Art fairs in 2018 need to have an international outlook in order to compete in a globalised world. Yet, these same fairs play an enormous role in shaping the region they’re in, whether from an art historical or economic point of view. Art Dubai knows exactly that and for its 12th edition it introduced a number of new elements through which it tries to redefine what an art fair can do for its region beyond selling art and attracting a world audience. This year besides the habitual Global Art Forum, Modern and Contemporary sections, there was also the inaugural Residents and a non-selling exhibition of modern art. By Will Furtado
Given the region’s steady consolidation and authentication of art from decades before the 1980s, modern art can be said to also be an emerging market. Signaling that is this year’s Modern section which was its largest to date with 16 galleries exhibiting artists from 14 countries. In addition there was also the exhibition ‘That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness’. “We worked with MiSK Art Institute for this exhibition that shows how modernity covered a long period of time in the region,” said Myrna Ayad the fair’s director who has an art writer background.
Curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the show charted the development of five art movements in the region between the 1940s and ‘70s showing how broad, varied and influential they are. These include: The Casablanca School; The Contemporary Art Group exemplified by Samir Rafi’s painting ‘Two Sisters’ (1950); The Baghdad Group of Modern Art exemplified by Shakir Hassan Al Said’s painting ‘Two Villages’ (1950); Dar Al Funoon Al Sa’udiyyah; and The Khartoum School. “It’s a nice breather and educational,” Myrna Ayad explained. “Even to people from the region.”
The show which also comes with a bilingual catalogue was concise and informative with dim lighting for a museum quality experience. And at time when the modern art market is still emerging and there’s lack of documentation this section is an important step in bridging the gap in preservation standards between the modern and contemporary sectors in the MENA region.
Exemplifying the growing popularity of modern art from the MENASA region is the Art Dubai debut of Akara Art gallery based in Mumbai.
“Most airtfairs have a minimum of three years of programming before accepting you,” said gallery director Puneet Shah.
Whereas Art Dubai asks for a minimum two years. Founded in 2015, the gallery presented a solo booth by the late Piraji Sagara featuring the artist’s large works on burnt wood including ‘Untitled’ (1972-73). Their prices ranged between 18,000 and 40,000 USD and by the second day of the fair they’d sold two works. Having been a fair visitor for many years Shah was also attracted by the chance of being able to be in direct contact with museum professionals from all over the world who are brought to the fair by the organisation.
Also seduced by the recent initiative and Dubai’s optimal geographical position was London-based Grosvenor Gallery which now represents mostly Pakistani modernism. In its 7th participation the gallery presented artists Rasheed Araeen, Zahoor ul-Akhlaq, Ismail Gulgee, Ahmed Parvez, Syed Sadequain, and Anwar Jalal Shemza.
“We’ve not done too bad and made about five sales so far,” said Charles Moore, the gallery director, about the artworks which are priced between 2,000 and 100,000 USD. Moore remains confident about the fair despite its shifting focus. “Earlier on there was a lot of Indian galleries,” he said. “Then Iranian galleries and now there’s a lot more African galleries which are ever more popular.”
Indeed Africa beyond the north has been under the spotlight as the number of African galleries at the fair has risen from six to nine, and there was a 17% increase in exhibiting African artists. This year’s edition of Art Dubai Modern Symposium also included a talk between Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, artist, art historian and curator of African art at Cleveland Museum of Art, and Ayo Adeyinka the founder of modern and contemporary art from Africa TAFETA. In the new residency section, which offers international artists one-month residencies in the city, a few artists from African and diaspora could be found too such as Victor Ehikhamenor and Zohra Opoku.
London-based Addis Fine Art gallery (AFA) is one of the commercial galleries representing art from Africa that debuted this year at Art Dubai Contemporary. “The Middle East is a very important market for us because of the cultural affinities with Ethiopia,” said the gallery director Rakeb Sile about the increasing trade between the two regions. AFA presented two artists: the emerging Girma Berta with the photography work ‘Moving Shadows II, II’, (2017); and the established Wosene Worke Kosrof with the majestic abstract painting with a modernist quality ‘The New Alphabet’ (2017).
Local gallery Lawrie Shabibi also represented an artist from the African diaspora with a few sculptural works by Zak Ové. The artist, who also had a show at the gallery’s Al Quoz space in Alserkal Avenue, presented the glittery boomboxes ‘Resistor Transistors’ (2018-18) styled with car parts and masks, and ‘DP38’ (2017) a work made with white crochet doilies. Zilberman Gallery also opted to show sculptural works with Guido Casaretto’s ‘Pillar III’ (2016) metal and concrete horse structure taking the booth’s centre stage.
In terms of mediums, painting still dominated with an equal amount of abstract and figurative paintings including Dubai-based Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh who showed at Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde’s booth. Entitled ‘Incomplete – Playing Doctor’ (2009-17) the large oil on canvas diptych depicted a surreal scene that jumped from family scenes to robotics foregrounded by the shadow of a jilbab – a very familiar Dubai experience.
Saudi Arabia had an almost omnipresence at the fair by supporting certain sections and having parallel exhibitions. One of these included ‘Reframe Saudi’ a VR film that premiered at the fair featuring nine artists such as Jameela Mater who reflect on the rapid changes happening in the kingdom. The Jeddah-based Saudi gallery ATHR also led in terms of showing new media at the fair. Ahmed Mater featured in the group booth with his Mecca photography series; while Ahaad Abdulaziz Alamoudi showed ‘Tini Warwar’ (2016) a delightfully mesmerizing video of a performance by Khibayti dancers dressed in traditional khabeti thobes adapted from Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’.
The focus on new media was also present in the Global Art Forum entitled ‘I Am Not A Robot’. The talks in the forum explored the highly topical theme of automation exploring questions discussed such as: “Is there a Non-Western model of AI?” The intellectually stimulating sessions included talks by Rokni, Ramin Haerizadeh & Hesam Rahmanian, and Fatima Al Qadiri of GCC.
GCC were also behind some of the best entertainment at the fair. And they didn’t only organise the series of after parties with New York DJs. The Khaleeji artist collective also hosted The Room, Art Dubai’s interactive dining experience – entitled GOOD MORNING GCC – which recreated a live TV show on site, featuring celebrity TV chef Suliman Al Qassar. “We got something for every pocket from a couple hundred dollars to six-figure sums, every bracket as well,” concluded Myrna Ayad about the fair she’s directed for the second time. But beyond that it seems she’s also created a fair for every taste too.