x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rain didn’t stop play

We saw art from all corners of the globe, collaborations in performance and an intervention from the weather that nobody expected. But all obstacles were overcome and the fifth edition of Abu Dhabi Art came to a close under the turbulent skies of the capital.

Fly by Random International at Abu Dhabi Art. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art
Fly by Random International at Abu Dhabi Art. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art

We saw art from every corner of the globe, collaborations in performance and an intervention from the weather that was impossible to anticipate. But all the obstacles were overcome.

Although the talking point for many at the fair was the weather’s disruption – heavy wind and rains caused it to close temporarily on Thursday and also meant that 22 of the galleries had to relocate from the Norman Foster-designed UAE Pavilion to the former storage area at the rear of Manarat Al Saadiyat – the sales were still robust and the public programming managed, for the most part, to continue despite the inclement conditions.

Here are some of the highlights of the fair.

Fly (2011) at Galerie Brigitte Schenk

From Random International, the artists who brought us the Rain Room, Galerie Brigitte Schenk presented this interactive installation, clever as well as captivating. The fly, actually a small round ball hooked up to a customised pulley system, was trapped inside a glass box and its movements mirrored those of a real fly. It senses the presence of an observer and changes the pattern of its behaviour accordingly. The work comments on the notions of freedom.

Meem Projects 2013

Meem, one of our favourite galleries in Dubai, launched the second instalment of the publication project that it began last year. This limited-edition book presents the key contemporary and modern artists of the region. To represent the content of its booth at the fair, the book contains the work of three contemporary artists: Khaled Hafez, Jeffar Khaldi and Mahmoud Obaidi, who all created commissioned works under the title How Do You Sleep At Night?

We love this part of the foreword, where Charles Pocock, the managing director of the gallery, writes: “If Meem Projects 2013 is successful in encouraging people to engage with the art of the region, I will be able to sleep very well ­indeed.”

Admaf booth

One of many community booths that were placed outside and so bore the brunt of Thursday’s storm, the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (Admaf) booth was one of the most impressive. Designed by two interior design students from the University of Sharjah’s College of Fine Art and Design, the booth was also the launch of the new Admaf Design Award, an annual competition for students and recent graduates. Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo, the founder of Admaf, says that the new award is to inspire “the country’s future innovators” and to show Admaf’s commitment to “the growth and development of the UAE’s visual arts industry”.

Julius Bar Lounge

The Swiss bank Julius Bar was the sponsor of this year’s fair and we were impressed with its efforts to integrate itself fully within the artistic spirit. “Instead of bringing bank brochures we decided to bring some of our art,” explained Christian Zingg, the curator of the Julius Bar collection, which numbers more than 5,000 pieces and is usually reserved for its guests or clients. Inside the lounge, situated close to the entrance, the work of Monica Studer and Christoph van den Berg was on display. The art was mostly digital prints from a virtual hotel that the artists created in 2000 as a way of expressing what they call a “collective memory” of their homeland.

Public sculptures

The pieces of public art at the fair always stay with us. Tadashi Kawamata’s Chairs, the installation at the centre of Manarat Al Saadiyat, is now a permanent part of the building and this year, we loved two of the sculptures so much that we wish they would stay. Rafael Barrios’s Unfathomable, standing outside Hall 1, was spectacular. The fuchsia aluminium structure is based on the concave and convex elements of a box but it is fashioned in such a way that you don’t know whether it is leaping out at you or sinking away. “You must look with your eyes to see it,” explains the artist. “And most people look with their minds.” We also loved the book sculpture by South Korea’s Jukhee Kwon in the foyer, where the pages of the books flowed down from the ceiling in a fountain-like fashion.

Honji Wang and Sebastien Ramirez

There were so many entries this year in the fair’s comprehensive performing arts programme that it was difficult to pick out just one. However, we absolutely loved the dance artist duo Wang Ramirez. He is French with Spanish roots and she is German with Korean parents and they met in the hip-hop scene in Berlin in 2005. Their dances are emotional and conceptual and simply a joy to watch. “We are a love couple as well as a dance couple so the emotions we feel for each other inform the emotions of our movements and that is a really special form of chemistry,” says Wang.

Weather blues

On Thursday morning we woke up to the temporary car park being flooded and the outside structures having sustained damage from the heavy winds. The fair was temporarily closed, and gallerists and visitors, many of whom were staying in the St Regis on Saadiyat Island, went to enjoy some of the other tourist activities in the capital. Although the fair reopened at 7pm on Thursday, the UAE Pavilion remained closed. After shifting art from the 22 galleries that had been housed there to the former storage area at the back of the Manarat, those galleries ­reopened at 5.30pm on Friday.

• For more Abu Dhabi Art coverage, visit our Scene&Heard blog

aseaman@thenational.ae