This year’s Art Paris-Abu Dhabi seemed very different to last year. However, I’m not sure if this is just my perception or if there really was an objective shift in focus. It definitely seemed less ‘European’ but perhaps this is because one of the first gallery stands in the main hall was the UK's Waterhouse and Dodds. This stand contained a who’s who of regional big hitters and earners. Farhad Moshiri – check, Shirin Neshat – check, Parviz Tanavoli – check, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi – check. Yawn – check.
Most prominently displayed was Lalla Essaydi’s triptych of a figure reclining in an interior with everything covered in Arabic script. Displayed below, was the centrefold of the National with the same image reproduced as part of a feature on the art collection of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed which magically appeared two days before the opening! Worries that sales would be affected by the global downturn was evidently not something Essaydi had to worrry about nor probably any other artists in MBZ's collection!
This start set a slightly weary tone for my trip around the fair this year although a few other things did register. Enrico Navarra had an event-specific graffiti work drawn on paper around the wall of one part of its stand. This was absolutely inspired and I sincerely hope that it was snapped up for the MBZ collection.
Patrice Trigano, had several works by photographer Julien Leclerc including one mesmerising image of a bullfight. The merging of the component parts of the image was reminscent of Picassos ‘Death of a Female Toreador’ although it was a defintive victory for the toreador in this case. Another work which was essentially a study of wet sand, was also mesmerising in its textured and shadowed simplicity. Both of these images were like strong silent types providing a reassuring antidote to the political noise of some of the middle eastern work.
This perception of noise also struck me at the Tamenaga gallery showing the work of Cheng Jiang Hong and Kyosuke Tchinai. Both artists were obviously absorbed in a purely creative process which reconstructed and reinterpreted parts of their own art histories. There was a narrative thread in Hong’s work which almost read like a book and Tchinai had merged all the most recognisable features of traditional Japanese technique into images that were 2D but sculptural in their impact. One image in particular was so breathtaking I understood for the first time in my life why people spend money they don’t have.
After this I wandered aimlessly around the rest of the fair feeling slightly guilty for being irritated with ‘modern middle eastern art’ although perhaps it’s just the Iranians I’m bored with. Ahmad Mualla’s huge painting at Green Art Gallery was stunning and Lara Baladi’s beach collages at B21 are pure entertainment.
Guy Ferrer and Bernard Pras, the only artists being shown by Nathalie Gaillard, were also memorable. In a context where many small spaces are often overstuffed with multiple artists and styles, a minimal display technique can be very effective!