Art Dubai Kicks Off with Collectors and Museums Flocking to Acquire Young Artists

  • Art Dubai, 2016. Photo courtesy of The Studio and Art Dubai.

Art Dubai, the Middle East’s decade-old preeminent fair, hosted its VIP opening on Tuesday, bringing together 94 galleries from 40 countries—the fair’s largest and most geographically diverse edition to date. Among over 500 artists on view, the usual suspects quickly attracted buyers, particularly in mid-range works. But an emerging set was also gaining traction. Below, we highlight a few standouts.

At Vienna’s Galerie Krinzinger, an installation by Lebanese-born artist Alfred Tarazi sold to a Swiss museum for $35,000 during the fair’s vernissage. In one installation, across 10 meters of canvas, the artist painted members of Lebanon’s Amal Movement, which he paired with an additional 10 meters of portraits of the country’s Phalange Party. In so doing, he highlights the religious divide between Shi’ites and Maronite Christians as well as a historical—and still very present—political rift.

  • Alfred Tarazi, Left & Right, 2015. Photo courtesy of Galerie Krinzinger.

The most compelling aspect of each installation is a knob on its side: Roll the canvas up and a new narrative emerges. “All of [the installations] are projects related to a memorial for the victims of the Lebanese Civil War,” said Tarazi.“This has a strong social and political context but it is an artistic moment that comes as closure for a series of very painful events.”

Waqas Khan’s delicate drawings at Madrid’s Sabrina Amrani further cemented the demand for the Pakistani artist, on the rise over the past few years across the art fair circuit. “I need to develop the rhythm of the line,” said Khan of the work, which takes on a spontaneous feel through its curved, somewhat calligraphic lines. Upon closer inspection, a plethora of tiny strokes appear, rendered in the trademark, meditative style the artist began during his undergraduate days at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. 

  • Left: Waqas Khan, Speck of Light II (black), 2015; Right: Waqas Khan, Speck of Light I (red), 2015. Images courtesy of Sabrina Amrani.

During the vernissage, two of the artist’s “dancing forms,” as he calls them (Speck of Light I (red) and Speck of Light II (black), both 2015) sold to a museum in Ahmedabad, India, for €8,400 each; the same institution also picked up two other works by Khan. “There is an interaction between the surface and yourself; the material is so secondary because it’s your hand that starts dancing,” added Khan. “I read a prayer as I am creating these. I have to say thank you to somebody. I’m just a hand.”  

At Beirut’s Agial Art Gallery, Nathalie Khayat’s blossoming Mushrooms sculptures appear voluptuous and rich. “A mushroom has no leaves, no flowers; this one does. It has the shape of a flame of dancing leaves,” said the Lebanese-born ceramicist. In 2012, Khayat was the victim of a car bomb that exploded next to her home and studio in Beirut. That experience is tied to the works, she said, which she described as a “a celebration of life and a symbol of rebirth.” One of the works, which are priced at $5,000 apiece, found a buyer during the fair’s VIP opening; another is on reserve. 

  • Left: Nathalie Khayat, Mushroom 1, 2016; Right: Nathalie Khayat, Mushroom 2, 2016. Photos courtesy of Agial Art Gallery.

“She is the most accomplished ceramicist in Lebanon,” says the gallery’s Saleh Barakat of Khayat, who runs a ceramic school. Although the artist also creates utilitarian objects, Khayat does not differentiate between those items and pieces such as Mushrooms. “Somehow it is all art and it is all functional,” she said. “The function can be to feed the senses as much as the soul.”

Work by Berlin-based artist Timo Nasseri, on view at Hamburg and Beirut’s Sfeir-Semler Gallery, centers around a version of the history of 10th-century Persian calligrapher Ibn Muqla. In this telling, Ibn Muqla proposed that the Arabic language was missing four letters, which he then derived from constellations. “It was a kind of reformation of Arabic calligraphy,” explained Nasseri. Religious leaders didn’t support the proposition and the letters were lost to history. 

  • Left: Timo Nasseri, I’ajm, 2015. Right: Timo Nasseri, Unknown Letter 2, 2015. Photos courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery.

Centuries later, Nasseri attempts to locate the missing letters by looking at the stars. To see the exact same sky as Ibn Muqla, Nasseri used a specialized software to simulate the constellations of a Baghdad sky in 934. So far, he’s recreated two letters, one of which has been transformed into a sculpture, Unknown Letter II (2015), that sold for between $50,000-60,000 on the fair’s second day. If Nasseri can unearth the final two letters, a 1,000-year-old mystery will come to a close.


—Myrna Ayad


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