See the 9 Most Striking Booths at Abu Dhabi Art Fair

The fair appears to have reached a comfortable cruising altitude.

MIchelangelo Pistoletto. Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art.

The 8th edition of Abu Dhabi Art opened to the public today in the Emirati capital, and runs through November 19. After years of turbulence, which included the ravages of a financial crisis and episodic flooding, the fair appears to have reached a comfortable cruising altitude.

Following the well-attended VIP preview on Tuesday night, the fair got underway in the laidback ambiance of Manarat, an exhibition center on Saadiyat Island, just off of mainland Abu Dhabi. While the venue is unchanged, the local landscape has evolved. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, a spectacular Jean Nouvel structure, is due to open next year, after numerous construction delays.

Lawrence Weiner at Giorgio Persano. Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art.

Lawrence Weiner at Giorgio Persano. Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art.

Visitors are trickling in at a slow but steady pace this year, and the 35 international galleries participating are largely veterans. In years past, the overriding complaint of exhibitors was low attendance and the paucity of buyers beyond Emirati royals, government officials, and museum buyers. Now, gallerists are saying that a local collector base has finally emerged.

Stand presentations are generally pared-down, with attention to quality. The focus, naturally, is on works by regional artists whose aesthetics and content appeal to local tastes. Islamic customs prohibit nudity, resulting in a predominance of abstract canvases, conceptual art, or works with a political message.

Galleria Continua. Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art.

Galleria Continua. Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art.

1. Galleria Continua
The most crowd-pleasing presentation of the fair is a monumental installation by Chinese artist Gu Dexin at Galleria Continua’s booth, where a truckload of fresh bananas on the floor are bordered by cast iron urns on formidable marble stands. Visitors are encouraged to eat the bananas and discard the peels in the urns, transforming the installation into an interactive artwork that doubles as a commentary on waste and consumption.

In a separate booth, Galleria Continua presents a related work by the artist, consisting of a “fresh” still life, an ornate silver bowl filled with fresh fruit, set before a series of photographs of rotting apples. Titled September 2, 2006 and priced €65,000, the piece was unsold today but attracted much attention.

Idris Khan, Knowledge and Uncertainty. Courtesy of Sean Kelly.

Idris Khan, Knowledge and Uncertainty (2016). Courtesy of Sean Kelly.

2. Sean Kelly
Newcomer Sean Kelly is making a strong showing with two British artists: Idris Khan and Antony Gormley. In a black-and-white presentation throughout the booth, the works by both artists exist beautifully together, contrasting the density of Khan’s pieces against Gormley’s minimalism.

Two of Khan’s works, hand-stamped ink calligraphy on multiple layers of glass, titled Knowledge and Uncertainty (2016) and Numbers 2 (2016), both priced £75,000, are particularly compelling; the artist used a similar technique over a decade ago when he took pages of the Quran and scanned them into a condensed, multi-layered stack of digital images.

3. Custot Gallery
Custot Gallery, another first timer, is showing several sculptures and works on paper by French artist, Bernar Venet, alongside a James Rosenquist oil titled Screen Test circa 1978, and a work by Marc Quinn titled The Eye of History, Desert Perspective (2013). The Venet pieces, priced between $22,000 for small charcoals on paper to $450,000 for large sculptures, take center stage here. According to the gallery, the French artist has an important following in the region, and also attracts outside buyers looking for lower tax rates.

Courtesy of Galerie Brigitte Schenk.

Halim Al Karim, Dust 6 (2014). Courtesy of Galerie Brigitte Schenk.

4. Galerie Brigitte Schenk
The gallery’s straightforward presentation merits close attention, as it includes several hauntingly beautiful yet discrete photographs by the Iraqi artist Halim Al Karim. Survivor Goddess 2 (2015), a unique work priced $150,000, is, according to the gallery, a “photograph and original wet plate collodion on Dibond.” In order to achieve this rare depth, the artist uses color and chemicals but no film to produce a one-of-kind photograph.

Schenk is also showing politically-charged works by Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem, whose highly symbolic works take a stance against Islamic fundamentalism and social injustice.

5. Lisson Gallery
Lisson Gallery is showing a spectacular 10-part double sided carved wood panel titled La Conquista (2015) by Egyptian artist, Wael Shawky, priced at €350,000 and symbolizing the rebirth of civilization after destruction by fire was shown alongside works by Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor and Jorinde Voigt.

In the carefully-curated booth, a Cragg white marble sculpture titled Orb (2012) works well against the black and white of Voight’s Synchronicity I-XIV (2015), a series of works on paper priced at €265,000.

6. Ayyam Gallery
Also referencing Arab history are important works by Palestinian artist, Samia Halaby at Ayyam Gallery. Three rare works by the New York-based Halaby were sold between $50,000 to $100,000 before the fair’s public opening. Three additional small works on paper by the artist, each representing colorful geometric shapes from the 1970s are available, each priced $30,000.

Samira Hodaei, Melt into Bed (2016). Courtesy of AB43 CONTEMPORARY.

Samira Hodaei, Melt into Bed (2016). Courtesy of AB43 CONTEMPORARY.

7. AB43 Contemporary
Zurich-based AB43, whose program has been devoted to artists from the Middle East for the past 12 years, packed a large and relatively dense presentation showcasing works by numerous artists, the most striking being the Iranian Samira Hodaei, whose “virtual pixel” technique consists of using glass paint to produce unusual “pointillist” paintings with a pearly finish.

A large Hodaei canvas priced around $22,000 was sold before the opening to an Emirati collector. Two small works priced at $9,000 are still available.

8. Leila Heller Gallery
Leila Heller’s booth showcases a vibrantly playful mix of both Middle Eastern and Western works that include a large oil by the Lebanese, Nabil Nahas, titled 24 Carats and priced at $200,000. It was promptly sold at the VIP preview.

A historic collection of works by the modernist Iranian-Armenian artist, Marcos Grigorian, priced between $45,000 to $150,000, added gravitas to the booth. Several were “reserved” by a local institution, including Earth Work (1963), a baked soil painting, which consisted of, according to Alexander Heller, “soil from Iran baked outdoors in Italy.”

9. Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
The gallery’s sophisticated presentation focuses on two highly collectible artists. First, the Iranian born, New York-based Ali Banisadr, had four large oils promptly placed on hold by “quality collections or museums,” according to the gallery.

Second, a series of blood-red works by Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi, the master of miniature painting, are priced between £35,000 and £50,000; this included a large acrylic piece titled This Leprous Brightness (2016), painted on gold leaf, that was disturbing, yet elegant.

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