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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

A guide to Galleries' Night at Alserkal Avenue  

We look at what's on display at the new exhibitions gearing for Galleries' Night at Alserkal Avenue 

Work by Sunil Gawde from the series called Blind Bulbs
Work by Sunil Gawde from the series called Blind Bulbs

At last, after a long summer, when dust eddied around the lanes of Alserkal Avenue and parking was atypically easy, the galleries open on Tuesday in the Al Quoz district. As always, it will be a busy event, so let me be your guide for what to expect.

Personally, I like to head through Alserkal Avenue methodically, taking each gallery in order. Not for me the good-times of “hey, we’re heading to the Third Line!” Nope. I end at the Third Line, and I’ve got a strict itinerary till then that no amount of “fun” will budge me from.

Start, of course, at Lawrie Shabibi, the first gallery on the corner as you come in from First Al Khail Street. Lane Five (which no one says; I actually had to google that) is rich with galleries and you will do well to keep up a fast clip. Don’t dilly-dally!

Lawrie Shabibi opens with a show by Shaikha Almazrou, a young Emirati artist who brings histories of sculpture into Conceptual, almost legible plays on how the work is made. Her standing column at Abu Dhabi Art last year was constructed according to the Fibonacci sequence; for an ADMAF commission two years ago she dug a Robert Smithson-like earth work into the desert of Ras Al Khaimah. The works in this show are thoughtful and rich in colour — but also a bit loopy: the softness of bright pillows cast in steel.

Engage, Shaikha Al Mazrou 2018 Courtesy Lawrie Shabibi 
Engage, Shaikha Al Mazrou 2018 Courtesy Lawrie Shabibi 

Now head across the street to Ayyam Gallery, which has an outpost in Beirut and one of the more reliably Middle Eastern programmes. On Tuesday they’re opening the self-taught Syrian artist Elias Izoli with paintings reflecting on children during the Syrian conflict, which has now stretched on for, as his show’s title has it, Seven Years.

Next door, 1x1 Gallery shows work from India and is always a potential surprise. I don’t love all their shows, but because Indian work — for a variety of reasons — is often absent from the global contemporary art circuit, it’s a place to find art that ought to be better known. Next Monday, they open sculptures by the veteran Mumbai artist Sunil Gawde, such as light bulbs, that reflect on the nature of seeing.

After, head to Galerie Isabelle van den Eynde — and you are in for a treat. Few things are more exciting than when an established artist changes direction. You really get a chance to see the ideas they’re toying with as much as how they are tackled formally. With this show the Dubai Conceptual artist Mohammed Kazem, who was a younger member of the circle of artists anchored by Hassan Sharif, turns his hand to a rather more accessible medium: that of painting. His project remains the same — an attempt to capture the evanescent moments of life and the people who pass through them — but now rendered in acrylic and ink, in images of windows, doors and scenes from his Dubai neighbourhood.

'Neighbors' by Mohammed Kazem, one of his new paintings on show at Galerie Isabelle van den Eynde
'Neighbors' by Mohammed Kazem, one of his new paintings on show at Galerie Isabelle van den Eynde

And with that, it’s khalas for Lane Five. That’s the hardest lane; from there, you’re on easy street. You don’t need to pretend-text now if you see someone you know. You can stop and talk! And you have four galleries under your belt, so you are cued up for conversation. Remember, there’s no “I didn’t like that” or “I thought it was good” in the art world. It’s only “I’m not convinced” and “the show was really exciting”.

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The next lane brings you El Marsa, where there's a show of Ali Tnani's work, and opposite, Green Art Gallery, whose director, Yasmin Atassi, does a fine line in group shows. Group shows are a tricky brief, particularly in a commercial gallery: the theme linking the artists can seem tangential, or can overpower the works themselves. But Green Art gives them a light touch and a slightly academic sensibility. One recent show looked at art made by Modernist women in Egypt; another looked at artists whose work toes the line between art and architecture. Atassi gives this exhibition over to the curator Sara Alonso Gomez from Havana to show work by Cuban and regional artists, on the hunch that, as Atassi told me, that there are under-explored connections between the Cuban and Arab art scenes.

Next to head to Grey Noise, everyone’s favourite uncompromising gallery. On Tuesday it launches a show by Lantian Xie, a key figure in the Alserkal Avenue-era of the Dubai art world, whose mesmerising, critical and oblique practice seeks to retrace histories — both personal and of Dubai almost as a character — that don’t make it to the institutionalized level of the history books. If you can, ask for a tour: it’s a gallery where a little bit of information makes the work come alive.

Now, I love art. I could talk about art for breakfast, have a little more of it for lunch, and then finish off dinner with a big discussion about biennialisation. In fact, I love it so much that my husband is sick of it. But even I can appreciate that Alserkal Avenue preview nights require a deep, devoted slog: at this point, normally, you’d only be a third of the way through. On Thursday, however, the remaining major galleries are keeping their powder dry until Alserkal Lates next Monday, September 24th. The Art Jameel Project Space, which is currently preparing for its big move to the new Jameel Arts Centre, will host a performance workshop by Sara Masinaei, and the Alserkal Avenue commissioning strand will also stage a dance performance, by the Vilnius-based Migle Praniaskaite Dance Company. The Third Line, the duplex mother-ship at the top of the Avenue, will also open its fall show next week: geometries by Nima Nabavi and, in a nice pairing, the gorgeously mirrored, also intricately geometric work by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Finally, later in October, the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation will mount a historical show about monochrome painting.

'2018.08.23 (3.2.3)', 2018, by Nima Nabavi
'2018.08.23 (3.2.3)', 2018, by Nima Nabavi

That means, only two to go! You’ll go a little out of order here: stop by Showcase first, for their show of Ragini Dewan’s textured paintings, and then finish your night at Carbon 12, where there is a potentially raucous exhibition of a style of exaggerated painting that first took the art world by storm about ten years ago: cartoonish figures, a healthy dose of subliminal imagery, some hilarity and some ironically slapdash paint-handling. A little like the art world itself.

A work painting done in paint and goldleaf by Ragini Dewan at Showcase Gallery 
A work painting done in paint and goldleaf by Ragini Dewan at Showcase Gallery