The organisers of this year's artparis exhibition, which opens today, hope it will promote regional talent.
Artparis aims to boost capital's global standing
ABU DHABI // In the Grand Ballroom of the Emirates Palace hotel, a crowd gathers to admire an oil painting of peasants tilling the land by Paul Cézanne. In the next booth hangs a neon screen print of Donald Duck by Andy Warhol. Outside, in the gardens, a giant statue of Louis Armstrong made entirely from coloured glass, by Niki de Saint Phalle, adorns the lawn.
This year's artparis Abu Dhabi exhibition promised to be grander both in scale and ambition - and visitors at last night's preview were not disappointed. Almost 60 galleries from 22 countries are taking part in the exhibition, which opens to the public today and runs until Saturday. Entrance is free. More than 15,000 visitors are expected to attend the four-day fair. With some 3,300 modern and contemporary works on display, including art by Damien Hirst and Henri Matisse, topping last year's overall sales figure of US$16 million (Dh58.8m) seems almost guaranteed.
Organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach) this is the second year the French art fair is taking place in the emirate - a move aimed in part at securing Abu Dhabi's status as a cultural hub for contemporary art. The exhibition also features seminars, educational programmes and exhibitions promoting regional and emerging talent, all of which the organisers hope will inspire a new wave of collectors from the Middle East. A special seminar that will feature live performances, debates, video installations and DJ sets will be taking place at the Cultural Foundation tonight. Curated by Fabrice Bousteau, the editor of the French magazine Beaux Arts, the seminar aims to explore the question of "What aesthetic is the Arab world creating today?"
Caroline Clough-Lacoste, the director of artparis Abu Dhabi, said: "In the past, the European and American art markets dominated. But in recent years there has been an explosion of new markets. "Now the world is looking towards the Middle East as a financial and cultural centre. "The majority of works last year were bought by Emiratis and local artists discovered for the first time what an art fair actually is. Since then the evolution of the art market in this region has been very fast. This year, even more galleries, more artists and more people are involved. This trend is set to continue."
Mohammad Khalaf al Mazrouei, the director general of Adach, said the emirate was particularly keen to use the fair as a platform for promoting regional talent, as well as support emerging artists. "As we care for contemporary art, we set our eyes on the UAE and Arab artists to have the place they deserve at the heart of the international art movement." One part of the show called "Movement and Communication... travels through desert and sea" and curated by Amal Traboulsi profiles works by 16 artists from around the region.
Pieces of interest include sculptures made from barbed wire by Faisal Samra, from Saudi Arabia, and a video installation by a Lebanese artist, Mohammad el Rawas, which won first place at the Alexandria Biennial in 2006 and urges viewers to "Sit Down Please" - a play on a verse written by the 15th century poet Abu Nuwas. Contemporary Middle Eastern artists are generally known for focusing on traditional themes such as calligraphy and desert landscapes, but Mrs Traboulsi is quick to point out that their range is much broader.
"A lot of Arab artists are stuck with painting calligraphy for the sake of pleasing potential buyers," she said. "Paintings that are not very good sell for thousands of dollars at auctions, like Christie's, just because there is a palm tree in it. "With this exhibition, I've tried to keep the spirit of the region alive but I also wanted to show people something different." Mrs Traboulsi said the majority of buyers were Middle Eastern investors, particularly Emiratis, who saw Arab art as a relative bargain compared with the astronomical prices commanded by contemporary European and American artists.
"Middle Eastern art is still at a grass-roots level, which is largely supported by the Arab community," she said. "They buy Arab art for investment and also because they want to promote their own culture. This is slowly changing and soon international buyers will start investing in Arab art too." Also on display is an exhibition of younger talent, which features works by eight emerging artists from eight new galleries. Highlights include works by Camille Zakharia, from Lebanon, and an Iranian photographer, Jamshid Bayrami.
Artparis was launched in the French capital in 1999 and is held there every March. It is considered to be a key event in the French arts calendar for exhibitors, collectors and investors. email@example.com