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Art Fairs & Events
March 16th, 2011
Why Dubai?: International Galleries Explain Their Rationales for Trying the Emirate’s Art Fair This Year

Myrna Ayad

DUBAI— Istanbul-based Pi Artworks decided to partake in Art Dubai for the first time this year because of an array of reasons: works by its Turkish-born artist Gülay Semercioglu have made regular appearances at Art Dubai through Zürich-based Galerie Kashya Hildebrand, while a work by another artist, Mehmet Ali Uysal, appeared at Christie’s Dubai’s October 2010 sale, and both talents have a wide collector base in the region and internationally. The resulting two-artist booth features works priced at between $5000 and $35,000, and despite Turkey’s notoriously high shipping costs, the gallery’s Yesim Turanli has ensured that artwork prices remain unaffected.

Semercioglu’s pieces, which play on light, are sought after by collectors far and wide. “For almost a year, I had no pieces in stock!” laughs Turanli. Uysal, whose background is in architecture, toys with the idea of space in his art — “some think his works are on canvas, but they’re actually photographs,” explains Turanli. The gallery is showcasing four works by Semercioglu and five by Uysal.

Three galleries, meanwhile, display works by Lebanese artist couple Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: Dubai’s The Third Line, New York’s CRG Gallery, and Paris’s In Situ/Fabienne Leclerc. The latter two share a booth. In pooling resources, a bigger impact is precisely what In Situ’s Fabienne Leclerc is keen on. “Also, it makes sense to come this year as opposed to last year, given the couple’s participation at theSharjah Biennial,” she adds. In Situ also brings works by renowned Indian artist Subodh Gupta, among them a sculpture priced at a hefty $552,000, as well as photographs by French artist Patrick Toscani. “People familiar with the Middle Eastern art scene advised me to bring these artists,” says Leclerc, who hopes to represent more Middle Eastern artists and believes the Sharjah Biennial may offer opportunities. A visit to Dubai in 2009 left her impressed with “the knowledge, open-mindedness, and art appreciation that people in Dubai have.”

Arshiya Lokhanwala, director of the Mumbai-based Lakeeren Gallery, takes her booth to a heightened curatorial level with the theme of sacred geometry in mind, translated through works by Pakistani and Indian artists. “The entire philosophy is derived from my understanding of Islamic architecture, and I’d like to expose artists who explore this in different ways,” says Lokhanwala. Lakeeren opened in 1995 but closed in 2002 while Lokhanwala pursued postgraduate studies in art history. The gallery reopened in November 2009, and its first-ever art fair participation at Art Dubai is essentially due to curiosity on Lokhanwala’s part. “I want to know how Dubai differs from the Western art market,” she says. She has brought works priced between $2000 and $40,000, and, interestingly, none are paintings. “Sure, it’s not easy work to sell,” she says of her pieces by artists including Anita Dube, Sharmila Samant, and Waqas Khan, “but they are a reflection of the gallery: Avant-garde art.”

A strong contingent of Western galleries representing Middle Eastern artists is visible at this year’s Art Dubai, including Zürich’s AB Gallery, which brings works by Iranians Reza Derakshani and Shahriar Ahmadi, IraqiHalim Al-Karim, and Qatari Youssef Ahmed, among others. AB has been dealing with artists from the region for six years, and its activities include an artist-in-residency program, which Derakshani and Ahmadi have completed (Al-Karim is scheduled for late 2011). But is part of the gallery’s mission to engage in cultural dialogue. “People are interested in the Middle East beyond what appears in the media,” says the gallery’sFranz Leupi. Despite other galleries at the fair showing works by the same artists, Leupi maintains that “it’s important to show people that these artists work with galleries in the international market.” Prices for artworks range from $6000 to $52,000, and while the gallery’s roster boasts a considerable delegation of Iranian artists, Leupi is keen on orienting towards their Arab counterparts.

Paolo Weiss of London-based Bischoff/Weiss is familiar with the Middle Eastern art market through her gallery’s representation of some artists from the region, as well as through Middle Eastern collectors known to the gallery. For its first Art Dubai, Bischoff/Weiss has brought works by London-based artists Bengali Rana Begum, Aya Haidar of Lebanon, and British-born Nathaniel Rackowe, among others, all priced between $2,200 and $14,500. Begum — also represented by Dubai’s The Third Line — and Rackowe had completed residency program in Beirut through the Delfina Foundation. “I’d like my artists to be invited to do more residencies in the Middle East,” says Weiss. “It has influenced their work so nicely.” She admits that participation at Art Dubai “is a huge risk, but is part of the process” that the three-year-old gallery is keen on implementing to expose its artists. “It’s incredible to see the names giving talks at the Global Art Forum,” says Weiss. “I’m definitely keeping my eyes open at the Sharjah Biennial.”

Liza Essers of South Africa-based Goodman Gallery describes herself as “a citizen of the world,” but she is particularly passionate about the Middle East and the African content. In its early years, the now 43-year-old gallery held major political exhibitions against Apartheid, which led to its positioning itself as more of “an institution.” Goodman’s strong political voice naturally attracted a slew of some of the hottest names on the Middle Eastern art circuit, among them Ghada Amer and Kader Attia. Essers continuously seeks to “open dialogues with the African continent, as you can’t have all these dialogues in isolation.” The gallery brings works priced at $2,000 to $165,000, and among its showcased artists are South African brothers Hasan andHusain Essop, Attia, Gavin Turk, and William Kentridge. “Dubai’s audience is very international,” says Essers. “I wanted to introduce artists that people wouldn’t necessarily come across.”