Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones on the best exhibitions in 2014

Reza Aramesh, Action 137: 6:45pm, 3 May 2012, Ramla (detail), 2014, marble, concrete, 111 x 31 1/2".

AS MUSEUMS THINK “EXPERIENTIAL” in their tireless quest for greater footfall and art fairs steadily concoct unexpected “live” attractions and “project” components, all my top shows for 2014 were almost conspicuously understated. Each seemed deeply introspective and so racked by dissent, dissatisfaction, and doubt that they nearly offered an anti-stance to the 2014 zeitgeist of Gulf capitalism and its blithe consumerist emporiums.

London-based, Iranian artist Reza Aramesh gave Dubai an antimonument (“The Whistle of Souls, A Play that Never Starts,” Leila Heller Gallery Pop-Up Space, March 17 to April 17, 2014). In a dusty, derelict warehouse on the outer fringes of the city’s industrial zone, a lone, Carrara marble statue gleamed atop a concrete plinth. The figure, stripped to his underwear, his face masked by an upturned T-shirt, is an uneasy pairing of sacred sculpture and conflict imagery, of religion and reportage. As Art Week caroused through Dubai, propelled by the Art Dubai fair at its commercial heart, this pared-down, off-the-beaten-track show probed a different kind of engagement through this unlikely “proposal for a public sculpture.”

Charbel-joseph H. Boutros was an antipresence (“I guess that dreams are always there,” Grey Noise, May 10 to June 30, 2014). The show was a chronicle of absence: a pair of the artist’s shoes with a thermometer nestled inside, two vials containing a tear from each eye, a smoked cigarette forlornly pegged into the wall. For all his minimalist restraint, H. Boutros speaks volumes—of authorship, Conceptualism, truth, and trust. In absence, we never know where we stand.

Babak Golkar was decidedly antimarket (The Return Project, The Third Line, September 24 to November 8, 2014). In a vandalistic swipe against consumerism, Golkar presented everyday items that he altered, certified with a note (lo! a work of art!), and subsequently reintroduced into the consumer stream by returning them for a full refund. Wryly elbowing the art market itself, the artist did not sign the photographic prints that hung on the gallery walls—one of each original item, another of each tampered artwork—preferring instead to sign the receipt attesting to the return (and refund). Devilishly delayering systems of value, here Golkar toyed with economic order to critique a flawed consumer culture. “It all started,” he once confided, “because I was dissatisfied with the choice I had as a consumer. I always thought I could do better.”

New York–born and Paris-bred, Kevin Jones is an independent arts writer who has lived in the Middle East for the past eight years.