Iwona Blazwick to Lead AlUla's New Art Site
By Angelique Santos
On June 27, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) announced a series of art commissions for the launch of Wadi AlFann, a new cultural destination in Saudi Arabia's desert region of AlUla slated to open in 2024. The RCU also revealed the appointment of Iwona Blazwick, former director of London’s Whitechapel Gallery, as the inaugural chair of its Public Art Expert panel. Blazwick will advise and oversee the execution of projects at Wadi AlFann.
The Wadi AlFann site will span approximately 65 square kilometers of the northwest Saudi Arabian desert. For its first-phase opening in 2024, local artists Manal AlDowayan and Ahmed Mater, as well as Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, and James Turrell—artists from the land-art movement in the United States—have been commissioned to create permanent large-scale land art in the desert.
Speaking to The National News, Blazwick commented on the artist lineup for Wadi AlFann's launch: “It’s pretty spectacular to be able to have artists of the older generation who understood that the desert was not a kind of wasteland . . . these are the artists who saw [the desert’s] potential, in sculptural terms.” Blazwick added that Wadi AlFann will “set a new global example for experiencing art in dialogue with nature . . . A display of such epic scale, set in a terrain as monumental as the AlUla desert, has the potential to shape the course of art history in real time.”
Wadi AlFann’s mission is to preserve the AlUla valley while highlighting the region’s ancient heritage and wildlife. Before revealing its first permanent collection, there will be a pre-opening program of temporary exhibitions in late 2022, featuring cross-disciplinary participants and local communities. In partnership with Madrasat AdDeera, the 2024 opening will include performances, tours, and educational opportunities such as artist-led masterclasses for local art practitioners throughout the valley.
Blazwick was the director of London’s Whitechapel Gallery from 2001 to April 2022. During her two-decade-plus tenure, she oversaw the physical expansion of the Gallery, facilitated international exchange, and curated significant shows, including the solo exhibitions of Mark Dion in 2018 and Michael Rakowitz in 2019. She has also written monographs for artists such as Cornelia Parker and Alex Katz, and published on themes and movements in modern and contemporary art.
Under the vision of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Wadi AlFann spearheads the “Journey Through Time” masterplan, which will launch 15 new cultural and creative sites and institutions in AlUla by 2035.
Angelique Santos is ArtAsiaPacific’s editorial intern.