x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi's newest art gallery N2N is full of Eastern promise

Abu Dhabi's newest gallery, N2N, opened last week in Emirates Palace. Anna Seaman meets the founders and finds out more

Sea Butterflies by Henri Yagodkin, currently on show at N2N Gallery. Courtesy N2N Gallery
Sea Butterflies by Henri Yagodkin, currently on show at N2N Gallery. Courtesy N2N Gallery

It was a mixture of careful consideration and shrewd business sense that prompted the Ukrainians Natalya Muzaleva and Natalia Petrukha to set up shop together. But it was overriding passion that led them into the art world and a leap of faith that told them to do it in Emirates Palace.

“I’m not related to art at all but I am crazy about it,” says Muzaleva, who has been living in Abu Dhabi for six years. Petrukha, who divides her time between Ukraine and Poland, hosted an exhibition in Kiev two years ago and the idea that was to become N2N Gallery, which opened last week in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace, was born. “After we decided to do it, I began to study the market and it has taken us one year to set it up,” explains Muzaleva.

Tall, eloquent and immaculately presented, Muzaleva is no stranger to entrepreneurship. She and her Hungarian husband have a real estate firm that they steered successfully through the recent crash and no doubt her sharp, matter-of-fact practicality has been her best asset through this latest venture, too.

That, of course, coupled with an unshakeable belief in artistic talent from her country and invaluable backing from the local community, including the patronage of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the grandson of the president Sheikh Khalifa.

The concept for N2N is to display realist and modernist art from Ukraine, Hungary and Poland in a variety of media. The women also plan to use the grounds of the glittering palace for open-air exhibitions and have scheduled workshops with resident artists. “We have a very small place but we have so many ideas,” enthuses Muzaleva. She is also very confident that the pieces in her gallery will make a meaningful contribution to the artistic conversation in the UAE.

“Most of the galleries here represent contemporary art. However, I believe Ukrainian artists have much more to say. Artists such as Petro Bevza and Anatoliy Krivolap are sold in Christie’s and Sotheby’s and are among the most recognised artists in the world,” she says.

Realism, which characterises many pieces coming from the traditional schools connected to the former Soviet Union but is not so fashionable in today’s art climate, has a charm that abstract or conceptual art simply does not, says Muzaleva. “Realistic artists express themselves in such a way that you can enter into the painting and get truly lost. Sometimes, when I am very tired, I find myself immersed in the landscapes, walking with deer or surrounded by flowers – it is really amazing and very relaxing.”

So, it was with genuine love and admiration that Muzaleva oversaw the hanging of Windmills by Henri Yagodkin or Spring Rusanivka by Volodymyr Reshetov, last week ahead of the gallery opening. And when she cut the ribbon, alongside Petrukha, Sheikh Zayed and their friend and third business partner, the Emirati Hamed Al Suwaidi, who has been instrumental in helping them set up, she says it was a wonderful feeling. “We worked so very hard, it was a relief to finally open our doors.”

Not to do anything by halves, the pair flew in resident artist and personal friend Tetyana Yagodkina to conduct a live drawing show and a Ukrainian band to entertain guests. They also sold a number of pieces on the opening night and so far, interest has remained strong. “You know, the artists we represent are from the old academic school of painting and are stylistically very strong,” she muses. “I always say if you are making a house, there should be a strong base because once you have strong foundations you are secure. That is how I feel about our artists – they present beautiful, quality artwork and we think people will appreciate that.”

The expanding art scene in the UAE

Six years ago, when Art Dubai was in its infancy and Abu Dhabi Art didn't exist, you could count the number of independent art galleries in the UAE on one hand. So it is indicative of the rate of change that half a decade later, galleries are springing up so often that two come in the same week. Although the figure is not precise, there are now more than 50 galleries in the UAE and hundreds of home-grown artists laboriously carving out their own niches from studios across the country. The fact that there is space for specialist galleries dedicated to Ukrainian, Polish and Hungarian art and Indian Modernism and that both are reporting good sales also shows that our appetites are growing and our tastes maturing.

aseaman@thenational.ae

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