Review. International press loves to dismiss Dubai as a soulless place devoid of local culture and invested instead in yachts, luxury malls, camel racing, and cheap labor. Just a few miles from the touristy glitz, however, a strong and stable art scene lies in the industrial area of Al Quoz, where artists have been testing conventions and beliefs in the United Arab Emirates since the 1980s alongside pioneering dealers who have sold work to increasingly cultivated collectors for more than a decade. And now a show of works by another community of artists—this one from the historical lore of downtown New York—is on view at the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, a private museum on Al Quoz’s Alserkal Avenue.

“Artist Run New York: The Seventies,” a group exhibition featuring 44 works by 18 artists including Richard Nonas, Tina Girouard, Trisha Brown, Richard Tuttle, and Gordon Matta-Clark, prompts conversations about the resonance of art from a very different time and place. Perhaps more importantly, in the midst of a fast-developing 500,000-square-foot Alserkal Avenue complex of warehouses now containing around 12 galleries and 40 creative outlets as well as a new Rem Koolhaas-designed exhibition space, connections can be drawn between a celebrated period from a foreign past and a growing UAE art ecosystem.

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INTERIORS. Beirut fashion photographer Tarek Moukaddem’s converted shoe factory blends old world flavour with warehouse edge.

“Both my work and my home are organized chaos, but there is harmony hidden within,” says, Tarek Moukaddem. In much the same way that the boundary pushing fashion photographer, draws out the sculptural beauty of unconventional faces from behind the lens, he was able to recognize the potential for an old shoe factory unexpectedly devastated by a fire to be transformed into a place to call home.

The 500-square meter warehouse is set in Karantina, the new Meatpacking District of Beirut, where an experimental arts and culture scene is on the rise. When a realtor first showed it to him more than four years ago, the walls were charred black, the flooring was mismatched, and a series of non-load-bearing walls fully blocked out the vivacious city’s light. Moukaddem quickly converted the space into an open, loft-style expanse—with only his office, bedroom and an intimate living room for entertaining close friends positioned behind private doors.

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NEWSPAPER ARTICLE. The New York-based online platform artnet opened its inaugural sale of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art earlier this month. In some ways this first thoughtfully curated sale plays it safe with lots by some surefire darlings of Middle Eastern art— including ‘Transparent Body’ a rare 2013 oil on panel from a particularly successful series by Hayv Kahraman who is known for her portrayal of the female figure as delicate yet unstoppably fierce. Other lots include pieces by Shirin Neshat and Manal Al-Dowayan, as well as two hand-coloured gelatin silver prints by Youssef Nabil, which depict the Cairo film scene with such nostalgia that one can practically hear a scratchy soundtrack playing in the background.

Although it’s exciting to watch artnet’s predominantly Western group of collectors gain exposure to established regional forces, what is truly intriguing about this sale is the inclusion of up and coming names. This includes an accessible mixed media piece by breakout artist Sara Al Haddad (who was recently announced as participating in the upcoming UAE National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale), an earlier work by Emirati surrealist Nasir Nasrallah, as well as Mousepad, a riff on traditional Persian carpets by Kour Pour, a British artist of part Iranian descent based in Los Angeles.

The sale, which runs continually until February 27, comes on the heels of an announcement that the online platform has hired Bibi Naz Zavieh as Senior Middle Eastern Art Specialist. A familiar name to many, Zavieh cut her teeth at Christie’s Dubai, spending critical years investigating regional art’s passage from studio, to estate, and ultimately auction room, as all the while the UAE art market steadily emerged.

Zavieh suggests that her new role at artnet is the result of prestigious Western institutions acquiring work by regional artists as well as holding high profile group exhibitions. “All of this has been raising greater international awareness for the art of the region,” she says. “As we see this major shift, it is a natural step for artnet, and other auction houses, to focus more on this field and bring in their expertise on the market.”

As a particularly tense political climate divides North America, it is surely not coincidental that most of the artists included in the sale have been concerned over the long haul with using their practices to, as Zavieh aptly puts it, “build bridges between East and West.”

Founded back in the 90’s by German dealer and artpreneur Hans Neuendorf, artnet first came onto the scene as the home of an invaluable subscription-based price database, but was subsequently one of the daring few to lead the way in launching exclusive online art auctions—a trend which seems to be here to stay around the region and abroad, particularly for work selling at young collector and mid-range entry points.

Zavieh says that moving forward at artnet, “We are hoping to hold three to four general Contemporary Middle Eastern Art sales like this one per year. We will also have themed auctions throughout the year where we will be working across categories, such as bringing together photography and art from the Middle East, or a sale focusing on modern artists from the region.”

-Originally published here by The National, on The Art Blog edited by Anna Seaman. Image courtesy of artnet.

Kour Pour
Mousepad, 2014
Inkjet and acrylic on canvas laid over panel
9 x 7 x 1.25 in. (22.86 x 17.78 x 3.18 cm.)
Estimate: $2,500-3,50000


CATALOGUE TEXT: The ability to read Arabic is irrelevant when it comes to appreciating Wissam Shawkat’s work. While traditional calligraphy embellishes a text or verse, the pieces comprising Inside/Outside, the artist’s first show at XVA Gallery in Dubai, do not contain prescriptive written messages. When encountered out of context, it might not even occur to viewers that these Calligraforms—the term Shawkwat has chosen to name his new style and approach to abstract collages, silkscreen prints, and works on paper—have a foundation in calligraphy at all.

Arabic calligraphy is a rigorous medium constrained by fixed stylistic scripts, stalwart rules, and a classic master-student transmission of skill. The Arabic alphabet is made up of 28 characters. Each letter appears differently depending upon its position in a word, and can be placed in initial, medial, final, or stand alone form with prescribed connections, flourishes, or tails. Shawkat continues to follow these assumptions with precise attention and real reverence.

After his primary school teacher Muhammad Ridha Suhail introduced the class to calligraphic forms, a ten year-old Shawkat began to gain knowledge of the medium in Basra, where he grew up amidst the Iran-Iraq War. It’s not a memory he likes to discuss, but he vividly recalls writing and re-writing the letter Ha, over and over again on the tile floor of a half-built bathroom in a construction site where his family had taken shelter during a particularly heavy aerial bombardment. Shawkat was arguably drawn to the fixed order of Arabic calligraphy at a time when his world was in chaos—studying, copying, and revising thuluth (the most complex, demanding script) until reaching mastery many years later.

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