The Syrian artist Tamman Azzam's work intriguingly combines not only unexpected materials, but also seemingly opposed cultures. The results often effectively broaden needlessly circumscribed contemporary notions of culture and give glimpses instead of what might be considered a universal one, with humanity alone its core element. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his large reproduction of the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" on a decrepit building in Syria. The golden mural mimics the purposely decadent original, shoving the two cultures--a rich Arab tradition in transitional crisis and expired fin de siècle Vienna--up against the same wall, as it were, cutting across boundaries of time and taste, and rendering those boundaries ineffectual containers.
Klimt is considered one of the most significant artists that Western culture has produced, routinely bringing some of the highest prices ever paid for art. (In 2006 billionaire Ronald Lauder paid $135 million for a gilded Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.) Azzam claims him and all the rest of the world's cultural heritage as his own, refusing to limit his patrimony by region, religion, rhyme or reason. Leonardo is appropriated, too, where necessary. Repped by the Ayyam Gallery and working, appropriately, out of Dubai, which aspires to be the 21st century international crossroads--a sort of new Constantinople--Azzam's boundlessness may augur a flatter, fresher, more interlinked future. But it's his video work, unsparing in its depiction of the inexorable violence that pollutes the world, that crushes the dream.
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