x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

What's on at Abu Dhabi Art

Abu Dhabi Art brings 50 respected galleries from around the world to the capital, featuring a beefed-up events programme, a solid gallery line-up and a couple of star artists in town.

Inside Chairs by Tadashi Kawamata, presented by the Kamel Mennour gallery. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art fair
Inside Chairs by Tadashi Kawamata, presented by the Kamel Mennour gallery. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art fair

The booths

Abu Dhabi Art has earned its stripes for managing to attract big-name galleries hosting big-name artists, who are keen to get their works into the new international museums being built on Saadiyat Island.

The fair tends to sport the kind of guestlist that could make other relatively young fairs a little envious. Several of those big guys are back for another innings, but there are a few ADA stalwarts (such as London's White Cube and New York's Tony Shafrazi Gallery) missing from the line-up.

Michelle Farrell, the head of exhibitor relations for the fair, sounds confident nonetheless and notes the presence of a new raft of heavyweights, such as Galleria Continua, taking part for the first time. "The main thing is that the fair shows good quality work and I think this is evident from the selection of galleries with have this year," she says.

Here is our choice of highlights:

Simon Lee Gallery, London/Hong Kong

This firm fixture in Mayfair presents works by, among others, George Condo and Sherrie Levine, including Levine's 2007 sculpture of a malformed skeleton, False God.

Kamel Mennour, Paris

Mennour likes to breathe life into the typical boxy art fair booth and create something akin to a mini-exhibition in itself. This year, he brings works by the excellent Latifa Echakhch.

CDA Projects, Istanbul

Moaz Zilberman's experimental spot for new art from Turkey and beyond makes its Abu Dhabi debut, hosted in the fair's Bidaya spotlight for emerging galleries.

EOA Projects, London

After four years of touring shows that shed light on Saudi Arabia's overlooked art scene, Edge of Arabia heads to Abu Dhabi Art with works by Abdulnasser Gharem.

Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

A special presentation of Liam Gillick, who represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 2009, with work produced specially for ADA including a text piece in Arabic.

Galleria Continua, San Gimignano/Beijing /Le Moulin

Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley and Michelangelo Pistoletto are the calibre of contemporary artists that Continua works with, making this a valued newcomer on the guestlist.

Galerie Janine-Rubeiz, Beirut

A special live performance piece that sees the absurdist painter Mazen Kerbaj encased in glass and observing his observers as they wander through the fair.

Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo

This Japanese gallery has a pan-Asian focus and brings new paintings by Yayoi Kusama who works in a saturated, emphatic and somehow fibrous way with acrylic.

Ayyam Gallery, Damascus/Dubai/Beirut

A triptych by Sami Halaby dominates Ayyam's booth: Homage to Leonardo celebrates the influence of Da Vinci on the artist and the illusion of depth that abstract painting can offer.

Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg/Beirut

With a multitude of Arab and European artists under its wing, Sfeir-Semler's Abu Dhabi participation includes works by the Emirati conceptual pioneer Hassan Sharif.


Challenging the notion of islands

In the deep south of the Indian Ocean lies the island of Martin De Vivies that, despite being thousands of miles from Paris, still raises the tricolour flag every morning. This odd little outpost of France, and other strange islands dotted around the seas, is explored in a sideshow that's become a firm fixture of Abu Dhabi Art since its launch.

Art, Talks and Sensations is a multisensory wander through the voluminous mind of the curator Fabrice Bousteau, the editor of Beaux Arts Magazine. The event is designed to bounce off the commercial side of the fair by offering viewers an inspirational sojourn.

Previous years have brought fairgoers face-to-face with Mongolian throat singers, mannequins brought to life and faux-steaming creeks. But this time, Bousteau's show, titled The Island: A Game of Life, explores the duality of life on an island through a cavalry of contemporary artists, dancers and filmmakers - even an imagined hypermarket.

"Philosophers consider islands like a miniaturisation of the world, that all the questions that the world is asking can be found on an island."

The curator explains that visitors to Art, Talks and Sensations will pull, at random, a white or black ticket from a box on entry. This will then let them explore half of the exhibition - either an Eden-like vision or a slightly darker, skewed world - cut off completely from the other side.

Among the highlights of artwork that Bousteau has pulled together is a reworking of Alice Aycock's self-explanatory 1971 installation Sand/Fans, in which viewers will "have the feeling that an island is being constructed in front of their eyes". There's a photographic collection by the British artist Marc Quinn, projection pieces by Sue Webster and Tim Noble that create complex silhouettes out of dead animals, and even a musical composition by a master of Tibetan singing bowls.

At the heart of the show is a screening area, with documentaries of eight obscure islands from around the world, as well as a recreation of Fabrice Hyber's Hybermarche. First staged in Paris' Musee d'Art Moderne in 1995, the exhibition saw Hyber turn the museum into a market of collected objects, artisanal crafts and even day-to-day supermarket wares. "He really questioned the idea of a museum as this spatial island," says Bousteau. "In that way, we discover that museums are not an island in society, but are always in relation to society's problems, money and education."

Art, Talks and Sensations takes place in the gardens behind Manarat Al Saadiyat, Tuesday and Wednesday, 3pm - 11pm, Thursday 3pm - 10pm, Friday and Saturday 2pm - 10pm.


Going public

There's no doubt that Abu Dhabi Art is sporting a ramped-up public programme this year. Talks and workshops by big-name artists, lively performance segments and the welcome return of the Art Zone designed to keep kids entertained throughout are all set to feature.

"We build the programme from looking at what artworks the galleries are bringing and who they represent," says Tairone Bastien, the head of public programming. "It's about supporting them but also building dialogue around these works."

A veritable star on the list is Marina Abramovic (speaking on Friday from 3pm to 4pm, Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium), dubbed the Grandmother of Performance Art, who will be making her Middle East debut. "I'm currently discussing a surprise performance with the Abu Dhabi Art organisers to take place while I'm there," said the artist in a release. Abramovich's career stretches back to the 1970s, when she pioneered a style of performance that emphasised the rawness of a body stretched to its limits. This spirit continued through to her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010, when every day for three months she invited members of the public to individually sit facing her.

Here are other highlights from the public programme:

Performance: Abu Dhabi Art Design Storytellers

As part of the fair's engagement with design, artists and designers have been tasked with responding to the artisan and craft history of the emirates. Catch the UAE-based artist and poet Hala Ali weave together conversations with these artisans into a poetic, performed response.

Daily, 3.30pm and 7.30pm, at the Inside Chairs For Abu Dhabi by Tadashi Kawamata section of Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Talk: Abu Dhabi Art Conversation with Pascale Marthine-Tayou

An artist that truly encapsulates the notion of artist-as-wandering-accumulator, Marthine-Tayou's installations are assemblages of objects, plastics and found bric-a-brac that together present a border-crossing jumble we exist in in a globalised village.

Thursday, 3pm, Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium.

Performance: Noise of Art

DJ Ben Osborne and his collective of multi-instrumentalists present a sensory supper that does away with the notion of genre and lets the whole cavalcade of music meet. Presented by the British Council.

Friday, 8pm, Abu Dhabi Art Plaza in Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Talk: Art for All, Between Private and Public

Four Emirati artists (Alia Lootah, Dana Al Mazroui, Hamdan Al Shamsi, Maitha Demaithan) discuss the Between Private and Public exhibition, currently touring UAE malls, which they all participated in. The exhibition is part of Art For All, a new initiative by the Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation.

Friday, 5pm, Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium.

Workshop: Expressive Abstract

The UAE artist Fatima Ghazal shows how to create a contemporary album of work, explaining how to make a unique tome that can reflect an artist's work. Saturday, 3pm, Studio Manarat Al Saadiyat.

• For a full list of goings-on, visit www.abudhabiartfair.ae.

Follow Arts & Life on Twitter to keep up with all the latest news and events @LifeNationalUAE