Art / iran

Art 13 Fair, London Weighing in on Middle Eastern Arts

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Zhu Jinshi, Boat (2012)

1-3rd March, London Olympia saw a quick flash of international interest as a new fair hit town. Art 13 brought together roughly 100 galleries from 29 different countries including the Asia Pacific, the Middle East and South Africa regions. At first we were excited as Art-13 is the name of a WWII radio transmitter, and felt this might indicate the nature of some of the content but as it transpired, there was little sound or radio art on display. However the fair pleasantly surprised us by exhibiting 70% galleries that were showing  in London for the very first time, and also for being so heavily made up of art from the MENASA region. Unlike the Frieze, the fair was spacious and many booths had darker walls with less harsh lighting. The idea that you can go up to the first floor and look across the ground floor and map out your meanderings is really refreshing, plus there several large scale and notable pieces that stood out form every angle, Boat by Zhu Jinshi pictured and El Anatsui’s easily recognisable and glimmering spread this time much higher up than we’d first seen it in the October Gallery. It’s a common complaint about the Frieze, as you can hear in our panel discussions here. Having broadcast from inside the Frieze for 5-6 years in a row, the effects the bright strip lights and the white walls have on your brain is singular. At Art 13 however, although it yet has none of the prestige of Frieze, the atmosphere was markedly more user-friendly, spacious and down to earth. Blue Chips left outside please.

Hazem Harb, Inside-Outside Series, 2012. Courtesy Athr Gallery

Hazem Harb, Inside-Outside Series, 2012. Courtesy Athr Gallery

Representing were Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s leading contemporary art gallery Athr Gallery making it’s big London debut in the ‘London First‘ section, which they then followed up with a strong presence at Art Dubai. Athr also made its mark at Art 13 with a talk on “Saudi Arabia and Contemporary Art: Reaching Out”, on contemporary Saudi art from inception to today. As with many countries in the region the tensions between modernisation and traditions is one that is felt on every level, from town planning to the micro customs within the family. They also addressed, presumably with a view to improving international interest in Saudi, the practicalities of exhibiting art in today’s Saudi Arabia. Athr showed works by Hazem Harb, (b.1980 Gaza) in a solo show called “Impossible Travel, Me and the Other Half & Inside-Outside“, a presentation involving conceptual images and video installation of a hypothetical wall standing in his home country Palestine. We’ve invited him on the show when he returns  later in the year, stay tuned!

ArtSpace and Art Sawa are also ones to look out for. If you get a chance to go upstairs there’s a particularly interesting section showing films and sculpture.  How refreshing, for a capital without a biennial, there’s certainly a need for an event with the scale and scope of this fair. Director Stephanie Dieckvoss told me she’s gearing up for another one next year, we are looking forward.

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