I come away from this year’s Art Dubai with mixed feelings. This art fair, which ran from March 21-24 was supposed to be a celebration and commemoration of Middle Eastern art. This is the one art fair Middle Eastern art can claim for its own. Yet as I walked through the fair, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of non-Middle Eastern art. The reason why I will start with this particular issue is because this was my first impression of the fair.
I know people who came from around the world to attend this year’s Art Dubai. They came from London, New York, and L.A in order to see Middle Eastern art. Many of these people that flew in from across the world are seasoned collectors who regularly travel to such fairs as Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, Frieze, and the Armory Show. They are not interested in seeing the same galleries, artists, and types of works that they have already seen at other fairs around the world. They came to Art Dubai with the sole purpose of seeing (and purchasing) Middle Eastern art.
The organization of this year’s Art Dubai was, as usual, outstanding. The flow of the space, the lighting, the courteous staff, and excellent selection of magazines and books, yet again impressed everyone. The Cartier showroom was outstanding and received a lot of praise for its various displays. The location of this year’s fair was at Madinat Jumerirah, and the fair consisted of 2 large exhibition rooms. There were 75 galleries participating at this year’s fair. I really like the size of Art Dubai, it makes the art fair manageable. Some of the other global art fairs are simply too large to enjoy, and I think the size of Art Dubai is just right.
A beautiful work by Mohammed Ehsai that greeted Art Dubai atendees at the fair’s entrance. Part of the Abraaj Capital Art Collection:
Pictures from Art Dubai:
The Kashya Hildebrand gallery’s booth was filled with beautiful Middle Eastern art. The works showcased at this booth include some of the finest calligraphy I have ever seen. These beautiful works, by young Iranian artists Behrouz Zindashti and Aghighi Bakhshayeshi are meticulously painted, and have a flowing, vibrant energy to them. These Persian artists produce work of exceptional quality, and it is wise to watch out for their progress in the years to come. Kashya Hildebrand also had some great work by Hadie Shafie, in her usual style, in addition to a large piece by Reza Derakshani. Ms. Hildebrand, whose gallery is based in Zurich, is a great believer in the Middle East’s artistic talent. Representing some of the finest names in Middle Eastern art, she has a great passion for Arabic and Persian calligraphy.
Kashya Hildebrand Gallery’s booth:
Works by Aghighi Bakhsayeshi at Kashya Hildebrand gallery’s booth:
Work by Behrouz Zindashti at Kashya Hildebrand gallery’s booth:
Work by Hadieh Shafie at Kashya Hildebrand gallery’s booth:
The next booth I passed by was Dubai’s ArtSpace, which had fantastic artwork on display.
This included a beautiful installation by Egyptian artist Mohammad Abla, which consisted of portraits of families, and religious and political figures painted in his usual folkloric style. These portraits are of characters from 1950s Cairo, and can be seen wearing traditional outfits from the time. The portraits are placed upon Arabic newspaper wallpaper. Included in the price of the work: the artist personally installing his work in the buyer’s home anywhere in the world.
Zakaria Ramhani also had excellent work on display at Art Space’s booth. One of his larger works was sold on the first day, and a second large work was put in its place and also quickly sold. These colorful works consist of a face drawn from Arabic calligraphy. One is able to point out many other smaller faces within this larger portrait.
Just before entering the second exhibition hall, there is a fantastic bookshop dedicated to books on all types of Middle Eastern and foreign art. The Middle Eastern art world needs a lot more literature to enhance the art scene, however there has been a growing number of books dedicated to Middle Eastern art over the past few years.
There were also magazine stands outside the exhibition halls, where people were selling previous and current editions of Middle Eastern art-focused magazines.
Ayyam Gallery had a great stand, where they were exhibiting works by a roster of some of their finest resident artists: Osama Diab, Nadim Karam, Khaled Takreti, Thaier Helal, Samia Halaby and Safwan Dahoul.
‘Thunder Measuring Space,’ Acrylic on Canvas, by Samia Halaby at Ayyam Gallery Booth:
‘Jackpot,’ Acrylic on Canvas, by Khaled Takreti at Ayyam Gallery Booth:
‘Reve,’ Acrylic on Canvas, by Safwan Dahoul at Ayyam Gallery Booth:
‘Love Boat,’ Acrylic on Canvas, by Khaled Takreti at Ayyam Gallery Booth:
Leila Heller Gallery brought works by Shiva Ahmadi, Kezban Arca Batibeki, and Ayad Al Kadhi to show at Art Dubai. There were small works by Persian artist Shiva, as well as a larger piece, which portrays monkey-like figures in varying poses. The scenes in these paintings are often violent, with blotches of bloods appearing throughtout the canvas. These blotches are very realistic and give the work a dramatic edge. In the larger piece, these monkey figures are seen throwing rockets and grenades at one another, whilst a royal monkey looks on.
The works at this booth by Ayad Al Kadhi include 3 pieces from his previous ‘Umbilical’ exhibition at the gallery, and proved to be very popular at Art Dubai. The works by Kezban include bra-clad women in varying positions.
Galerie El Marsa had some excellent works on display, including works by Nijah Mahdaoui, whose colorful, calligraphic art works are supreme. These works flow with a boundless energy. A few sculptures by Rachid Koraichi were also on display and drew in a lot of interest from the fair’s attendees.
At this year’s fair, Agial Art Gallery chose to display artworks based on the theme of trees.
One of Agial’s star attractions at this year’s fair was a piece by Mohamad Said Baalbaki which is a mechanical artwork in which 2 men are chopping a Cedar tree, a sign of Lebanon’s troubles.
Overall, the quality of the works at this year’s Art Dubai varied. While there were some stunning works of supreme quality, there were several that were not particularly well done. Some works seemed to simply be following international trends that will not be significant a few years down the line. Some of the artworks that were exhibited seem to have been tastelessly commissioned very quickly in the hopes of a quick sale. It is important that Middle Eastern art continues to be of high quality and that the region hold its artwork to exceptionally high standards. When a work of art is not good, it should be critiqued. There is not enough self-criticism of some low-quality Middle Eastern art and this allows some artists to produce cheap artworks in the hopes of a quick buck. It is vital that we hold our artwork to rigorous standards and point out when an artwork is not of great quality.
The fair was extremely well organized with thousands of people converging to the event. The fair also brought great coverage for the region, and its art scene. The gallerists I spoke to were extremely impressed with the fair, and most have reported strong sales. I enjoyed the fair overall and commend the organizers, the authorities, and all the gallerists and artists that participated for without them there would be no fair to speak of. I only hope that next year we see an even greater focus on Middle Eastern art.
I again commend Art Dubai for putting Middle Eastern art on the global art stage. Without this annual event, Middle Eastern art would not be where it is today. We thank the authorities in Dubai for allowing such a great event to take place in this beautiful city. It only strengthens Dubai’s role as one of the region’s leading art centers. We wish them all luck for next year’s event.
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