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New building of the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts. Interview with the director, Dr. Khalid Khreis.By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt | Jun 2005
In January 2004, as we presented The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts in this magazine (see links below) its expansion was already underway. For that purpose, the Royal Society of Fine Arts (RSFA), the managing institution of the National Gallery, purchased a building directly opposite the main building (opened in 1980), located on the other side of Muntazah Park, in the Jabal Weibdeh district. Since erecting a new, larger building was too difficult to finance, this two-part solution was the only way to house the increasing collections, traveling exhibitions, library, and other facilities.
The RSFA created a virtue from a need, by incorporating the park between the two buildings into the remodeling concept. Among other features, created here was a model garden for plants with low water consumption, a Japanese garden, an art café, and a sculpture garden with an open-air stage. So this public space attracts an additional audience potentially interested in the National Gallery, also with special educational projects targeted primarily at young people.
After two years of construction work, the expansion of The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts opened on May 15, 2005, inaugurated by King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.
Thanks to an invitation from the Royal Society of Fine Arts, we were among the numerous foreign guests present for the occasion. We were able to speak to Princess Wijdan Ali, the founder and driving force of both institutions, and to Dr. Khalid Khreis, the director of the National Gallery, about their concepts, whose most important aspects are summarized in the following E-mail interview with Dr. Khreis:
Haupt & Binder: For more than 20 years, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts functioned in a single building. When did it become clear that it needed to be expanded, and who took the initiative?
Dr. Khalid Khreis: Over the last three years, expanding the National Gallery was frequently discussed, with regard to accommodating more artworks from other countries and incorporating more young talents from Jordan. In light of these necessities, and of the enlarged collections and donations, Her Royal Highness Princess Wijdan Ali, President of the Royal Society of Fine Arts, and I decided to seriously tackle the expansion project.
We were fortunate enough to find a building directly opposite our original location. After buying and renovating this three-storey residential building from the 1950s, the park between the two buildings sparked the idea of creating a sculpture garden at this spot.
H&B: Why was an additional building purchased, instead of moving into a larger one?
Dr. Khreis: In the beginning, that was actually the idea. The blueprints for a new building had already been drawn up; we even found a possible building site. But faced with the enormous building costs, we chose to stay where we were, in the Jabal Weibdeh district, and to renovate the old building opposite the one we already had.
H&B: The renovating took place in cooperation with the architect Tom Postma. How did the collaboration transpire? What were the main alterations made on the buildings, and, regarding the collections and activities, how will the buildings complement one another?
Dr. Khreis: We got to know the architect Tom Postma while he was designing "The Street of Culture" in a suburb of Amman. After showing him the plans for the old site and adjoining park, he proposed a rather costly design concept. Later, during the discussions between Her Royal Highness Princess Wijdan, Tom Postma, the Jordanian architect Mazen Shaban, and myself, we agreed on a design that we thought harmonized as much with our conception as it did with the site’s character and special requirements.
One of our key goals was to create spaces able to house high-quality exhibitions and offer the public a pleasant ambience. To make that possible, we improved the environmental conditions of the spaces – the air-conditioning, humidity control and heating systems; and the modern lighting and security systems. Regarding the floors, walls, and ceilings, as well as the main entrances, the outward appearance of both buildings had to be very similar so that both structures would complement one another.
The overall spaces and functions of the two buildings form a unity. Since the newer structure is almost twice the size of the older one, it was possible to incorporate new facilities: areas meant especially for presenting video installations, an exhibition hall for displaying unusually large artworks, a well-equipped graphics workshop for professional artists and art students, and an art library and archive. Now the old building even has an interesting museum shop that offers original artworks, art books, reproductions, exquisite pieces of Arts and Crafts, and more.
H&B: How does the Royal Society of Fine Arts view "new" art practices such as video, media art, installation, etc.?
Dr. Khreis: The RSFA encourages "new" experimental art practices. It already organized exhibitions and activities related to such practices and will continue to do so in the future.
For example, the Gallery is organizing a video art workshop for a group of local artists, in cooperation with The French Cultural Center in Amman, and a lithography workshop in cooperation with the Goethe Institute, Germany's leading cultural institute.
The graphics workshop and other facilities found in the National Gallery allow us to conduct lectures, seminars, and workshops devoted to "new" art practices, which are as beneficial for further education in the arts as they are for increasing the awareness of the general public. We also plan to hold a symposium devoted to sculpture and installation.
H&B: Will the JNG maintain its focus on the so-called "developing countries"?
Dr. Khreis: The Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts will continue to promote artists from "developing countries" by showing their works in Jordan and abroad, and by making the region’s art known where it originates and in other parts of the world.
The JNG succeeded in bridging the gap between cultures by showing exhibitions from various part of the world, in collaboration with numerous, international museums and cultural foundations. Moreover, our collection not only expands through the newly added artists from "developing countries," but also through the addition of certain contemporary Western artists, who we refer to as Neo-orientalists.
H&B: What is the JNG policy regarding rotating and traveling shows, meaning exhibitions shown in their own spaces or organized elsewhere?
Dr. Khreis: The JNG organizes traveling exhibitions in other countries and hosts larger exhibitions from various parts of the world. It strives to promote the cultural dialogue and artistic exchange, because it feels certain that this is conducive to a mutual understanding and tolerance between nations. Some noteworthy examples of international shows that we organized abroad over the last three years would be:
- "Between Legend & Reality," on modern art from the Arab World, shown in Iceland at the Akureiri Art Museum in 2002, and in 2003 at the Reykjavik Art Museum.
- "Breaking the Veils: Women Arts from the Islamic World," organized by The Royal Society of Fine Arts and the Pan-Mediterranean Women Artists Network in Greece, which traveled to 12 cities and 5 European countries since its 2002 opening in Rhodos, inaugurated by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan.
- "Au Delà Du Réalisme", on contemporary painting from Jordan, shown 2004 in Hôtel de Ville in Paris.
Over the last years, The Jordan National Gallery has hosted a wide range of major exhibitions from abroad, for example the exhibition of the Spanish sculptor Miguel Navarro, in cooperation with the Embassy of Spain and Instituto Cervantes in Amman, and the exhibition "Colors of Malaysia," 19 Malaysian artists, a collaborative endeavor with The Malaysian Watercolor Organization.
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art. Based in Berlin, Germany.
Royal Society of Fine Arts
Founder, President: Princess Wijdan Ali
Jordan National Gallery
of Fine Arts
Dr. Khalid Khreis