Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Report from the Phantom Zone: Art Dubai

It’s a 13-hour flight to Dubai.

Not the kind of travel to be taken lightly but worth it for the experience of Art Dubai. For visitors like me, Art Dubai represents more than the other fairs like the Armory Show or Miami Basel because the fair was the best excuse I could come up with to visit the Middle East. Like all art fairs, Art Dubai was primarily focused on sales, however, there was a consolidated effort by the fair to extend beyond the walls of the fair itself in order to become an entire art world event representing the region as a whole. Proof of this was in the number of the auxiliary programs, the many parallel events in the city that were directly supported by the fair, and the “Global Art Forum” lecture series that made the fair feel less like a sales driven event and more like an all encompassing cultural event. Art Dubai fully supported the Al Bastakiya Art Fair, the one official fringe art fair, by running a bus between the fairs and encouraging all visitors to spend time at both fairs. Art Dubai even ran programs in other cities like tours of the Sharjah Museum, or programs in Doha. The fair fully supported the START program, a Middle East based program that helps orphans, refugees and street children in the MENASA (Middle East North Africa South Asia) region, through creative development. While at the fair, I participated in one of START’s programs and helped introduce local autistic children to art-making and the fair itself.

While the fair is not in charge of what any individual gallery chooses to show, there were some excellent pieces on display. Some of the highlights included El Anatsui’s “In the World But Don't Know the World” piece at London’s October Gallery booth. El Anatsui’s metal sculpture made from tens of thousands of bottle-tops that evoked sublime awe at its sheer enormity while also provoking a dialog about the cultural, social and economic histories of West Africa.

By far, the most provoking and stimulating piece at Art Dubai was created by the winner of the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, Kader Attia and his curator Laurie Farrell. The Abraaj Capital Art Prize provides $1 million dollars in funding to three curator/artist pairs from MENASA to produce unique pieces for Art Dubai. Algerian born artist Kader Attia and curator Laurie Farrell produced “History of a Myth: Le Petit Dome du Rocher” which is an installation based in deep understanding of history and philosophy. In the piece, the viewer enters a darkened room to see a live camera feed projecting a sculpture of a bolt and nuts enlarged many times its size. The projection of the sculpture evokes the architecture of the Dome of the Rock and in so doing refers to Arab-Muslim history and all of the complexity of issues that surround representations of that history. The most amazing part of the installation is that it is an installation that cannot be accurately described in words, but a viewer must be in the room itself to feel the piece. Throughout the installation, there is a gentle breeze and sounds of nature that are subtly vibrating the sculpture and thus the projection as well. Kader Attia’s piece provides a peaceful space of contemplation where the viewer can mediate on the myriad of issues surrounding historical, architectural, political or aesthetic interpretations. The piece is simultaneously peaceful and provocative, troubling and soothing, pensive and visceral. Creating a piece that refuses to fit into any preconceived binary is definitely a piece that should not be missed.

Next year’s Art Dubai fair should be even bigger and more comprehensive than this years and is definitely worth 13 hour flight.

Kader Attia
History of a Myth: The Small Dome of the Rock, 2010
Video installation
© Photo: Alexzandra Chandler
Courtesy of Abraaj Capital Art Prize

El Anatsui
"In the World, But Don’t Know the World?”, 2009.
Aluminium and copper wire, 5.6 x 10 metres

Video of Steve Aishman at the VIP Patron's Preview of Art Dubai

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Report from the Phantom Zone

Every hero becomes a bore at last.

I have never been able to throw. And I mean anything. I can’t throw a baseball, tennis ball, Frisbee, whatever. Don’t ask me to toss you a pen or a coin because you’re likely to have to spend more time reaching under the couch to try to find it than just asking me to walk it over to you. It’s also rather dangerous asking me to throw anything in your general direction because I could put your eye out, the eye of the person next to you or just break a lamp. I don’t even try to play sports where I have to throw because everyone just gets frustrated with me as they have to continually jump over fences or run across roads to retrieve my horribly targeted missiles. Dogs don’t even want to play catch with me because it is simply no fun.

However, I love to watch the Red Sox. I love watching Pedroia or Youkilis make perfect throw to first base and just beat out a runner by milliseconds. The problem is that now I have to apologize for enjoying watching someone make a great throw. I have to say something like, “I know it’s just a game, but I find it exciting and uplifting”. If I don't, someone will attack me. Someone will say something like, “That’s stupid.” “Baseball is a waste of time.” “If you like baseball then you’re clearly sexist.” Etc. Etc.

It used to be that enjoying something was a good thing. I remember when having a hero was something that was encouraged. Now if you say anyone is your hero, it opens up a floodgate of ridicule. A hero should be someone we can admire without apology, but most people have secret heroes. People we aspire to be like, but don’t dare tell anyone about.

The art world is a good example of this. Who would say that Damien Hirst is their art hero? He’s hugely successful and influential, but to say you want your career to be like his is an open invitation to being attacked. Marina Abramović’s show at MOMA just opened and it will feature a performance piece that will be the longest that she has performed a single solo piece. I would love to see the piece, but I would never say that a performance artist is a hero of mine because so many people hate performance art (usually without seeing it) and it takes too long to defend why I love performance art. This year’s Whitney Biennial is filled with great artists, but it is dangerous to say that you think of any of them as an art hero.

It’s possible that there are no more art heroes (or maybe heroes at all). No Michelangelos or Rodins who it is ok to call a hero in the art world. Someone to draw inspiration from … Someone to aspire to …

Is there someone you consider your art hero?
Someone you feel you don’t have to apologize for liking?

If so, please list them in the comment section.
(And if you’re really bold … leave your name!)

Marina Abramović

Damien Hirst