Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Quite a lot of controversy and publicity has surrounded this Frank Gehry designed structure in the upcoming cultural district in Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island.

Led by Lebanese artist Walid Raad, over 130 artists, curators and writers who have been commissioned to contribute their works and efforts to the upcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, have threatened to boycott the museum in March earlier this year, in an attempt to put pressure to improve builders' working conditions.

The Guggenheim Foundation has already issued a statement responding to the boycott, guaranteeing that it will ensure a close monitoring of these workers' rights through out, alongside their partners, TDIC. This follows a critical report on workers' conditions by Human Rights Watch, which the foundation has called out as "painting an inaccurate picture" of the current situation.

While I do agree that it is a very positive project for the entire region, I am quite supportive and impressed by the artists' smart PR stunt easy claim to fame initiative - highlighting a widely prevalent issue in the Gulf at the risk of losing jobs or future opportunities.

Also of concern is the content of the museum - the Guggenheim Foundation, a brand well-known for its quite contemporary and post-modern view on art, poses the question - will it just be a cookie-cutter version of the NY/LA one, including content?

And more significantly, does the region hold the content and artists to fill it in on time?

Doha's Mathaf Modern definitely hasn't disappointed, especially with its first exhibition Told/Untold/Retold, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. (Post on this coming up soon)

Still, very much looking forward to the opening - due for completion in 2012.


Coral Reef

"He wants you to feel lost in a world of lost people" - Coral Reef by Mike Nelson

(Before I start, I feel like I've lost all sense of writing so forgive me if I don't do this justice. Neither do the pictures.. Why are you reading this anyhoo?)

Late last year, I had the great privilege of exploring Tate Gallery's (only) interesting exhibition with a very good friend, CHELSEA space mate Maya Ramsay, who also happens to be a very talented artist and winner of the Florence Trust Residency. Not only is she very talented, she handles the most fascinating projects, including renovating once deserted buildings without changing their aesthetics completely, whilst maintaining the beautiful elements of destruction (apologize for the very pathetic explanation of her work: better yet, let her explain it and show it to you here.)

This bunch of empty rooms with leftover furniture maze installation by Mike Nelson, first conceived and presented in 2000: imagine entering a maze that starts and ends with an identical room, in this case a deserted Islamic Center - kind of like a horror / psycho thriller.

The details in this place are perfected and well-concocted to the core. Each smell (from dust to garbage, to wood, to this desert feeling), texture, colours, piece of dust / trash is orchestrated to the TEE. You can FEEL the sense of emptiness, creepiness, melancholy and somewhat irrational fear.

The details, smells, props in each room of the maze are creepy yet magical. Like a scene or shot from a 90's Quentin Tarantino movie.

Difficult to escape from, multiple doors, all leading to different walkways, different rooms, sometimes identical, sometimes not.

P.S. To some, this is just trash in a few rooms. To me, they are gems.

CHELSEA space / London Bridge


Abu Dhabi Arts - Part Deux

Less talk, more colour.

Abraaj Capital prize winner Shezad Dawood's light installations at Paradise Row.

Toy Soldier at Traffic.

Farhad Moshiri's comic-strip like blinding cowboys at The Third Line

Can't seem to recall the Iranian duo brothers behind this fantastic mixed media piece of the Queen (?) dining with the pope (?) and Lady ?? (Muna, help?)

Another fantastically blinding ornamental pop piece by who else, but Farhad Moshiri

Anish Kapoor's copper concave (or is it convex?) piece.

Simeen Farhat's Faezah, beautiful portrait. Her braids and printed dress remind me of the Bahraini women in the fifties wearing their dresses from qmash Bahraini mal khaya6 going to their grandfather's Nakhal..

And of course, you can't pass an international arts fair without a Damien Hirst lying around. This piece at the White Cube sold for a cool US$3 million as I recall - hand-placed diamonds in a case.

Censorship menshorhip

Have quite the interesting story to share about these pillows/beanbags/chairs. The artist, Parastou Forouhar, an Iranian that fled Tehran during the revolution, put together these pieces made of fabric used for the mourning ceremonies in Iran and covered with Quran verses.

Few hours into the exhibition, had the privilege of being visited by some very pleasant chirpy folks from the Ministry of Information at our favourite little neighboring country, Iran. Those chirpy folks weren't so chirp when they saw the below pieces: "Harramm! Blasphemy! Who's the artist? Where's the gallery owner??"

This followed with a "Please don't sit on" sign - which was lovingly ignored by every man, his wife, children, grandparents and occasional dog.

We had them removed on the second day of the fair for fear of having the gallery owner banned from entering his country again. Needless to say,they did come back asking more questions, and I played the sweet little dumb old me who knew nothing of what these "bean bags" were about.

Censorship onto new heights in our neighboring country a gross understatement, eh?

Abu Dhabi Arts - Part Une

Ok. So here's my long looooooooong - a due post on the Abu Dhabi Arts Fair back in - gulp - November 2010. Yes. Almost one year ago (stick in 'cover the face' emoticon here please).

Pakistani Simeen Farhat's 3D calligraphy "Twisted Melody" based on the poetry of Rumi at the Xerxes Arts Gallery booth. Heard it through the grapevine that La Fontaine (Bahrain) will be hosting an exhibition for the artist in November 2011. Well worth the wait..

In the far back are some of my favourite mixed-media prints of Arab scholars and personalities from the 70s and this generation - "Icons of the 4 Corners", including Queen Alia, Shaikha Moza AlMisned, Um Kulthom, Edward Said (personal favourite), Naguib Mahfouz, Fariouz, Omar Sharif, all by Iranian artist Afsoon.

A one-on-one personal dig-in to the strange, surprisingly quite pleasant and down to earth, pop genius brain of Jeff Koons.

Just another typical day at your arts fair VIP lounge. A VW DJ booth spinnin the latest mixing it up for the VIPS gettin everybody down & dirrrty (oh oh oh I did not just say that). (Insert more pretentious and "hip-sounding" remarks here)

Khatt Foundation, Khalid Mezaina, Formafantasma, Unfold and Estudio Campana in discussion, moderated by Dezeen Editor Marcus Fairs.

With a lovely conclusion to the exhibition, had the privilege of listening to the panel discussion 'With Passion They Collect', including HE Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Culture, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, journalist and Meem Gallery art owner, Dr. Farhad Farjam, talk about their passion for collecting art, moderated by Farbod Dowlatshahi.

Some call it a collectors' dream, others call it self-promotion, and yet others call it hoarding. I say, support the region, build a cause and they will come.

...And alternatively, if you gots the money, bring in the honeys (in this case, um, art, Middle Eastern art).

One day Lumz. One day..

(P.S. Thanks munzii for taking some of the pics and making the trip worth the while..)

P.P.S To justify my superficiality in this current post, my next post will discuss the power, significance and science behind colour and visual stimulation.. *snap*

Abdulnasser Gharem - Flora & Fauna

Here's one of my favourite Saudi artists, Abdulnasser Gharem. First time I saw his pieces, I just thought he was some bored Saudi dude with nothing better to do but randomly graffiti some random Jeddah streets here and there or cross the ever-grudging path of emerging Gulf artists meets contemporary art getting some credit during the Arab Art Renaissance with a little calligraphy and modern Arabic font here and there. Phew..

Then I saw the below performance piece (oh yes, the ill-hated lame performance pieces where all weirdo artists get away with making a dance move and swishing to the odd soundtrack), and shut the eff up.

Here he is, making the statement - walking the streets covered in a plastic bag (yes, a plastic bag) gripping a special type of tree. That tree was selected as the tree to cover the area of Jeddah in 2007 by the Saudi Agriculture Ministry at the point of implementing the 'greenify Saudi' strategy. With a little research, Gharem discovered that these trees which were aimed to improve the agriculture of the city actually caused more damage than good (the roots would grow underneath the ground basically killing off any plant life in its way.. Oh the irony).

Flora & Fauna

What makes this piece and artist more fascinating is that Gharem is a former (or current, not sure) Lieutenant Colonel at the Saudi Arabian Army - (Ee, mal iljaish). Army and artist? Grrrr..

Saw a preview of this wide wood and copper dome symbolizing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem by Gharem, to be shown in Contemporary Istanbul 2011 - Sold for a record of $842500 (AED 3093660) at the 'Edge of Arabia' Christie's auction, a record for any Gulf artist.