For art aficionados, culture vultures and creative creatures, Saadiyat Island was the place to be over the weekend, as Abu Dhabi Art (ADA) returned for its 9th edition, while The Louvre opened to a significant amount of justifiable fanfare.
If you missed the art fair at Manarat Al Saadiyat, here are our first-hand highlights. And if you didn’t make it down for the public opening at the Louvre on Saturday, rest easy – the opening programme is on until tomorrow, 14 November.
abu Dhabi art
Since moving from its original location at the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi Art is well and truly at home in the light and airy Manarat Al Saadiyat, located just over an hour’s drive from the Dubai Marina.
This year, the fair welcomed 48 galleries from the UAE, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and North America featuring artists that were both established and in the nascent stages of their global careers. While ADA typically only invites galleries that have been in operation for seven years, this year’s edition saw them once again open their doors to younger galleries – Bidaya.
Bidaya (‘beginning’ in Arabic) saw Ramallah based Gallery One present a curated selection of works by Asim Abu Shakra, whose works form an important part of the Palestinian artistic dialogue – despite Abu Shakra passing away at 28 from cancer. Showcasing his work further solidifies Gallery One’s mission to represent Palestinian artists both at home and abroad and marks the gallery’s third outing at ADA.
2017 also marks the launch of two brand new sectors, Focus: Beyond Territory and Solo Projects. Curated by Dr Omar Kholeif, the former brings together the works of inter-generational artists (both emerging and represented by established galleries) to showcase their takes on economic, social and formal landscapes. For example, Mumbai (India) based Jhaveri Contemporary is presenting Bloodlines (pictured below). These works are a collaborative effort between two artists based in India and Pakistan respectively and lay out the borders created by the Radcliffe Boundary Commission – the body behind the demarcation of India and Pakistan in 1947. Beautifully reimagined and refabricated by embroidery craftspeople in Karachi, the pieces are created using traditional threads that have been wrapped in metal – the kind used on special garments from the subcontinent.
Two of Dubai’s favourite art spaces, The Third Line and Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde also have works under this curatorial theme and are joined by the likes of Turkish Galerist, German Spruth Magers, French In-Situ – Fabienne Leclerc and the American Sean Kelly Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery. The result is work that truly transcends boundaries – an eclectic yet cohesive collection that is evidenced not just by the geographical location of the participants, but by the media and artistic style that each puts forth – from installations to delicate, fantastical and almost ethereal pieces.
Each of the seven galleries at Focus: Beyond Territory also forms part of the Solo Projects initiative, a way for gallerists to focus on a single artist and his/her work, such as Spruth Mager’s presentation of Otto Piene’s work, How Many, 2007 – a captivating piece of gold glazed clay. They were joined by a few more galleries, such as the Etihad Modern Gallery who brought in FrontSide (part of The Dara Chronicles) by Emirati artist Maisoon Al Saleh and the tactile, impasto beauty of Chi-Gyun Oh’s paintings depicting Central Park in New York.
One of the highlights of the Solo Projects programme was arguably Meem Gallery’s (Dubai) showcase of Mission of Destruction by Iraqi Dia Azzawi. This massive piece spanned a 15-meter wall right by the entrance of one of the halls – a veritable Guernica for the 21st century, and equally thought-provoking as it represents a panoramic view of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The final sector of the exhibitions at Manarat Al Saadiyat was the ever popular Modern & Contemporary. Featuring established galleries from the UAE and across the world. Local galleries included Al Serkal Avenue based Custot and Abu Dhabi based Salwa Zeidan who had an installation by Hussain Sharif – one of the UAE’s original five conceptual artists and brother of the acclaimed Hassan Sharif. International galleries included Tokyo-based Whitestone (who brought Yoshitomo Nara’s famous piercing-eyed girl to ADA with the piece, Punch Me Harder), and Tehran / NYC-based Shirin Gallery, whose booth was well attended by people queuing up to photograph the whimsical (if a bit introspective) swinging bronze and resin installation by Kamran Sharif.
Another highlight of ADA 2017 was the Community Partners section. These booths were set up to highlight UAE-based institutions’ latest non-profit programmes and catered to all ages. One booth that was a firm favourite amongst younger visitors was the Sharjah Children’s Biennial – Children’s Centers stall that came with a LEGO wall and a variety of activities for little ones – representing those that take place through the year. Also launching at ADA was an initiative that harnesses art for a good cause – The Power of Pink by Leila Al Marashi. This pinktastic room chronicles the story of pink in ways that any woman can understand – from childhood blankets through to targeted marketing campaigns as an adult. This installation is the start of a campaign that aims to raise breast cancer awareness (Al Marashi lost her own mother to the disease). The Abu Dhabi Music and Art Foundation (ADMAF) was also at hand to showcase one of their key initiatives, The Nationals’ Gallery – a virtual portfolio that tracks the creative work of the UAE.
Other elements of ADA 2017 included Art + Technology, courtesy the students of Khalifa University and established international artists who led them through workshops to result in collaborative pieces which pushed boundaries; Street Art in the form of buses bedecked with specially commissioned artwork; Gateway: Line that made connections between UAE artists and their international counterparts (running until January 2018); commissioned artworks across Abu Dhabi and Al Ain; workshops for both adults and children and of course; the return of the ever popular Wings project – an open invitation for Emirati designers and artists to re-imagine ADA’s iconic ‘wing’ logo.
All in all, the talks programme and artwork that made up Abu Dhabi Art 2017 truly reinforced the words of the fair’s director, Dyala Nusseibeh. According to Nusseibeh, “this year’s edition aims to uphold and drive Abu Dhabi Art’s reputation as a regional cultural powerhouse presenting world-class galleries, internationally renowned artists and emerging talent to the public.”
the Louvre Abu Dhabi
The UAE is no stranger to new launches (here at Bayut, we’ve seen some spectacular projects in our time!) but the launch of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is one that has captivated the country like no other – in fact, the last time we remember such fervour was for the Burj Khalifa back in 2010.
It’s hardly surprising too. Ever since the agreement between the UAE and France’s governments back in 2007, people have excitedly watched the spectacular dome-shaped building come to life (designed by renowned architect Jean Nouvel with interiors that harken back to the concept of an Arab medina with ultra-modern and contemporary design) and; visited some of the many talks and exhibitions hosted at nearby Manarat Al Saadiyat.
The Louvre touts itself as a ‘universal museum’, the first of its kind in the region and from the opening programme that kicked off on 11 November demonstrated why it’s so deserving of this title.
The scores of visitors that came from across the UAE were greeted by an Al Ayyala performance (recognised as a Living Intangible Heritage by UNESCO since 2014) courtesy Mubarak Al Otaiba’s group. This energetic and culturally significant performance was just the start of the day, however. Visitors to the various galleries were soon treated to impromptu performances by the fantastically talented Lucinda Childs Dance Company, while those in the plaza were treated to a vibrant piece by the Awa Troupe of Sangha (complete with musicians, drummers and Dogon masks) followed by the Zhejiang Wu Opera Research Centre who showcased two traditional Chinese performances – the lion dance and the dragon dance. Other enthralling acts that rounded off Day 1 included Emirati composer Faisal Al Saari who serenaded museum-goers in the galleries and -M-, an eight-time French Grammy award winner who got the crowd moving in the plaza.
Those who visited on the opening days also had the chance to partake in a series of workshops, from mask making to geometric patterns – catering to people of all ages, from children to adults. Families also had the opportunity to experience a special guided tour of the Louvre, specifically designed for those with children six years and older. The guided tours were also a fantastic way for visitors to engage with some of the museum’s most awaited masterpieces from both the permanent and loan collection – pieces that span the entirety of humanity as we known it – from pre-history to the modern day.
The loan collection comprises of 300 artworks on loan from 13 of France’s leading cultural institutions, like the Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie and the Collection Centre Pompidou to name a few. Exhibited artwork on loan includes historically included works such as a statue of King Ramesses II from 1279 – 1213 BCE and the mysterious, yet commonly attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, La Belle Ferronnière (also depicted on postcards in the gift shop).
The permanent collection is made up of 600 pieces acquired by the Louvre Abu Dhabi and includes works by the likes of Cy Twombly, Magritte and Mondrian as well as works such as the Archaic Sphinx from the 6th century BCE. All these works, spread over 23 permanent gallery spaces (as well as temporary exhibitions space that includes a dedicated Children’s Museum) seek to embody universal themes that go against traditional museum dogma and are not displayed according to origin – heralding a new era of museums and cultural consumption.
All in all, the opening of The Louvre reflects the words of His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) and Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), who said: “Louvre Abu Dhabi embodies our belief that nations thrive on diversity and acceptance, with a curatorial narrative that emphasises how interconnected the world has always been. The museum represents the latest innovation in a long-standing tradition of cultural preservation nurtured by the founding leaders of the UAE.”
Luckily, you still have time to catch the opening programme at The Louvre (not to mention their roster of permanent and temporary exhibitions), visit their website for more details and to purchase tickets.
And if you live outside Abu Dhabi but want to make a day of it, check out our list of the best beaches in the capital.