Pay It Forward

Kate Sutton at the 10th Art Dubai and Global Art Forum

Left: GCC's Khalid Al Gharaballi, Monira Al Qadiri, and Amal Khalaf. Right: Leila Heller Gallery's Alexander Heller and Alserkal Avenue's Tairone Bastien.


The question may be inescapable on social media, but I wasn’t prepared to hear it from the gate agent of my Doha-Dubai shuttle. Not sure how my response might impact my boarding (can you even “Feel the Bern” in Arabic?) I went with the best answer for these troubled times: “Not Trump?”

The fact that an airport attendant in Qatar would be so keyed to the US primaries—something that, at least up until this year, most Americans couldn’t care less about—is a powerful reminder that the future at stake come November doesn’t just belong to America.

This collective fate was mapped out in the tenth installment of the Global Art Forum, which launched last Wednesday from a tent outside Art Dubai, which opened a day earlier. “Ten years ago we said we wanted to found a fair in the desert, and everyone said we were crazy,” Art Dubai cofounder John Martin recalled. At that time, there were only two or three major galleries in town. Fast forward a decade and the city has become a genuine international art hub, with Art Dubai marketing itself as the world’s most global fair while spurring on local development. As writer Arsalan Mohammad observed, “It’s hard to think of another instance when an art fair has been so instrumental in creating a scene.”

Left: Ayyam's Hisham Samawi. Right: Artist Walid Siti with Galeri Zilberman's Moiz Zilberman.

Dubai’s art week kicked off Monday night with over seven thousand visitors swarming the Alserkal Avenue gallery district to fete its expansion, with cavernous new spaces for Leila Heller and the Third Line. Other debuts include the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation; ambitious commissions by Mary Ellen Carroll, Jessica Mein, and Mohammed Kazem; a sizeable project space, slated for reenvisioning by OMA Projects, but currently occupied by a stunning Michelangelo Pistoletto show; and the studio for eL Seed, the massively popular “calligraffiti” artist who just put the finishing touches on a jaw-dropping piece spanning fifty buildings in Cairo’s Zaraeeb community. “This is truly his masterpiece,” MoMA director Glenn Lowry proclaimed.

Over the course of the week, dealers and visitors shuttled back and forth from Alserkal to the fair, which, in its tenth year, has reached an enviable maturity. Global brands like Victoria Miro, Continua, Krinzinger, Franco Noero, and Sfeir-Semler bolstered homegrown acts like Green Art Gallery, Grey Noise, and Carbon 12, leaving just enough space for the fair to take some chances, inviting projects like Accra’s Nubuke Foundation, Ramallah’s Zawyeh Gallery, and Taipei’s Mind Set Art Center. A quick glance down the aisles and you might catch Nevin Aladağ’s basketball-court-patterned carpets at Rampa, Elena Alonso’s evocative works on paper at Espacio Valverde, a suite of Sudarshan Shetty’s ceramic-and-teak-patched vases at Daniel Templon, or a sprawling Janaina Tschäpe painting at carlier gebauer. “It’s the biggest piece in the fair, right?” dealer Francesca Kaufmann marveled, eyeing the Tschäpe. “Not quite,” Marie-Blanche Carlier demurred, nodding toward Blain Southern, where a sweeping Abdoulaye Konaté textile blanketed the entire back wall. At Third Line, the booth was split between a new piece by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, subject of a triumphant solo show at Sharjah Art Foundation, and stills of Youssef Nabil’s latest film, featuring a scintillating Salma Hayek belly-dancing. An older French woman sputtered to her husband: “But this is the wife of Pinault!” Her husband nodded, dutifully dropping his eyes to the carpet.

Over at SILVERLENS, dealer Jeffrey Deitch was admiring one of Maria Taniguchi’s acrylic “brick paintings.” “I did a studio visit with her when I was in Manila,” he explained. “I think she’s fantastic!” As he continued to inspect the work, SILVERLENS’s Isa Lorenzo turned to me, confiding, “Imagine, it was just a normal opening and then all of a sudden Jeffrey Deitch walks in…”

Left: Artwin Gallery's Nadia Mindlin and Mariana Gogova. Right: Blain Southern's Adrian Sutton.

Deitch isn’t the only power player looking toward the Philippines. Last month, over twenty thousand visitors flocked to the nation’s fourth art fair. Meanwhile, the rise of high-profile collectors like Robbie Antonio (spotted fluttering through the aisles) makes it all the timelier for Art Dubai’s regional showcase, Marker, to fix its sights on the Philippines. Curated by Ringo Bunoan, the special booth roped in contributions from some of the country’s leading artist-run spaces, including Thousandfold, Post Gallery, and the 98B Collaboratory, who introduced Bunoan to Mark Barretto, a Filipino street artist based in Dubai. “You wouldn’t believe how many Filipinos live in the Emirates,” Bunoan assured me.

Part of Art Dubai’s success lies in its ability to bring worlds together. Besides Marker, Art Dubai offers on-site commissions, performances, cinema screenings, and educational intensives, along with the Abraaj Group Art Prize—which this year went to Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme—and not one, but two talks programs: the aforementioned Global Art Forum and the Terrace Talks, “remedial” conversations held amid the macaroons in the Abraaj VIP lounge.

This year, veteran GAF commissioner Shumon Basar brought in rookie codirectors Amal Khalaf and Uzma Z. Rizvi, who devised “The Future Was,” an astute spin on creative futurology. Over three days, speakers filled in the blank by covering multiple possible outcomes. For “The Future Was The Market,” Elie Ayache, author of The Blank Swan: The End of Probability and The Medium of Contingency: An Inverse View of the Market, gently guided audiences through a simplified version of his argument that the future must be written, not predicted, while wowing us with a densely knit graph plotting the metaphysics of the marketplace. (“That’s not actually how it should look,” Ayache admitted sheepishly. “I just used a different version of PowerPoint.”) For “The Future Was Cloud,” curator João Ribas winningly plotted the trajectory between the atomic mushroom cloud and the now-ubiquitous WiFi signal, observing our growing complacency with radiation. For another showstopper, “The Future Was Two Semi-Circles (Away from the Face),” artist Christine Sun Kim demonstrated the inflections and intonations possible when translating “future” into sign language. She left her audience swooning, if not slightly disenchanted with the limits of the spoken word.

Left: Carbon 12's Kourosh Nouri and Nadine Knotzer. Right: Green Art Gallery's Yasmin Atassi.

These talks all took place in GAF’s spiffy new tent, kitted out with lava lamps and sleek sofas with a series of throw pillows commemorating four heroes: author and activist Begum Rokeya, first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova, science fiction writer Octavia Butler, and Maria from Metropolis, the first robot ever to appear on film. When writer Adrienne Maree Brown took the stage for her talk, “The Future Was Collective”—a powerful invocation of science fiction’s ability to affect social change—she assured the audience, “I’ll be careful not to sit on Octavia Butler’s face—though, as a Pleasure Activist, I’ve always wondered what that might be like.” Her talk ended on an even more intimate note: “Imagine the people in this room are the only ones capable of affecting change. What would that make you feel?” Hopeful? But then again, I picked a good seat.

The communal vibes stayed strong that night at “The Wedding Project,” a rollicking fund-raiser for the London-based residency, exchange, and exhibition program Delfina Foundation. Evolving out of a series of programs exploring the politics of food, “The Wedding Project” treated guests to an elaborate banquet. “I contemplated recruiting couples like Basel and Ruanne to have their wedding here,” Delfina director Aaron Cezar told me. “But then that got complicated.” No matter. With the bride and groom MIA, festivities continued undeterred in one of the hotel’s halls, which had been draped in a canopy of fairy-tale greenery. Each of the courses plotted one of the stages of love. Having been primed first with “Attraction,” a plum martini, and then “Infatuation,” an absinthe-laced cocktail served in a pineapple-shaped copper chalice, we passed through the root vegetables of “Attachment” and on to “Desire,” expressed through ortolan, the socially reprehensible dish of rare songbird, cooked whole. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy—a creative think tank advocating biodiversity—had conceived a vegan alternative made from bean curd and steamed fig. “The chefs worked it out so you’ll still get the sense of some crackling of bones,” Cezar assured us, gleefully tracking the revulsion that rippled through the room. As a final touch, the dish is eaten with a napkin covering one’s head, to hide the mess, yes, but also the shame.

Left: ArtDubai Marker curator Ringo Bunoan. Right: Abraaj Group Art Prize winners Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas with curator Nav Haq.

“We must now toast the tragic lovers out there—and I see some of you are here for this dinner,” Cezar boomed. For “Grief,” Matheus Rocha Pitta’s contribution, guests were served loaves of bread baked full of desert sand. The next course, Candice Lin’s “Enslavement,” proposed throwing off the ties that bind. Her “Beggar’s Revenge Chicken” was served encased in ceramic modeled after the faces of the top eight of ArtReview’s Power 100. (Marc Spiegler, sitting across from me, should be relieved the dinner was kept small.) Crafted by students from the local art school, some likenesses—say, Ai Weiwei or Iwan Wirth—were more faithful than others. “I told them to pick a defining feature and focus on that,” Cezar admitted, which explains why the Marina Abramović chicken was 90 percent nose. “Hans Ulrich doesn’t have his glasses,” someone moaned, triggering Thomas J flashbacks. Of course, to actually eat the chicken, the effigy had to be destroyed. Leading the charge was powerhouse patron Delfina Entrecanales, who was presented with her own special chicken-portrait. “I smash it?” she asked no one in particular, before shrugging, picking up an empty pineapple chalice, and delivering a blow altogether unexpected from a near nonagenarian.

“Now sweetness will come through the wedding cake,” Cezar trilled, eliciting a snortle from Taus Makhacheva, the artist responsible for the dessert. As the immaculate slices were brought before each guest, it became apparent that we had reached “Disorder”: The cake was fake. But as intrepid guests were quick to figure out, the place settings were delicious, with plates made from toffee, napkins of marshmallow, and the cutlery a dubious candy-cigarette-like substance. “It seems you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Cezar concluded. “But you can take it home. And should. It’s a limited edition.” How forward thinking.

Left: Artist Manal Al Dowayan. Right: Global Art Forum's Uns M. Kattan with artist Mishaal Al Gergawi.

Left: The Third Line's Thibault Geffrin and Sunny Rahbar. Right: Artist Taus Makhacheva with patron Delfina Entrecanales.

Left: Nubuke Foundation's Kofi Setordji. Right: SILVERLENS's Isa Lorenzo and dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

Left: Patron Delfina Entrecanales smashes into her chicken-effigy at the Wedding Project. Right: Delfina Foundation director Aaron Cezar with Art Basel director Marc Spiegler.

Left: Art Dubai founder John Martin. Right: Dealers Francesca Kaufmann and Marie-Blanche Carlier.

Left: Ai Weiwei as a chicken at the Wedding Project. Right: Vegan Ortolan at the Wedding Project.

Left: Grey Noise's Umer Butt and Hetal Pawani. Right: Gypsum Gallery's Aleya Hamza and Zeina Madwar.

Left: Global Art Forum participants João Ribas and Amal Khalaf. Right: Curators Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist with artists Abdullah Al-Mutairi and Sarah Abu Abdallah.

Left: The Third Line's Saira Ansari with artist Sarah Naim. Right: Rampa's Nicole O'Rourke and Melek Gencer.

Left: Artist eL Seed. Right: Global Art Forum's Monira Al Qadiri, Uzma Z. Rizvi, Christine Sun Kim, and Amal Khalaf.

Left: Gallery SKE's Sunitha Kumar Emmart and Patrick with Art Basel director Marc Spiegler. Right: Pechersky Gallery's Anna Luneva and Anastasia Shavlokhova.

Left: Patron Abdelmonem Alserkal with Alserkal Avenue director Vilma Jurkute. Right: MoMA Director Glen Lowry, patron Alia Al Senussi, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Fazza) (All photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Lawrie Shabibi's Margaret Antelme. Right: Kochi-Muziris Biennale's Bose Krishnamachari, Manju Sara Rajan, Sunoj D, and Shwetal Patel.

Left: Artist Jessica Mein, Alserkal Avenue's Alexei Afanasiev and Mathaf's Laura Barlow. Right: Artist Rami Farook.

Left: Sultana Gallery's Farida Sultana with Jasmin Pelham. Right: Artist Athier.

Left: Marfa's Joumana Asseily. Right: Rooster Gallery's Jurgita Juospaityte-Bitiniene with artists Kristina Alisauskaite and Vilmantas Marcinkevičius.

Left: Writer Adrienne Maree Brown presenting at the Global Art Forum. Right: Mathaf's Abdellah Karroum with artist Mary Ellen Carroll.

Left: Global Art Forum commissioner Shumon Basar with ITO 33's Elie Ayache. Right: Art Dubai director Antonia Carver.

Left: Jean-Paul Najar Foundation's director Deborah Najar and curator Jessamyn Fiore. Right: Marker artists Lena Cobangbang and Wawi Navarroza, curator Ringo Bunoan, and 99B Collaboratory's Marika Constantino.