Etel Adnan
Exhibition dates: April 3 - May 23, 2014
Opening reception: Thursday, April 3rd, 6 - 8pm

Press Release

Callicoon Fine Arts is very pleased to announce an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Etel Adnan in the gallery’s new location at 49 Delancey Street and continuing nearby at 124 Forsyth Street. The exhibition opens on April 3rd with a reception from 6 to 8pm and continues through May 23th. On April 2nd please join us at the St. Marks Poetry Project for a reading and launch to celebrate the publication by Nightboat Books of To look at the sea is to know what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader. The new two-volume book collects writing spanning 50 years and, together with the exhibition, emphasizes the diverse yet interrelated accomplishments of an artist and writer who has been hailed as one of the most significant cultural figures of Middle Eastern descent.

The gallery at 124 Forsyth Street will focus on Adnan’s leporellos, unique paintings on compact accordion folding books that often open to monumental lengths. The earliest leporello exhibited here, from 1968, titled Late Afternoon Poem contains an otherwise unpublished text that, with an economy of handwritten words woven into watercolor marks, addresses the devastation of war, the resulting disruption of the natural order and dismantling of perception. Another leporello from 1973, made when Adnan was living in Beirut and measuring 20 feet in length, is filled with dynamic abstractions in black and red ink while on the cover she writes both her name and the word “California” in Arabic.  Flowers with Tamalpais in the Background is illustrative of the importance of California as a place. Here the simultaneity of a view through Adnan’s window framed by an interior is presented as a movement across the horizontality of the book, starting indoors and moving outdoors to a depiction of Mount Tamalpais.

The gallery at 49 Delancey Street will contain paintings of that famed mountain which forms the crux of Adnan’s visual work. Adnan’s use of color and shape, laid down with the assured stokes of her pallet knife, actively assembles a landscape. Gesture and perception meet in the material of paint, on the intimate rectangles of her canvases, to depict what lies behind appearances.  In one relatively large work from the 1980s pale hues of yellow and grey show the mountain loaming into view yet almost ephemeral in its realization. In a recent painting, undulating forms depict a landscape that is more a space of the imagination. As Adnan writes in her meditation on painting, Journey to Mount Tamalpais, “Whatever makes mountains rise, and us, with them, makes colors restless and ecstatic. At my right, the Tiburon hills are somberly yellow. They have a strange power in their color. Is this pale gold on the surface of these hills so extraneous to its own place, that it makes my mind jump into the notion of some past I never knew and which, still, strangely, I relate to them?”

Etel Adnan was born in Lebanon in 1925 and lives and works in Paris and Sausalito, CA. Her early education took place in French schools in Beirut. Her father was a Turkish speaking Muslim from Damascus and her mother a Greek Christian from Smyrna. Living and studying between languages and cultures, she went on to study at the Sorbonne and also completed postgraduate work in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Harvard University in the 1950s. She returned to Beirut in the early 1970s only to leave again in exile at the start of the Lebanese Civil War. Settling in Paris, she wrote Sitt Marie Rose in 1977, her influential novel about the war which is included, in full, in the new Nightboat Books publication. She then returned to Sausalito where, at the base of Mount Tamalpais, she made her permanent home.

Adnan’s works are currently included in the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. The Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, is hosting Etel Adnan in All Her Dimensions, a retrospective of her work curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist. A full catalog is forthcoming. In 2012 Adnan had a significant presence in Documenta (13). She was a Documenta resident artist and writer, conducting numerous talks and readings, exhibiting her paintings and a tapestry, as well as authoring a volume of the exhibition’s notebook series, 100 Notes - 100 Thoughts. Adnan’s work has also inspired numerous works by playwrights, composers and filmmakers.

About To look at the sea is to become what one is: An Etel Adnan Reader:

This landmark edition follows Adnan’s work from the infernal elegies of the 1960s to the ethereal meditations of her later poems, to form a portrait of an extraordinarily impassioned and prescient life. Ranging between essay, fiction, poetry, memoir, feminist manifesto, and philosophical treatise, while often challenging the conventions of genre, Adnan’s works give voice to the violence and revelation of the last six decades as it has centered, in part, within the geopolitics of the Arab world, and in particular the author’s native Beirut. Among the key works reproduced in their entirety are Sitt Marie Rose (1978); The Arab Apocalypse (1980); Journey to Mount Tamalpais (1986); and Of Cities & Women (1993).


Nightboat Books, a nonprofit organization, seeks to develop audiences for writers whose work resists convention and transcends boundaries, by publishing books rich with poignancy, intelligence and risk.

Callicoon Fine Arts is located at 49 Delancey Street between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets, and around the corner at 124 Forsyth Street, between Delancey and Broome Streets. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 12 to 6pm. The nearest subway stops are the B and D trains at Grand Street and the F, J, M and Z trains at Delancey-Essex Street.