When considering the world’s fine art capitals, Abu Dhabi may not spring to mind. But the United Arab Emirates is aiming to change that. In short order, the oil-rich city will have its own version of the Guggenheim, designed by none other than Frank Gehry, not to mention the Louvre Abu Dhabi—the emirate reportedly paid $520 million just to use the name of Paris’ landmark museum. It stands to reason that Abu Dhabi Art, the city’s major art fair, is attracting high-profile work, like a rare painting by the late American abstract painter Sam Francis. The massive Untitled (1979-80), a matrix painting that’s stylistically reminiscent of a bold and brightly hued Rorschach test, is the centerpiece of New York gallery Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art’s booth at the fair.
Given the painting’s history, it’s fitting that the gallery would feature this particular work at an art fair—and in a city—that’s currently attempting to bridge East and West. Untitled (1979-80) was previously in the possession of Japanese writer and entrepreneur Seiju Tsutsumi, an avid art collector who was passionate about introducing Western art to Japan, mounting works by Marcel Duchamp, Edvard Munch, and Egon Schiele in his company’s department stores. At this year’s art fair exhibition, the painting is displayed alongside several other notable works, from Erik Benson’s bleak painted cityscapes and Farideh Lashai’s darkly lush florals to Alexander Calder’s Brooch Mobile, a sculpture in silver wire that dates from 1943.
For good measure, there’s even a piece by Keith Haring, the pop-graffiti icon who rose to prominence alongside Warhol and Basquiat in the heyday of the East Village arts scene in the 1970s and ’80s. Untitled, a sumi-ink work completed in 1986, is small, but unmistakably a Haring. It’s a gritty but charming piece of New York, represented by a New York gallery—just perfect for an art fair, and a city, that’s opening its doors wide to show the best artwork from the West.
Visit Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art at Abu Dhabi Art 2014, Stand B7, Nov. 5–8, 2014.