Curated by Hervé Mikaeloff
Exhibition organized with the support of the gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai
‘Hassan Sharif – Experiments’ honours the life and artistic legacy of Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, who passed away on 18 September 2016 after a battle with cancer. This exhibition, held at the Patinoire Royale, pays tribute to his unconventional and multidisciplinary artistic practice, which he dedicated his last energies to. Born in Iran in 1951, Sharif lived and worked in Dubai where he became a pioneer of Conceptual art in the Gulf and remains a key fi gure of the Middle Eastern art scene today. Playful and radical throughout his artistic career, a theorist, writer and educator in his own right, Sharif continued to support and inspire fellow artists.
This exhibition renders an overview of the artist’s eclectic work offering a reflection on Sharif’s array of explorations, from his early cartoons and performances to his recent paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations. The works included in the show continue his career-long investigation on where art can be found, what art is for, what our expectations are of it and how those limits can be usurped.
During his time in London (1979–84) where he studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now part of Central Saint Martin), Sharif was introduced to the non-elitism intermedia strategies of Fluxus as well as the chance and order theories of British Constructivism, which he was very quick to adopt in his experimentations, drawings and a number of performances.
He became known for his performances where he engaged in simple gestures, from jumping in the desert, walking, digging and standing, to pulling ropes between two rocks, Sharif deconstructs familiar meanings and plays with absurdness. The photographic documentation of these actions show us their simplicity and depict everyday activities that appear to be meaningless and out of place. It is the meaninglessness of these performances and their artist-centred practice that reveal the very strong Fluxus influences.
Using complex mathematical calculations based on randomly picked numbers and by allowing unpredictability
to take over the creation process, he constructed drawings referred to as ‘Semi-Systems’, which he continued to work on for the rest of his life. Ultimately, the artist utilises chance to dictate the final outcome. Sharif concentrated on a multiplicity of facets of this “chance”, ultimately proving its paradoxical limitations.
Central to the artist’s practice are his ‘Objects’, which he started creating in the 1980s using found industrial materials or mass-produced items purchased in markets and stores around the United Arab Emirates. By cutting, bending, grouping, and braiding these cultural artefacts together, Sharif deprives them of their functionality to enhance their aesthetic and political significance.
Probably the most precise outline of these core concerns can be found in Sharif’s 2006 essay ‘Weaving’. He writes about a “vulgar market mentality that flooded shops with consumer products” in his lifetime, a “consumer-society tsunami” that caused an acute upheaval in the so-called ‘developing’ world. His response, and the underlying purpose of his art, as he explains in Weaving, has been acts of ‘redundant repetition’: “I would continuously engage myself in boring, recurring and endless activities”.
‘Weaving’, in its most rudimentary form of tying and bundling, without “strenuous physical activity nor unique skill”, became his gesture.
Sourcing cast-off materials and readymade goods (plastic pegs and cheap sandals) from shops in Dubai, Sharif wove these accumulated objects together into freestanding heaps and wall sculptures (2009–16). Such cheap objects were an affront to the idea that art had to be an inherently valuable thing (a line of thinking he encountered when he first began exhibiting in the early 1980s in the UAE).
“When I met Hassan in Dubai in 2014 and 2016, I discovered a few sketches of unrealised monumental sculptures that he wanted to create for his exhibition at Patinoire Royale. The scale of these ‘Objects’ further reflects on Sharif’s ideas of redundancy and uselessness,” notes curator Hervé Mikaeloff. Hassan Sharif is included in ‘Viva Arte Viva’ International Art Exhibition at the 57th Venice Biennale. A major retrospective dedicated to the artist will be held at the Sharjah Art Foundation in November 2017. His works are held in the collections of the Tate Modern, London, Guggenheim New York and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah Art Foundation, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, M+ Museum, Hong Kong and Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, among others.
Independent Art Consultant and Curator, Hervé Mikaeloff currently advises and curates for the LVMH group, and also corporate Foundation and private collections.