One of the high points of Art Dubai 2015 was the effort that some galleries put into curating their booths. Rather than crowding the small space with work from lots of artists, Agial Gallery from Beirut chose only three: Abdulrahman Katanani, Hiba Kalache and Ayman Baalbaki. “We always curate our booth because, in the end, this is not just about selling, it is about art, and the artists always want to portray a message,” says Carol Chehab, the gallery’s creative director. “These artists are Lebanon’s war generation and have really powerful work.”
Nasser Al Salem and Dana Awartani’s collaboration
An exciting new collaboration from two of Saudi Arabia’s most promising young artists was on show in Athr Gallery’s booth. The hour will not pass until people are seen competing in lofty mosques is a work by Al Salem, a trained architect and calligrapher, and Awartani, who concentrates on geometric patterns. This was the first time they had worked together and I hope it is the sign of great things to come.
Art Dubai’s Modern
Dedicated to historically important artists whose work spans the period from the 1940s to the 1980s, Art Dubai’s Modern is a fascinating history lesson. The 15 galleries, showing single or two-person shows, were carefully selected. Highlights included: Shahid Sajjad, a self-taught Pakistani artist showing at Artchowk Gallery from Karachi; the Nigerian artist Bruce Onobrakpeya, with Mydrim Gallery from Lagos; and Le Violon Bleu, a Tunisian gallery showing pieces by the Moroccan master Farid Belkahia.
Anila Quayyum Agha sees the light
After Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid posted a picture of this beautiful work on social media, it quickly became the fair’s most photographed piece of art. The suspended black cube, laser-cut with Islamic patterns that cast shadows on the wall from a single light bulb within it, is a 2014 piece by Pakistani artist Agha and was exhibited by Aicon Gallery from New York. Throughout the event, streams of people gathered around it to catch it at the best angle.
Alexander Gorlizki at Jhaveri Contemporary
One of the best things about art fairs is that you can discover the work of artists you have never seen before. Gorlizki, on show at the Jhaveri Contemporary booth, is a British artist with a fascination for Indian miniature paintings. His works are all produced from a studio in Jaipur and they poetically fuse eastern and western narratives.
The RCA Secret Project
More than 1,000 postcards created by artists ranging from students to world-famous names were exhibited anonymously at the fair and then on Saturday, they were sold off at Dh500 each, with the proceeds going to scholarships at London’s Royal College of Art. The buyers didn’t learn the identity of the artist who created their postcard until after they bought it. Part treasure hunt, part charity project, this art sale was one of the best parts of the fair.
Pulse Index by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Interaction with the artworks on more than a simply visual level can make an art fair all the more memorable. London gallery Carroll/Fletcher transformed its booth into an installation by Mexican-Canadian artist Lozano-Hemmer. Pulse Index records the fingerprint and the pulse rate of each visitor, projecting them onto a large screen inside the booth.
Whatiftheworld Gallery from Cape Town
African art played a huge role in the fair, appearing in all sections and widening the scope of the event. Whatiftheworld Gallery from Cape Town drew many people to see its works including Shatter by Lyndi Sales – an oval of radiant Perspex that explores how light reflects within the eye.
Mohamed Al Mazrouei at AB Gallery
The entire booth from the Switzerland-based AB Gallery was dedicated to Al Mazrouei. The Emirati artist’s expressionist paintings have not been widely exhibited in the UAE, so it was interesting that this Swiss gallery chose to bring them. “We believe in him totally,” says Heidi Leupi, co-director. “It is important to support him as much as possible, especially in his own country.”
Art Dubai projects
The fair’s non-profit programme grows every year. An honourable mention this year goes to Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim, whose Fresh and Salt sculpture is brilliant and entirely home-grown. Land artist Ibrahim “exchanged a piece of land from Oman with a piece from Dubai”, collecting two types of stones from the coastal region and from inland, tying them together with wire and placing them in the Madinat Jumeirah. Ibrahim also has an important solo show in Cuadro’s Fine Art Gallery, which extends his practice.