Saloua Raouda Choucair at Tate Modern
You may well never have heard of this artist before, but as this belated retrospective at Tate Modern shows, she was a major figure of abstract art throughout much of the 20th century. Not exactly ignored in her native Lebanon, she travelled and studied in America and Paris, and yet has never achieved the international status her work clearly merits.
Now 97, this is Choucair’s (pronounced Shoo-care) first major museum exhibition, and for many in the UK, will be the first opportunity to enjoy and appreciate her unique contributions to sculptural forms and abstract painting.
Choucair was extremely prolific, and the rooms at Tate Modern could have been filled many times over with her lifetime’s work. Especially intriguing are the numerous small models she made in wood and metal. Some of these were made up into larger structures, and others remain as beautiful objects which evidence both great inventiveness and mastery of construction skills.
You can see much of modernist art here, as well as Choucair’s relentless drive to explore forms and materials, but this isn’t art which hates you. While still full of ideas and visually challenging, these are pieces you can imagine living with and spending too much time just staring at. In fact, this work is a delight and a revelation. Choucair was fascinated by architectural ideas, and made countless sculptures reminiscent of modular housing. These changeable sculptures are made up of shaped blocks which can be stacked up in different combinations.
The last of the four exhibition rooms at Tate Modern shows Choucair’s progressive works from the 1960s: delicate structures with wired, suspended lines and shapes. They seem to embody the vanished ideals of the space race.
Her story is an extraordinary one – both a pioneer of abstract art and a female artist to emerge from the Middle East during turbulent times (her exhibition includes a damaged piece which was rescued during upheaval in Beirut). Decades of making work no matter what war or madness is going on in the world, with or without recognition, is a real testament to the spirit of creativity.
Photos: Marika Parizzi
Saloua Raouda Choucair is at Tate Modern from 17th April until 20th October 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.