The new cultural destination Wadi AlFann, Valley of the Arts in AlUla desert, Saudi Arabia, unveiled its first permanent large-scale installations by some of the world's most compelling contemporary artists. Agnes Denes, Ahmed Mater, James Turrell, Manal AlDowayan, and Michael Heizer will be the first five to be completed and unveiled by 2024, starting a program of commissions with more renowned artists to be announced.
The site, a vast valley spanning approximately 39 square kilometers with a millennial legacy, aims to become the new global cultural destination for contemporary art, contemplating another 15-20 artworks by 2035. The plan builds upon the success of two editions of the international art exhibition Desert X AlUla, in 2020 and most recently the 2022 edition, featuring work by Ayman Zedani, Jim Denevan, and Zeinab Al Hashemi.
The detailed master plan, developed by Ayers Saint Gross, provides a visitor infrastructure and experiential framework that knits the implementation of Wadi AlFann’s contemporary art program with the preservation and interpretation of its heritage sites. Artist sites have been identified to protect sensitive landscapes, ensure site integrity and enhance visitor movement and immersion within the site’s network of canyons. The landscape and artworks are served by a visitor infrastructure including entry, dining and event pavilions, comfort stations, and hiking trails.
AlUla's landscape is as monumental as its vast 200,000 years of history. It features a landscape of sandstone canyons and volcanic plateaux and hosts several major historical landmarks, including the ancient city of Dadan and the Nabataean city of Hegra, a 52-hectare city listed as Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Extended on the valley, Wadi AlFann will offer a profound opportunity to experience art in dialogue with nature. Learning from the desert, the artists are responding to the landscape of AlUla, taking inspiration from its dramatic topography, undulating vistas, remarkable geological structures, and complex natural ecosystem.
Pioneer of environmental art, Agnes' new work will continue her ongoing series of monumental pyramids: through careful examination of the rocks' characteristics, these new pyramids will awaken the silent canyons they sit within, representing the past, present, and future of mankind, exploring civilization, advancement, and achievement, to create a breathtaking environment.
Physician-turned-artist Ahmed Mater, an influential cultural voice documenting and scrutinizing the realities of contemporary Saudi Arabia, creates his new work Ashab Al-Lal which will explore the mythic space between subjective imagination and objective reality by generating a mirage within the dunes. The artist challenges the idea of the landmark as a symbol of status and authority, viewing it instead as a place for the transmission of knowledge.
A leading figure in the Light and Space movement of the1960s, At Wadi AlFann, Turrell will build upon the sensory experience of space, color, and perception, creating a series of areas within the canyon floor. Experiencing the thingness of light and elements of sky and terrain, the viewer will explore these spaces via a series of tunnels and stairs. The work examines the very nature of seeing, creating an experience of wordless thought.
Saudi artist, Manal AlDowayan's practice revolves around themes of invisibility, collective memory, and the representation of women. Her labyrinthine installation, The Oasis of Stories, takes inspiration from the mud walls of AlUla's Old Town, inviting visitors to get lost in an architectonic sculpture replicating the ancient spaces of Arabic settlements.
At Wadi AlFann, Michael Heizer will introduce new linear/incised engravings in the sandstone rock, relating directly to the extraordinary geology of the area and the varied detail of the Quweira sandstone. Viewable from a distance, most large works will change in appearance as viewers move around the site.
Art and sustainability are essential to Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and foundational to the AlUla experience. In addition to the project, the master plan incorporates the Marine Life Institute and the King Salman International Airport in Riyadh, both by Foster + Partners. The project will boost Saudi Arabia's capital as a global logistics hub, trade, and tourism to connect 120 million passengers from East to West by 2030.