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Dalloul Art Foundation

UNTITLED Abstractions Exhibition

July - Dec 2023

Last updated on Thu 1 February, 2024

UNTITLED Abstractions Exhibition UNTITLED Abstractions Exhibition

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Curated by Wafa Roz

Curatorial text:  
written by Wafa Roz

UNTITLED 077’ is a series of exhibits, talks, and events organized by The Dalloul Art Foundation (DAF) in Beirut. This project seeks to answer questions such as:

Why do we expect an artwork to have a title? 
When did titles become a necessity in the art world? 
And how does titling feature in modern and contemporary Arab art?

DAF is presenting a number of interactive exhibitions showcasing a wide selection of artworks entitled ‘Untitled’ by artists from across the Arab world. Each exhibition falls under a specific theme, featuring 77 unique pieces. These pieces are selected from the 477 ‘Untitled’ artworks at DAF. The first show focuses on and engages with a selection of abstract artworks. ‘UNTITLED Abstractions’ investigates and challenges the role of a title, or lack thereof, in abstract art.

Untitled artworks are meant to violate the convention of titling. In her book Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names, Ruth Yeazell (2015) explains that titles are expected. As such, ‘Untitled’ becomes a label that “acquires its meaning from the convention it violates.”i In fact, most abstract artists avoided naming their artworks; they preferred to keep the meaning of their work open-ended. Such artworks offered the viewer a space to devise their own interpretation. DAF has extended an open invitation for visitors and participants of the ‘UNTITLED Abstractions’ show to do the same.

In his article ‘Untitled’ (1995), Dale Jacquette ii explains that artists do not assign a specific title to their works since sometimes they find it difficult to give a literal connotative title to the creation. The artist often chooses ‘Untitled’ as a purely random classification. In other cases, the artist seeks prestige and fame by subsuming the work under the category of ‘Untitled’ productions. Regardless, not labeling an abstract work furthers its intention of straying from the literal meaning.

However, untitled artworks are not a new phenomenon. In pre-18th century Europe, artists did not need to assign labels to their work because most artworks were commissioned. The subject and meaning of an image were typically the product of a mutual understanding between the artist and patron. Art was created for a particular space, such as a king’s palace, religious place, or noblemen's houses, leaving locals familiar with the subject matter of these artworks. In addition, pictures hardly circulated from one country to another. Commercial galleries, traveling exhibitions, art salons, auction houses, and art fairs that today demand extensive labeling and cataloging were yet to be created.

The need for registering and archiving art objects started when artworks circulated across countries, namely in Europe. An official art market for ready-made art was first developed during the 16th and 17th Century in the Netherlands. Assigning titles to objects became necessary as early museums expanded throughout Europe and the Arab world equally – such as the Greco-Roman Museum of Alexandria in 1895 and the Bardo Museum in Tunis in 1888. However, titling conventions first emerged in the Museo Capitolino in Rome in 1734 and the Louvre in Paris in 1793.

Today, untitled artworks have become a convention themselves, even though they have taken on a new meaning and intention. Still, untitled artworks present a challenge for tracking and documentation purposes. For example, the DAF collection has faced such a challenge with two similar paintings by Jordanian artist Khalid Khreis both of which are named Untitled, 2011. To distinguish between one untitled artwork and another within the 477 ‘Untitled’ artworks at the foundation, DAF plans to assign reference titles – known as parenthetical titles.

In ‘UNTITLED 077’, DAF invites visitors to become actively involved, not simply by looking at the artworks on display but also by engaging in open discussions. DAF hopes such a form of engagement opens the space for scholars, art historians, and art lovers to decode the visual language of ‘Untitled’ artworks and devise parenthetical tiles of their own.

i Yeazell, Ruth Bernard. “Before Titles.” Essay. In Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names, 19–24. Princeton, N.Y: Princeton University Press, 2015.

ii Jacquette, Dale. “Untitled.” Philosophy and Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press, April 1, 1995.

KHALID KHREIS, Jordan Untitled, 2011 Medium: Acrylic on canvas 100 x 81 cm
KHALID KHREIS, Jordan Untitled, 2011 Medium: Acrylic on canvas 100 x 81 cm

Exhibition until Tue 31st, October 2023  
To attend please schedule a tour - click here >>

Check out the virtual tours of the Untitled Abstractions





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