This year’s Abu Dhabi Art coincides with the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, arguably the most important addition to the cultural landscape of the region to date. As such, all eyes are on the city, adding pressure to the fair director, Dyala Nusseibeh, for whom this is her inaugural edition.
However, Nusseibeh comes to the capital with plenty of experience. The youngest daughter of Zaki Nusseibeh, a long-term cultural adviser to the presidents and royal family members of the UAE, she also set up ArtInternational, an art fair in Istanbul aimed at harnessing the growing population of art collectors there and in the wider region.
In Abu Dhabi, she has made great efforts to show support for artists practice in the region. The large atrium of Manarat Al Saadiyat – Abu Dhabi Art’s home – is filled with large-scale pieces from Emirati or UAE-based artists.
Wall pieces from Hassan Sharif and Vikram Divecha hang side-by -side at the entrance, across from a vast collection of sculptural works from Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim. There are pieces by Tarek Al Ghoussein, whose works also feature in the promotional campaign. Rokni Haerizadeh and Ramin Haerizadeh are also included.
In the centre of the communal area, a two-tonne column comprising stacked layers of ten different materials, stands at three metres tall. It is a commissioned work by Shaikha Al Mazrou, who has fused principles of mathematics, architecture and design to make this column, which is constructed according to the Fibonacci sequence.
Mazrou’s work (Scales, 2017) is part of a section called Beyond: Emerging Artists, where three artists worked for eight months under the guidance of Mohammed Kazem and Cristiana De Marchi to produce new work.
The programme and its results are testament to Nusseibeh’s dedication to elevating the platform for local artists and placing them on an international stage.
Inside the gallery halls, 47 galleries from around the world have brought their work. In contrast to previous years, guest curators have played a hand in the artwork selection. In Beyond: Territory several galleries have been selected by prominent curator Dr. Omar Kholeif, who has just been appointed as one of the curators for the next edition of the Sharjah Biennial.
Uniting his chosen spaces and artists under ideas of ownership and social and political landscapes, Kholeif selected two Dubai galleries. The Third Line is presenting a new body work by Hayv Kahraman titled Mnemonic Object, where she has used the pattern of a traditional Iraqi fan within her works on linen as a memory trigger and a way to illustrate the layered nature of personal histories. Gallery Isabelle Van Den Eynde’s entire booth is given over to Hassan Sharif and they have two oil paintings from 2008 and 2009, displaying a lesser known side of his practice.
Another gallery showing a work from only one artist is Lawrie Shabibi, whose booth is exhibiting selected works from Shaikha Al Mazrou’s new series, which along with the commissioned work in the atrium offer viewers a fuller understanding of her practice, which is rooted in a fascination with materiality. The pieces, titled Ironic Experiments, are black stones precariously balanced upon plinths through which she is exploring the concept of uncertainty and expectations.
Other Dubai gallery booths include Elmarsa Gallery, who have managed to display a great range of modern and contemporary artists from Tunisia and Algeria, including Nja Mahdaoui and Khaled Ben Slimane along with a couple of stunning pieces from Lebanese modernist Huguette Caland. Custot Gallery have a selection of works from several of their internationally prominent artists, including Ian Davenport.
Ayyam Gallery's booth features a large piece from Samia Halaby’s most recent exhibition and some new pieces from Safwan Dahoul as well as sculptures by Nadim Karam. Canvases scorched with fire by artist Jean Boghossian (who represented Armenia in Venice this year) were the most interesting works to viewers already familiar with the gallery’s programme. Boghossian is new to working with the gallery and they will be presenting a solo show in March next year
In Leila Heller’s booth, the works of Dustin Yellin are one of the fair’s highlights. His intricate scenes that play out between thickly layered glass panels can capture your attention for hours and certainly deserve some time to explore. The booth was also filled with many other pieces from their roster of strong and interesting artists.
Other mentions must go to Dubai stalwart Meem Gallery, whose booth is home to just one work - a giant 15 metre painting by Dia Azzawi. Mission of Destruction reflects on the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the bloody aftermath.
Madrid gallery, Sabrina Amrani, have brought never-seen-before work from Egyptian-Armenian Chant Avedissian in their beautifully curated booth and Philadelphia space Pentimenti have some simply stunning paper cut works by Hadieh Shafie, whose career-long dedication to one material is displayed marvellously within this one space.