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Dalloul Art Foundation


Published on Thu 22 January, 2015




curated by Marco Scotini

Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

January 22 – April 12, 2015

Following the success of last year's exhibition The Empty Pedestal on the former Soviet bloc, the 2015

programme of Arte Fiera Collectors’ World now features the most far-reaching exhibition ever held in Italy on

the Middle East art scene: Too Early, Too Late. Middle East and Modernity. Curated by Marco Scotini, the

show will present almost 60 artists, more than 100 works - on loan from Italy's most prestigious private

collections - and historic documents to examine how this part of the world relates to Western modernity and

how it narrates the story of its own complex social structure in a ‘cultural area’ undergoing a sea change.

Too Early, Too Late will be staged in the temporary exhibition area of Bologna’s Pinacoteca Nazionale

(National Art Gallery) but will also spill over into spaces occupied by the gallery’s magnificent collection of

14th century artists (from Vitale da Bologna through to the late Gothic schools). This is a reminder that

Bologna, “the Learned”, was, with Paris, Oxford, Avignon and Salamanca, one of the five cities in which the

Council of Vienne of 1312 decided to set up faculties of Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac, laying the basis for

Oriental studies in the Christian West.

But it was in 1798 with the arrival in Egypt of Napoleon's army of exploration that modern Western thought

burst in upon Muslim thinking.

The exhibition alternates documentary evidence - including original archival material - with installations,

photographs and film footage illustrating many fundamental cultural, political and social episodes that

marked the progressive Westernisation of the Eastern world - from the introduction of the ‘nation state’ to the

spectacular, Western-style museums of the Arab Emirates. By showing the historic background and

spanning a broad timeframe through many narratives, the exhibition allows visitors to put more recent

cultural and artistic production into perspective.

In light of the area’s current urgent geopolitical situation, the exhibition Too Early, Too Late tries, through

the prism of art, to examine the commonly held beliefs that have down the years underpinned both the clash

but also the dialogue in this area between traditional systems and western-style modernity.

“With the collapse of the Soviet Union”, writes the exhibition’s curator Marco Scotini, “the two bloc system of

the Cold War seems to have been replaced by a new dichotomy - between Islam and the West. By the same

token, the void left by the alternative to capitalism seems to have been filled by nationalist, ethnic and

religious identities. The former ‘political’ stand-off seems to have been replaced by a ‘conflict of civilisations’

based on a range of political systems whose cultural traditions range from the archaic to the advanced, each

with their own idea of modernity (al-hadatha).”

The term Middle East sums up a European geopolitical concept and was coined by a British newspaper at

the turn of the previous century. Although still used widely, today, however, it denotes a theoretical concept

rather than an actual geographical region. Too Early, Too Late uses the term to represent an area that

extends to North Africa, the Caucasus and Central Asia, especially since today’s centre of gravity is tending

to shift from the Arab world towards Turkey and Iran: from Egypt to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and from

Azerbaijan to the edges of Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. Indeed Turkey and Istanbul are central features of

the exhibition, their geographical position making them the gateway to the East, something that was

reinforced politically with the advent of the Ataturk Republic in1924.

The curator has not attempted with this Exhibition to record or rewrite history, even a broad spectrum of

momentous events are considered. Nor is there any attempt to sum up with hindsight the visual and linguistic

codes used in the West to represent the Middle East. Too Early, Too Late tries to reconstruct the story of

when the West encountered the Muslim world. With its focus on the contemporary art scene, it adopts a

specific ‘topographic viewpoint’ from which to observe this area, developing a series of linked themes that

together make up the overall discourse of the exhibition.

Exhibits include rare pieces like the only remaining copy of the film footage of Tel al Zaatar (1977) and the

“Taccuino Persiano” by Michel Foucault written for the newspaper Corriere della Sera on the pro-Komeini

uprising in Teheran (1979).

The title of the Exhibition, Too Early, Too Late, echoes Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s 1981 film

on Egypt Trop tôt/Trop tard that puts historic events into a quite different perspective. A true masterpiece,

the film looks at the peasant uprisings in France in 1789 and in Egypt in 1952. Shifting from the Breton

countryside to rural Egypt, in the first half a voice-off reads a letter by Engels to Karl Kautsky dated 1897 in

which he considers what the French Revolution has left behind. In the second part, the commentator reads a

passage of the postscript of the book La lutte des classes en Egypt de 1945 à 1968 by two Arab writers who

published under the pseudonym Mahmoud Hussein (Maspero, 1969). Throughout the film the two directors

constantly searched the horizon of the deserted Egyptian countryside for an ideal point between sky and

earth where Engels could have said: “if the 1793 Commune with its aspirations of fraternity came too early,

Babeuf, for his part, came too late”.

Serge Daney’s description of the film as one of the few that have tried to film the wind could also be the

metaphor for this second exhibition. In the first, The Empty Pedestal, the invisible force - something that is

there but cannot be seen - was the spectre or ghost. Here, it is the wind that in the Straub-Huillet film shakes

the trees, first in the French then in the Egyptian countryside. It is the wind of revolutionary that overturns the

established order. In the compacted space and time of an exhibition, Too Early, Too Late takes a new look

at the Middle East – a Western colonial concept – and proposes a different narrative, one of dominion and


The exhibition will be accompanied by a volume edited by Mousse Publishing. As well as an interview with

Jean-Marie Straub on the film that gives its title to the project, the book includes numerous contributions on

how they see the West, an essay by Hamadi Redissi and a critique by the exhibition curator Marco Scotini.

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the curatorial consultancy given by Lorenzo Paini and the

loans of artworks generously offered by major private Italian collections, especially Fondazione Sandretto Re

Rebaudengo, Collezione Enea Righi, Collezione La Gaia di Torino,

Fondazione Giuliani, Fondazione Fotografia Modena, Collezione Agiverona, Collezione Palmigiano,

Fondazione Nomas, Fondazione Videoinsight.


Lida Abdul, Mustafa Abu Ali, Bisan Abu Eisheh, Etel Adnan, Vyacheslav Akhunov, Can Altay, Omar

Amiralay, Ayreen Anastas, Said Atabekov, Kutlug Ataman, Fikret Atay, Kader Attia, Vahap Avsar,

Mahmoud Bakhshi, Gabriele Basilico, Neil Beloufa, CANAN, Céline Condorelli, Dina Danish, Cem

Dinlenmiş, Peter Friedl, Rene Gabri, Sadhi Ghadirian, Yervan Gianikian -Angela Ricci Lucchi, Barbad

Golshiri, Mona Hatoum, Malak Helmy, Emily Jacir, Khaled Jarrar, Lamia Joreige, Alimjan Jorobaev,

Hiwa K., Hassan Khan, Abbas Kiarostami, Taus Makhacheva, Mona Marzouk, Ahmed Mater, Sabah

Naim, Moataz Nasr, Navid Nuur, Walid Raad, Koka Ramishvili, Hany Rashed, Mario Rizzi, Ahmed

Sabry, Roy Samaha, Hrair Sarkissian, Ariel Schlesinger, Hassan Sharif, Wael Shawky, Ahlam Shibli,

Eyal Sivan, Jean Marie Straub-Danièle Huillet, Jinoos Taghizadeh, Lawrence Weiner, Mohanad

Yaqubi, Amir Yatziv, Akram Zaatari.



Too Early, Too Late – Middle East and Modernity
Les presses du reel
Arte, Italian
Crossing over to Modernity: Too Early, Too Late and the dichotomy Islam/West
Vincenzo Estremo
Droste effect magazine, 2015
“Too Early, too late. Middle East and Modernity” at Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna
Mousse Magazine, 2015
Too Early, Too Late. Middle East And Modernity
e-flux, 2015
Tout va bien?' Too Early, Too Late: Middle East and Modernity' 
Jens Maier-Rothe
Ibrazz, 2015

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