x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The summer of art

Visual arts Exhibitions staged during the hottest months provide visitors with a chance to revisit the highlights of the year. Arsalan Mohammad checks out five free venues where you can stay cool and get culture.

Although a newcomer to the Dubai art scene, the Ayyam Galley has over 100 works on display.
Although a newcomer to the Dubai art scene, the Ayyam Galley has over 100 works on display.

As we enter the hottest, quietest weeks of the year in the UAE, chances are, entertainment and diversion seem to be thin on the ground. But for art-lovers in the Emirates, the summer months have long been a rewarding period, as leading galleries stage summer exhibitions designed to keep the doors open and AC on, while gallerists pack their buckets and spades and jet off for more congenial climes.

But group summer shows are not only expedient for gallery owners, they're immensely useful for those of us left stewing in the heat. For regular gallery-goers, they're a chance to revisit highlights from the past twelve months, for newcomers, they're an excellent opportunity to get the feel of a particular gallery's style and tastes, and to get acquainted with the key artists represented. In the best cases, summer shows will feature work by trusty old favourites and emerging upstarts side by side, making for a rich and unique experience. From B21's young and diverse roster of Iranian and Middle Eastern talents, to the newcomers Ayyam Gallery's almost-overwhelming assault of contemporary Syrian work, Green Art's modest collection of famous names to XVA's cornucopaiea of creativity, this summer sees a phenomenal amount of talent on display, for free, daily.

Alserkal Warehouse, Avenue Street 8. Al Quoz Dubai (04 3236242) www.ayyamgallery.com Located just opposite the Kanoo Group building in Al Quoz, the sheer size of the place would be overwhelming were it not so neatly delineated by the movable walls, upon which hang around 100 pieces, all Syrian, and for the most part, fascinating. The piece de resistance of the opening show, a huge Louay Kayyali, has sadly been taken down, but with a recent fresh infusion of work, straight from Syria, there is much here to love, and exquisite surroundings in which to wander. Most of the paintings and drawings on display are huge, the sculpture scattered about upstairs, much smaller. Highlights include Majdal al Beik's foreboding canvasses, layered, abstract pieces that are forcefully compelling in their emotional attack. The delicious darkness of his Wall series comes from the textural and compositional chaos, which demand attention and repay careful contemplation. Stylistically distinct are Mouneer al Shaarani's gouache calligraphy paintings. Devastatingly pure and with gorgeous, geometric balance and proportion, on vast black background, his characters do not dance or leap, but gracefully rise, fall and coil, with an intrinsic harmony that is spectacular to behold. Elsewhere, Walid el Masri displays a curious devotion to chairs, using them as centrepoints to his energetic, scribbly semiabstract paintings, anchors for wild forays into pure expressionism. In the gallery's second floor area, a purposefully loose, more spontaneous atmosphere reigns, amid the stacked canvasses and sculptures, there are examples of el Masri's adventures in texture, with gravel and sand worked into the surface for added tension.

XVA Gallery, Bastikia, Dubai (04 3535 383) www.xvagallery.com Recently expanded to take in the neighbouring former Ave Gallery, and clearing some space in between, the venerable Bastikia art space is much more than a rectangle containing paintings. In fact, you'll probably need at least a couple of hours to fully digest the variety of work on display. Centred around an open courtyard, XVA is a sprawling collection of rooms and galleries, a cafe and a library, nestling in the heart of the winding maze of alleyways by the creek. For their main summer exhibition, the gallery is displaying its collection of prints and paintings, culled over the years, making for a rich and varied show. The main exhibition is laid out in red, blue and white-themed rooms, in which paintings, prints and photography jostle for attention.

Among the work on display are many familiar names, artists who've shown at the XVA over the past 12 months, as well as some of the participants in the XVA-produced Creek Art Fair. The British painter Jonathan Gent is represented by a couple of pieces, his trademark minimalist canvasses are charmingly succinct, yet characterful, with cryptic titles scrawled along the bottom. Fereydoun Omidi creates vast tableaux of distressed colour and Mansur Salim's methodological paintings juxtapose pale, sandy forms with dainty drainpipes and homely roofs, contrasting very different living environments. Other notable pieces here include, in the blue section, Halim al Karim's enormous black canvas, on which an outline of a skull almost visibly vibrates in a halo of neon cobalt light.

Elsewhere, there is a small exhibition of architecture by students from Columbia School of Architecture in New York, the results of a project in which they were asked to create a building for Dubai - the results display a staggering scale of imagination. And in the photography gallery, beguiling excerpts from Malekeh Nayini's sinister Hansel and Gretel series sit next to the work of the young Iranian photographer Rodin Hamidi's vertically-mirrored pictures of monuments ranging from the Holocaust memorial in Berlin to the ruins of the Parthenon in Greece.

Total Arts, The Courtyard, Al Quoz 1, Dubai (04 347 5050) www.courtyard-uae.com Amid the eclectic jumble of shops and galleries in The Courtyard at Al Quoz, Total Arts is keeping it simple this year, with the majority of its new summer show taken up by a series of paintings by Ismail al Rifai, a Sharjah-based painter and member of the Sharjah Biennial team. Rifai's paintings are strange, distinctive affairs, using a loose, expressionist technique to depict unearthly animal-human hybrid creatures in which animal and human characteristics blend into each other. He counters these weird creatures with indefinable, blurry shapes, which demand consideration - initially, they seem to exist merely as a compositional balance, but they morph into contorted, reclining human forms. Rewarding they may be, but Rifai's work is obscure and unlikely to uniformly delight. Still, there's a sly wit to them, and his angry, expressive faces carry an emotional heft that's pleasing to contemplate.

Less challenging are three pieces by Iraqi painter Vian Soro, medium-sized abstracts which are new to town. Soro's a familiar figure at Total Arts and these three pieces will please her followers, with their reliable air of vague Middle-Easterness, and abstract shapes. Rich, deep colours follow a rough geometric layout, serving nicely as decorative abstract art, without excessively troubling the viewer.

Green Art Gallery, Street 51, off Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah, Dubai (04 344 9888) @email:www.gagallery.com (site under construction) Green Art gallery may be one of the oldest galleries in Dubai - it's certainly got a collection that belie its modest home, a villa in Jumeirah, just off Beach Road. Here, the summer show focuses very much on smaller, accessible pieces by an impressive roster of names. There's plenty here to interest the first-time collector, as well as a series of dull prints of local horses, sunsets etc at around the Dh200 mark, for the especially timid. However, in anticipation of a couple of major name shows planned for winter, there are a few bona fide goodies on show here. Khaled al Saai, the Syrian-born calligrapher is everywhere this year - you can catch examples of his extraordinarily beautiful calligraphy at XVA and the Majlis Gallery too - here he's represented by three typically pleasing pieces - in which his kufic characters form thunderclouds of energy and motion, executed in deep, muted colours. With prices starting at around Dh10,000, these pieces are begging to be taken off the walls and into your home. Similarly, the legendary Syrian painter Fateh Moudarres has five midsized works on show, light and spacious paintings that delicately balance semiabstract elements - and some rather lively dogs - into breezy, colourful compositions. A couple of Iraqi painter Ali Talib's dark, impassioned pieces are there too, currently residing in a back room - check them out for their powerful dynamic, inferring destruction and catastrophe. At the other end of the joy scale are Rym Karoui magnificent tetraptych Going where?... To The Moon, a series of panels featuring mixed media, scribbled phrases in French and a collection of distended, deformed cartoon characters that go towards creating an overall impression that falls somewhere between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Dr Seuss.

B21 Gallery , Al Quoz 1, Dubai (04 340 3965) www.b21gallery.com It's been a stellar year for Al Quoz's B21 gallery, who have spent much of the past twelve months focusing on doing what they do best - predominantly Iranian and Egyptian contemporary art. The gallery has distilled the essence of their operations into the curiously named Summer Hanging, which sees examples taken from the outer edges of B21's voyages into experimentation and thought.

A great deal of space is made for the Iranian photographer Ramin Haerizedeh, whose sinister split-mirror images invert apparently mundane subjects into deliciously ghastly new forms, ranging from facial portraits, landscapes and buildings to brooding rabbits. His technique is simple, yet effective, adding dimension to his chosen themes. Meanwhile, the Cairene artist Lara Baladi explores the passing of time, with an air of sorrowful decay in excerpts from a series of images ranging across the minutiae of everyday life. Dust-shrouded coffee cups, silent sofas and long-forgotten framed photographs, her images sigh with fond nostalgia and an ill-defined sense of loss - but there is hope in her absurdly cheerful colours and occasional bursts of supersaturated good humour, which at time, recall the similarly quiet zaniness of Martin Parr. B21 also keep a few pieces from their last exhibition proper up too, paintings by Hani Rashed in which blank-faced characters, swirling about in a variety of brightly coloured Pop Art settings, fail to transcend the sum of their influences in any significant way.

@Email:amohammad@thenational.ae