibition True Faith at Manchester Art Gallery (until 3 September) looks at the impact of the two groups on contemporary artists such as Mark Leckey, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Brown, Jeremy Deller and Julian Schnabel. True Faith is rooted in the social and cultural histories, and the psychological geography of Manchester itself, writes the co-curator Matthew Higgs in the exhibition catalogue. The show includes Peter Savilles cool, crisp album cover artwork for New Order and Joy Division (Factory Records label). The record sleeves draw on a vast range of influences: Movement (Factory Album, 1981) is inspired by the Italian Futurist artist Fortunato Deperos poster for the 1932 exhibition Futurismo Trentino. 

The German-Egyptian artist Susan Hefuna meditates on the themes of migration and separation, pondering also on what brings people together. These themes underpin an exhibition of her drawings, objects and a new digital work at the Whitworth Art Gallery (ToGather, until 3 September). Her Vitrines of Araf (2007) include found objects such as family photographs and flowers, donated by the wives and daughters of staff based at the Townhouse Gallery in Cairo. The focal point is a performance (9 July) that unites the various migrant communities in the city. Local residents, originally from 15 different countries including Iran, Sierra Leone, Trinidad, Pakistan, Albania and Kuwait, will trace individual paths through Whitworth Park, the organisers say. Dancers from Studio Wayne McGregor will also take part in the event. 

Samson Young, who has a doctorate in computer music and composition from Princeton University, is making his presence felt; the artist is representing Hong Kong at this years Venice Biennale and making waves in Manchester with a new five-part radio series. One of Two Stories, or Both (Field Bagatelles) will be broadcast live from Old Granada Studios (30 June-4 July), weaving songs, poetry and oral histories evoking mythic tales of 17th-century Chinese travellers bound for Europe. Young will unveil a sound and video installation at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (7-16 July) that explores the relationship between the UK and China since Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese authorities in 1997.   

Protesters target Dutch firm involved in removal of 550-year-old tomb from ancient town of Hasankeyf

The ancient town of Hasankeyf on the Tigris River in Turkey (Photo: Senol Demir/Flickr)
Protests against the flooding of an ancient town on the Tigris River have moved to the headquarters of the Dutch firm involved in removing monuments from the site. The town of Hasankeyf, with its origins in a 12,000-year-old settlement on the banks of the river in south eastern Turkey, has become a cause celebre for conservationists since the start of construction on the giant Ilisu Dam.

A small group of activists have been protesting at the Dutch company Bresser in 's-Gravendeel, near Rotterdam, against what they claim is the firms vital role in the removal of a 550-year-old, 1,100 tonne medieval tomb last month.

The tomb of Zeynel Bey, killed in battle with the Ottomans in 1473, was moved on a special wheeled platform around two kilometres to New Hasankeyf, the settlement that Turkish authorities are building to rehouse displaced people. Further monuments, including the gate to Hasankeyfs castle, a monastery, a mausoleum, and a bath are set for removal, it is reported. 

Europa Nostra, the European heritage association, this week condemned the tombs removal without sufficient consultation or documentation, and warned of risks to the towns 12th-century medieval bridge, 15th-century mosque complex and the tombs of the Ayyubid Sultan Sleyman and the Imam Abdullah. Hasankeyfs flooding would destroy evidence for one of the oldest organised human settlements ever discovered, says the board of Europa Nostra in a statement. 

The $1.1bn Ilisu Dam hydroelectric project, the biggest in Turkeys history, was first planned in the 1950s, but legal battles delayed the start of work until 2006. The dam will deliver much-needed power generation and improve local irrigation, the Turkish authorities say.

Official government figures estimate 15,000 people will need to be resettled, but activists put the figure closer to 100,000. The local government has promised the new township will have 710 new homes and 150 workplaces, and says it has the potential to be a major tourist attraction. 

In the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a 90,000 sq. ft museum houses extraordinary mosaics from the Roman city of Zeugma, rescued in a dramatic operation as the site was flooded by a dam across the Euphrates in the early 2000s. Security fears, however, have put Gaziantep, 30 miles from the Syrian border, off limits to most tourists. 

Howard Hodgkin’s 50 years of travels to India revealed in Hepworth Wakefield show

An installation view of Howard Hodgkin's From the House of Bhupen Khakhar (1975-76) at Hepworth Wakefield
When Howard Hodgkin died in March this year, he had already helped plan his exhibition Painting India (1 July-8 October) at the Hepworth Wakefield in great detail. The country that inspired the paintings in the show was of enormous significance to him; and the exhibition seems to have gained a corresponding importance. It is the first to gather a broad range of his paintings capturing his Indian memories and experiences.

Hodgkin had given detailed instructions to Eleanor Clayton, the shows curator. These included how to hang the pictures. He came to see the Stanley Spencer show which I also curated, which had about twice as many paintings, she recalls, and perhaps thats why one of the first things he said to me was: You will make sure that the paintings have enough space. He said that when the paintings are too close together they fight with each other.

Hodgkin had also expressed delight at the light-filled rooms in the David Chipperfield-designed building and urged Clayton to exploit their luminosity. He had pointed her and her team in the direction of his best Indian-themed works, some long unseen, one even suspected to be lost. And he had promised to deliver recent works made in Bombay. That the Hepworth has followed his wishes to a T and created a beautiful, revelatory show makes it all the more heart-breaking, as the Hepworths director Simon Wallis puts it, that Hodgkin could not see the results. 

Hodgkin said that he painted representational pictures of emotional situations and no other location inspired as many of these memories as Indiahis website lists 111 paintings triggered by dozens of journeys there. It was a place so close to his heart, Wallis says, and we were very surprised to find that no one had done a show that was exploring something that was so central to him.

Hodgkin collected Indian paintings from his teens and Wallis says that the painter had allowed a couple in here, in a small but fascinating archival space. But Hodgkin was insistent that the show should focus on his own paintings made over 50 years, from Mrs Acton in Delhi, begun in 1967, three years after Hodgkin had first visited India, to Over to You, one of six paintings completed in Mumbai in January this yearHodgkins final works. 

Wallis hopes that the show prompts similar epiphanies in visitors to the one he experienced at Hodgkins retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1996. But he argues that the famed colour in Hodgkins work is only part of the story. They are so redolent with a really strange set of emotional registers: you have to spend time with these works, you cant just have a superficial scoot by, thinking that it looks chromatically interesting, he says. Thats not what Hodgkin is after; its the emotional resonance, that sense of place, the essence of the spirit of the people he is engaging with or particular situations, picking up on that intriguing interactivity and social energy that we bring to living in the world with other people or with particular places that mean something to us. 

The particularity of Hodgkins Indian experiences is highlighted in tantalising glimpses of his diaries made there in 1970 and 1975, full of gossipy flourishes but also imagery suggesting paintings forming in Hodgkins mind: To Secunderabad, he wrote on 15 April 1970. Gin and lime at lunchtime. Rain in the afternoon with exactly matching Golconda skiesnavy blue and white lined with receding pink.

The subjects are typically diverse, from atmospheric evocations of landscapes and gardens, sea and sand, even food in Indian Veg (2013-14). And there are numerous paintings inspired by encounters with people. Perhaps the most affecting is From the House of Bhupen Khakhar (1975-76), an abstracted portrait of the Indian artist and close friend. When Hodgkin and Clayton were choosing the works, the portrait of Khakhar was a picture they were really excited about, but Hodgkin thought it was lost, Clayton says. He had no idea where it wasin the catalogue raisonn its pictured in black and white, there was no image of it in colour. And so we started trying to find it.

Via Hodgkins old gallery, Kasmin, a researcher at the Tate, a New York Times obituary, a publisher of a book on a collection of Native American art and an antique shop, Clayton was led to the family of A.J. Hirschfield, the name listed in Kasmins archive. It turned out that they were the right Hirschfields, and not only that, they still had the painting, she says. It was in their log cabin in Wyoming. Hodgkin never saw the painting again in the flesh but Clayton showed him a photograph of it in situ on the log-cabin wall.

Hodgkins final works possess a similarly poignant charge. Over to You (2015-17), completed in January, was inspired by the Stevie Smith poem Mr Over, which begins: Mr Over is dead / He died fighting and true / And on his tombstone they wrote / Over to You. While it obviously reflects Hodgkins sense of mortality (he had been unwell for some time), Clayton feels the painting is symbolic of much more. I thought Over to You was quite relevant to the way Howard would paint, she says. Hed make these paintings of personal moments but present them publicly, and he was so interested in people seeing his work, as well: he really wanted people to see it and have their own emotional responses to it. So it captures a lot about his practice, as well as being really beautiful.

Howard Hodgkin: Painting India, Hepworth Wakefield, 1 July-8 October

Lucio Fontana reconstructed: ten of the Italian sculptor’s celebrated Environments to be rebuilt for show in Milan

Lucio Fontana, Ambiente spaziale con neon (1967) (Photo: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; © Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan)
The appetite for shows dedicated to the late Italian artist Lucio Fontana appears unabated with another major exhibition planned this autumn at the vast Pirelli HangarBicocca space in Milan (Ambienti/Environments, 21 September-25 February 2018). Curators at the Italian venue will bring together ten of Fontanas immersive Ambienti (Environments) in collaboration with the Milan-based Fondazione Lucio Fontana.

The show is due to include reconstructions of some of the most important walk-through environments shown at institutions such as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1966 and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1967. The latter consisted of a purple neon tube suspended in a bright pink room.

All of the works in the exhibition are reconstructions of Fontanas Spatial Environmentsthe artist exhibited about 17 environments from 1949 until 1968that were all destroyed after they were exhibited, a spokesman says.

They have been rebuilt for the exhibition in Milan, after the exhibition curators, including Marina Pugliese, adjunct professor at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, reviewed and examined sources such as letters, architectural plans, historical photographs, and interviews. This enabled Pirelli HangarBicocca to realise the architectural projects for the reconstruction of each environment, the spokesman adds.

There is only one Environment (Ambiente spaziale), 1967, in the exhibition which is on loan, and its an authorised reconstruction dating from 1981 in the collection of the Castello di Rivoli Museo dArte Contemporanea [in Turin], he says.

Fontana developed the first spatial environment in 1949 when he hung a series of Day-Glo papier mch shapes from the ceiling of a darkened room at the Naviglio Gallery in Milan (Ambiente spaziale a luce nera).

Writing in the Tate magazine in 2008, Francesca Pasini said: It was a revelation which introduced a new concept of interactivity. Fontana meanwhile explained his approach by saying: The Spatial Artist no longer imposes a figurative theme on the viewer, but puts him in the position of creating it himself, through his own imagination and the images that he receives.

Shubbak, London’s Arab arts and culture festival, opens this weekend

Dana Awartani's sand piece, I went away and forgot you. A while ago I remembered. I remembered I'd forgotten you. I was dreaming (2017), mimicks traditional Islamic tiles
The fourth edition of Shubbak, the biennial London festival that celebrates Arab art and culture, starts this weekend. The two-week-long festival (1 to 16 July) includes more than 150 artists from 14 Arab countries at over 80 events showing visual art, performance, film and literature. This years offerings will focus on looking imaginatively to the future, whilst reflecting on the fragility, resilience and challenges of artists in times of crisis, a press statement says.

The visual arts programme kicks off at the British Museum with a day of talks and performances, dedicated to how Middle Eastern artists and organisations can survive in the face political conflict, censorship and cultural destruction. The British Museum is an ideal location and partner to explore the multiple issues of preserving cultural heritage and the fragile situation of artists, says Eckhard Thiemann, the artistic director of Shubbak. A day-long symposium on Sunday, 2 July, organised by the Mosaic Rooms and Shubbak, will include contributions from the artists Sofiane and Selma Ouissi, Larissa Sansour and Khaled Jarrer as well as presentations by important organisations from the region such as the Atassi Foundation, Al Mawred Al Thaqafy, the Ruya Foundation, and Cairos Townhouse Gallery.

The museums Great Court will also be taken over by performances and site-specific works that look at the important role of artists and museums in preserving memories of the past. The Saudi Arabian artist Zahrah Al-Ghamdi will create an intricate floor installation made of sand and found objects that she has collected from abandoned villages in her home country. Another installation by the Syrian artist Issam Kourbaj will cover 60 sq m of the courtyard floor in hundreds of old hardback books, some painted with a black line to evoke the Syrian tradition of placing black ribbons over the photographs of people who have died. A conversation between Kourbaj and the curator Venetia Porter will also explore the histories behind the museums exhibition of recently acquired works on paper by Middle Eastern artists.

The work of female artists from the Middle East features in three exhibitions. Gasworks in Vauxhall is presenting a solo show of film, sculptures and photographs by the Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri, which reimagines international diplomacy as an alien conspiracy. The Syrian artist Sulafa Hijazi will show a series of animated images at Rich Mix in east London, in response to societys growing use of social media and 24-hour news. Works by three young Saudi Arabian female artists, which look at living and working in a country of rapid social change, will go on show at the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington (1 July to 2 September).

Thiemann says that this years festival comes at a time when the world feels less secure and artists have been selected for their deep reflection on important concerns of our time. There will be bold statements and brave works tackling urgent issues like migration and the desire for freedom, he says but we will also hear quiet, intimate and personal reflections which touch us with gentle emotions.