Diana Al-Hadid is fascinated by boundaries, where something begins and ends. How do we define a space—be it architectural, sculptural, or experiential? Drawing on a panoply of art-historical and scientific references, she explores the space between two-dimensional mark-making and three-dimensional sculpture, the imagined and the real, interior and exterior, belonging and alienation, the ruin and the yet-to-be-completed.

Al-Hadid’s monumental sculpture Nolli’s Orders (2012) will anchor SJMA’s central skylight gallery like a Bernini fountain in a Roman piazza. Throughout history, cities have been shaped by such sources of water. The title of Al-Hadid’s room-sized sculpture refers to Giambattista Nolli’s landmark 1748 map of Rome, which was the first map of its kind to show the public spaces of the city. Publically accessible buildings are shown as transparent; private structures are rendered as solid. With a distinctly contemporary sense of irresolution and uncertainty, Al-Hadid delves into the same interactions in Nolli’s Orders: void and solid, transparent and opaque, public and private, figure and ground.

Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City unpacks the artist’s creative process by bringing together related works and primary source materials. For example, a reprinted folio of Nolli’s map and works on paper by old masters offer points of entry into the interwoven intricacies of Al-Hadid’s thinking. Avoiding literal translation, Al- Hadid radically takes visual elements from her source materials out of context by reassembling and then fusing them into new narratives. This interest in displacement stems in part from the artist’s own immigrant experience (she was born in Aleppo, Syria, and grew up in Ohio). However, the themes of uncertainty and the fragility of man-made structures—both physical and social—pervade facets of contemporary life across the globe.