Abu Dhabi Art heats up as the world’s gallery giants come to town

The art is in blue coloured
(Image credit: Courtesy of Kamel Mennour)

Committed to the boutique approach that has characterised the fair for all its six years, Abu Dhabi Art welcomed fewer than 50 galleries last week. That included 17 galleries from the MENA region and 29 from the rest of the world, including Lisson Gallery, David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth.

Yet the influence of the world's gallery giants was palpable. The fair's home base of Saadiyat Island has been positioned as the Middle East's preeminent cultural hub, and the Louvre and Guggenheim, both coming to town (in 2015 and 2017 respectively), loomed large on the horizon.

Abu Dhabi Art kept pace with the anticipation, asserting its stature in ways other than size. Dubai-based Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, which represents some of the Middle East's most influential and innovative artists, has shown at the fair since its inauguration as Artparis - Abu Dhabi in 2007 and witnessed its evolution in tandem with the city's ambition. 'The museum infrastructure on Saadiyat Island is starting to look more and more like reality,' says artistic director Christopher Lord, 'and this is encouraging international galleries to bring big, museum-scale pieces.'

The complementary programme of performances, seminars and installations was comprehensive, with unexpected quality and diversity. The presence of Patti Smith, Richard Long, Ernesto Neto and Jean Nouvel was a curatorial coup, and went some way to establish the Emirate's burgeoning cultural credentials.

The city's ambition was further underscored by the concurrent opening of 'Seeing Through Light', a pre-exhibition that debuted works from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's expanding collection. The timing of the show demonstrated the relationship between the existing fair and the Emirate's future cultural landscape.

Emphasis was rightly placed on the meaningful engagement of both local and international audiences, fundamental to long-lasting cultural growth. Alanood Al Hammadi, senior exhibitors relations co-ordinator for Abu Dhabi Art, attests to this importance. 'The city does not currently have a museum to present modern art,' she says, 'so we are effectively setting the contemporary stage for the future Saadiyat Island institutions.'

Taymour Grahne, a popular Middle Eastern art blogger turned gallerist, was awarded this year's Bidaya in recognition of the international impact he's made with his eponymous New York gallery. 'The major museums, a growing art-going public, a world-class art fair that attracts some of the best galleries in the world and many incredible private and public collections being built in the city - there is a recipe for something very interesting,' he says of the festival's future.

Amid Saadiyat's cranes, Abu Dhabi Art is a barometer of the city's capacity to assert its cultural significance regionally and internationally. And it promises much.

This art is in blue

'Directions (Circle)', by Mohammed Kazem, 2014, also part of 'Beyond'. Kazem represented the UAE at last year’s Venice Biennale. 'His works often revolve around trying to locate his own position in the UAE’s urban and population flux since independence,' explains Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde artistic director Christopher Lord. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde)

A digital print of an image taken on Saadiyat Island

Taymour Grahne, this year’s Bidaya, awarded to a young gallery emerging on the international scene, displayed Tarek Al-Ghoussein’s '(In) Consideration of Myths 1132', a digital print of an image taken on Saadiyat Island. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Taymour Grahne Gallery)

The large sculptural pieces seen across the fair

Kamel Mennour’s vast booth featured 'La peinture ensevelie...', an installation of sand, stone, oil and mineral pigment on canvas by Lee Ufan. This was an extreme case of the large sculptural pieces seen across the fair, influenced perhaps by the forthcoming museum openings.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Kamel Mennour)

The image of human and wheels

'Forever', by Chinese artist Ai WeiWei, exhibited at 'Beyond'.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

Galerie Enrico Navarra showed Sol LeWitt's

Galerie Enrico Navarra showed Sol LeWitt's 'Half-Off, 1-8-1'.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Galerie Enrico Navarra)

A man and woman in black color dress

This year's programme heralded the forthcoming museum openings in Abu Dhabi and found inspiration in the future museums’ collections. Jean Nouvel, architect of the future Louvre Abu Dhabi (scheduled to open in 2015), joined a panel exploring 'Museums as Sites for New Experiences'.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

A museum is like a contemporary temple

The architect was joined by Ernesto Neto, who part-sung an ode to the museum. 'A museum is like a contemporary temple... and the first artwork is the building,' he said.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

A man is playing music

Martin Creed was on characteristically oblique form. Addressing the auditorium with a performance that sought to answer 'What is Art?' he started out by stating, 'What is art is a bad question, because I don't know what art is'.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

The fair's performance programme

At Durub Al Tawaya, the fair's performance programme, Joe Namy’s 'Automobile' drew inspiration from male Arab youth culture.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

An image of vehicle

'Automobile', by Studio Job, 2013

(Image credit: press)

An image of blue, green, yellow, and pink color

'Kaaba Picture as a Misprint 6', 2014, by Kuwaiti-born, Lahore-educated artist Hamra Abbas. The piece was on show at UAE gallery Lawrie Shabibi, last year's Bidaya.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Lawrie Shabibi)

Performances included Patti Smith's 'Killer Road'

Performances included Patti Smith's 'Killer Road', a collaboration with her daughter and NYC's Soundwalk collective.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

People are working on systems

Smith's sparse soundscapes and abstract video installations brought to life the poetry of Nico.

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Cool Box and Abu Dhabi Art)

Woods are place on wall like a stand

The David Zwirner stand was an oasis of calm amidst the noise of the fair, featuring works by Dan Flavin, John McCracken and Fred Sandback. Pictured is 'Untitled (Bernstein 90 - 01)', by Donald Judd. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of David Zwirner)

Hole like design on the wall

Rachid Koraïchi's 'Path of Roses' featured at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's pre-opening exhibition 'Seeing Through Light'.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi)

Images of lights in the night

'Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life', by Yayoi Kusama, was inundated when shown at David Zwirner New York in 2013. Now part of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi collection, it falls into the Celestial phase of the 'Seeing Through Light' exhibit. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi)

There are clothes and shells.

The Breeder featured delicate silicon, sand and shell sculptures by Iranian artist Vanessa Safavi, from her 'Intérieures' series. 'This is the first time Safavi's works are being presented in the region,' said gallery director Nadia Gerazouni. 'The sculptures have received a lot of attention and visitors were positively surprised by the materials.'

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Breeder)

This is a vehicles.

Jean Tinguely's 'Presse Orange' was brought in by Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois)

A different and olden vehicle.

First-time attendees ARNDT showed writhing wrought-iron pieces by Wim Delvoye, including 'Twisted Dump Truck'.

(Image credit: Courtesy of ARNDT)

Things are arranged like a tree.

'Cloth 5’ (2013) by Hassan Sharif. The artist has been creating bundled works since the 1980s, lending an artful touch to cheap, mass-produced items found in the UAE. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde)