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Issue 7, Dubai. Art Week

Dubai Modern. La Modernité,
des autres, Retrouvée

13 March 2017
Abdelkader Guermaz, Dunes Perverses 1978 – Oil on canvas, 161×129 cm – Courtesy Elmarsa

Modernity beyond the West remains relatively unexplored territory. A largely theoretical contribution was made by Roger Buergel, curator of Documenta 12. In 2007. He started out with the creation of Documenta which contained a series of questions he put to himself and to the public, the first of which was ‘Is Modernity our Antiquity?’
Put this way, the meaning is historiographical, but following this the questions became more complex and numerous, until the question is reached ‘What Modernity?” therefore, how much has western culture influenced modernity outside the West?
And if today the institutions have a debt to pay regarding modernity beyond the West, those who have faced the situation and continue to do so in an exhaustive way are the market, the galleries and the auction houses.
Much of the merit for this certainly goes to Art Dubai which has, for some years now, had a modern section, with works of the highest level, worthy of museum collections.

Raza, Bindu-Germination, 1986 – courtesy of Grosvenor Gallery

Every booth tells a story, and in this way Art Dubai takes the form of a small precious art history manual.
This year the Grosvenor Gallery in London holds just one show dedicated to the work of the Indian artist Sayed Haider Raza (1922-2016).
Raza is one of India’s best known modern artists, and in the second half of the 20th. century his works could be found in such major American collections as the Fuller Collection, the June and John Lewis Collection, the Weisblat Collection and the Guyer Family Collection.
When Raza founded, in 1947, together with M.H. Husain, K.H. Ara and F. N. Souza, the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, India’s first modern art movement, he was already very well-known in India. In the mid-fifties he moved to Paris, where he stayed for over thirty years. He lived in contact with the worldwide artistic masters of avant-garde art, gaining inspiration from contemporary western artists, but he remained forever tied to his own Muslim Indian culture. In the Grosvenor Gallery booth there are some emblematic works of his, amongst which Germination Bindu of the Bindu series, begun in the 70s when Raza gave life to new research in abstract art. Bindu was the seed – a font of energy which relaunched the artist following a time of deep reflection as a man and as an artist, but above all, Bindu, through its painting became, a patrimony of humanity.

Still in the theme of Indian modernity, the story, looked at on a different level, continues in the stand DAG Modern containing the works of G.R. Santosh (1929 – 1997) and Biren De (1926 – 2011).
These artists were exceptional colourists, both influenced by cubism and working in perfect harmony with international cultural models. However their artistic practices didn’t manage to get away from indigenous Indian traditions and from the Tantra culture. Santosh loved the narrative and his canvases were the perfect medium for telling the stories of his native Kashmir. For years Biren De painted people and the Indian life he knew, moving on towards the Tantra and the adoption of holistic representation.

African Modernity has also found space over the years at Dubai Modern. Ayo Adeyinka, director of the Tafeta Gallery in London, which had already exhibited one of Nigeria’s foremost modern artists, Bruce Onobrakpeya (born in 1932). His wood sculptures were a big success at the fair, as they had been with collectors at London auctions and Arthouse in Nigeria. Tafeta returns with a selection of works by Muraina Oylami (born in 1940) and Ben Osawe (born in 1931), whose fame is tied to the Nigerian Oshogbo School, between 1960 and 1970. Both artists were heavily influenced by western Modernity. Ben Osawe was trained and formed at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, although his artistic past preceded that, as his father was a sculptor. Osawa is himself a sculptor and an extraordinarily skillful drawer.

Muraina Oyelami, Sango Festival, courtesy of Tafeta Gallery

In Oshogbo, Muraina Oyelami worked in contact with many western expatriates who were based in Nigeria. Ulli Beier, professor at the University of Ibadan, Jean Kennedy Walford, an American woman who opened in Lagos, on the western model, one of the first salons where artists and collectors met to talk about not only African but also international art. Oyelami worked deeply and fervently on the basis of a double stylistic and pictorial model – African and western – whilst always remaining firmly African. It has been said that Oyelami was so deeply involved in his continuous search, that he destroyed works which he felt were not a complete success.

The Elmarsa gallery of Tunis and Dubai brought in North African Modernity through the paintings of the Tunisian Aly Ben Salem (1910 – 2001) and the Algerian Abdelkader Guermaz (1919 – 1996). Their artistic history took shape in a cultural context characterized by the dual influence of their own country and of French colonialism. For both of them, at the end of the colonial period, the intention was to mediate between the two cultures, but in truth they remained a blend of the two; Salem with his strong representation and Guermaz totally dedicated to abstraction.

Aly Ben Salem, Dancing women, Circa 1950s, Gouache on paper – 76×55 cm, Courtesy Elmarsa

You can get lost investigating the history of modern Iranian art. Many artists, travelled all around the world to develop and find work. One good example is the sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, born in 1937, who studied and then taught at the Accademia di Brera in Milan at the end of the 1950s. At that time the top names in Italian art lived and worked in Milan, including, to name just one, Lucio Fontana. Tanavoli’s works are both in the permanent collections of international museums and they top lots at auctions.

At Art Dubai, the Aria Gallery of Teheran chose to present the works of Garnik Der Hacopian (born 1944) and Sonia Balassanian (born 1942) both of whom are Iranian artists of Armenian origin.
Hacopian was a front line figure in the construction of modernity in his country. At the height of his career he decided to work in solitude and not to exhibit his works; in 2016 came back with a show at the Aria Gallery. At Dubai Modern the gallery proposes a set of works dating from the late 80s, many of them on wood, abstract, where the artist experiments an ephemeral dialogue of daily life with reality, especially with nature.

Differently from many other countries in the area, In the Middle East there are numerous female artists and many of them are well-known. Among them we find Sonia Balassanian, painter and sculptor, who has always preferred the abstract model. Her work, dating from the 70s, is exhibited in the booth.

It’s difficult in a short article to summarise the many art stories which are told at Dubai Modern – better to think of it as an incipit to an art history manual which is yet to be completed in many of its parts.

Issue 7, Dubai. Art Week

Dubai. Alserkal Avenue.
The new cultural hub.

11 March 2017

My first encounter with Alserkal Avenue goes back to 2011. I was in Dubai to cover the Art Dubai fair. I knew very little about Alserkal Avenue. I wanted to see some galleries, but especially the Salsali Private Museum. I took a taxi there. Chatting with the Pakisthani driver I discovered he had family in Italy, near Venice, but that he’d never been there. He wanted to know what I was going to Alserkal Avenue for, and informed me that Al Quoz, the neighbourhood it’s situated in, was an industrial area. I told him I wanted to visit a museum. He said nothing. He dropped me off on the side of the road and wished me a good day.

At the entrance to the avenue, from the warehouses that formed several alleys, came the sound of mechanical instruments. At the time, some of the spaces were occupied by industrial atéliers.

Concrete, by OMA, 2017, courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

The Salsali Museum – the only contemporary art museum in Dubai – was near the beginning of the central alley. Ramin Salsali’s private collection was being exhibited, the works almost all by Iranian and other Middle Eastern artists. The names and works were unfamiliar to me: all I knew about modern Middle Eastern artists was what I had learned at Christie’s in Dubai. As far as Contemporary Middle Eastern art goes, I was indebted to the Venice Biennale, which had allowed given the international public a glimpse of it.

In 2011, there weren’t yet many galleries: there was Ayyam, which also had a branch in Damascus. There were Carbon 12, Isabella van den Einde, and the gallerist of Hassan Sharif (Dubai 1951-2016), the master and pioneer of conceptual art in the UAE. In the 1980s, Sharif founded the Emirates Fine Art Society, a critical component at the basis of the UAE contemporary art scene.

Concrete, by OMA, 2017, courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

I wandered around Alserkal Avenue, not really knowing what to do there. It was buzzing. When I left, the feeling that stayed with me was that I if I came back the following year it wouldn’t be the same. A taxi was called for me. As I got in, I noticed that my feet, in their Rossetti sandals, were covered in dust.

I went back to Alserkal Avenue every year I came to Art Dubai, and spent longer every time. I met and discovered extraordinary artists, like Reza Derakshani, Imran Qureshi and Nazgol Ansarinia. For a European, Alserkal Avenue has an authenticity missing in Dubai. It’s a place of meetings and exchanges, that immediately feels familiar.

The history of the Avenue is recent: it was founded in 2007 by Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, who decided to dedicate a part of the industrial area that belonged to his family, to the creation of a center to remedy the lack of cultural spaces in Dubai. In the space of a decade, the Avenue has grown into a cultural ecosystem unparalleled in the UAE.

Nowadays the ex-industrial area hosts the most important names in Modern and Contemporary Art and their Middle Eastern colleagues. More and more often, the showrooms are sponsored by well-known names in the art world: the Jean Paul Najar Foundation warehouse is under the Marcel Brauer & Associates studio. The Foundation focuses on western art from the 60s to the 90s.

Concrete, by OMA, 2017, courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

The New York gallerist Leila Heller chose the Avenue as the venue to open the UAEs biggest gallery. She presents her top artists here, including Ghada Amer and Tony Cragg. Third Line, the first gallery to open in Dubai, has moved to the Avenue and has held some amazing exhibitions, including those of Monir S. Farmanfarmaia’s and of Tarek Al Ghoussein’s work. It is increasingly clear that the Avenue is a frontier of art. Showcase gallery held Ukama, an exhibition centering on the Contemporary stone sculptures of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.

Wandering through the alleys, you come across ‘Les Arches’, a metal work by Bernar Venet, nonchalantly laid outside the Custot gallery. It immediately brings to mind his installations on the Promenade and in the parks of Nice.

Concrete, by OMA, 2017, courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

At the Custot gallery can also be seen the abstract works of Nicolas De Stael, whose canvases fetch several million dollars at auction; and Ian Davenport’s Poured Lines, as well as Josef Albers. It also houses the canvases of the Modern painter Chu Teh Chun, an expatriate Chinese artist considered, along with Zao Wou-Ki, one of the great masters of abstract art of the 900s. Both are members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Their works attract fervid bidding in auctions of Impressionist and international Modern art.

That the Avenue was in perennial transformation became very clear in 2012, when Abdelmonem Alserkal announced an investment of $40 million in a project for expansion of the area. The pavilion Concrete, designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA studio, was built off the foundations of a group of warehouses. I am told that Concrete was not designed as a museum but as a polyvalent space for art and culture. Mr. Alserkal points out that Alserkal Avenue is to be a non-profit set up. This doesn’t surprise me.

Concrete’s inaugural exhibition, entitled Syria: into the Light, is dedicated to the works of Syrian Modern and Contemporary artists and is built around the Atassi Foundation collection. Among the well-known names are those of the Modern masters Fateh Moudarres (1922-99) and Louy Kayyali (1934-78), both of whom, unlike their Middle Eastern contemporaries who studied in Paris, chose to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. It was the second half of the fifties, and Rome was where Fontana, Burri, Uncini and Mimmo Rotella were working. Before I leave Alserkal Avenue I can’t miss visiting the warehouse of the graffiti artist El Seed, whose calligraphy works I love.

Here, my visit ends. A taxi is called for me. As I get in I notice that my feet, in their Rossetti sandals, are not covered in dust. This makes me think: everything truly has changed in Alserkal Avenue.

Issue 7, Dubai. Art Week

Odyssey of People. Don’t call it, just an artwork.

10 March 2017
Odyssey of People – Courtesy of Christie’s

In its upcoming auction in Dubai, Christie’s presents an impressive, emblematic painting by Ismail Shammout (1930-2006): Odyssey of People.

Painted in 1980, the canvas, reading from right to left as if in the Arabic language, retraces the historical events that have unfolded within Palestinian history, from the Nakba, the subsequent wars of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

This is juxtaposed against a sense of hope and unity under the symbol of the Palestinian flag and Kuffiyeh, all the way to a dreamlike expression of liberation and hope in peace and freedom.
It was Shammout’s intention to map out the odyssey of his own people and represent his dream of returning home which was never to be realised in his lifetime.

Born under the British Mandate of Palestine, Shammout and his family were amongst the 25,000 residents of Lydda who fled their homes in 1948 and were relocated to the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. Shammout then later moved to neighbouring Egypt and then Rome to study art. Upon his return to Gaza three years later, he established himself as a distinguished painter and activist. After pursuing his studies further in Rome, he settled in Beirut where he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization as the Director of Arts and National Culture in 1965, while also holding the positions of Secretary General of the Union of Palestinian Artists and Secretary General of the Union of Arab Artists. Additionally, he established Art in Palestine, one of the first English-language publications on Palestinian art. After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Shammout then relocated to Kuwait, where he was once again forced to leave in the wake of the Gulf War (1990 -1991). He finally settled in Amman until his untimely death.

The 6 meter long artwork recalls the history of Palestine as well as the life experiences of this important master of Arab Modern Art. This painting was first exhibited in 1981 in Dar Al-Karama in Beirut, later travelling on loan to  Damascus, Malaysia, Kuwait, the Jordan National Museum, Abu Dhabi and finally Ramallah. It was at this final location in 2002, on the day of an Israeli incursion, that the painting was quickly hidden and folded away by the director of the museum in a pillow case and was not displayed publicly since.

The right place for such an important artwork is a museum. I hope it will part of a museum collection and shown to people.

Issue 6, FONDAZIONE La Fabbrica del Cioccolato. OLIVER RESSLER, "Confronting Confort's Continent"

La Fabbrica del Cioccolato FOUNDATION. OLIVER RESSLER, “Confronting Comfort’s Continent”

5 August 2016

Blenio Valley, the Chocolate Factory. Art and life stories of yesterday and today.

The chocolate factory Cima Norma in Brenio Valley, home to La Fabbrica del Cioccolato foundation, is one of those places that leave visitors breathless, at least for a short while, for its human and entrepreneurial history. The factory was originally built as San Salvatore brewery in 1882. It was then used for different purposes, until it became la Fabrique de Chocolat Cima in 1903 and became part of the history of Brenio Valley, before closing in 1968.

The former chocolate factory is currently a beautiful example of industrial archaeology; it speaks the language of culture and contemporary art, always openly interacting with the valley’s territory and inhabitants.

002 ph Carola Merello

Courtesy of Oliver Ressler, Confronting Comfort’s Continent

On 4 August the factory hosted the opening of Confronting Comfort’s Continent, an anthological exhibition dedicated to the films of the Austrian artist Oliver Ressler.

Ressler tells stories of today, about life and lives, which a few people feel like telling because it is difficult, it cannot be summarised by the news, it needs to be studied and it requires commitment and bravery. Ressler’s work is defined as “political art”.

Franco Marinotti, entrepreneur, art collector and expert, is the artistic director of La Fabbrica del Cioccolato foundation. Ressler and Marinotti have known each other for a long time. It came almost naturally to organise this exhibition at the factory.

Franco Marinotti told us how it happened.

La Fabbrica del Cioccolato (The Chocolate Factory). You are extremely familiar with factories. You are an entrepreneur and, above all, you come from a family of historical entrepreneurs, the factory belongs to you, it is in your DNA, like art.

You have supported several projects throughout the years and with La Fabbrica del Cioccolato you have gone back to the factory, in a way. How was this project born?

The story of La Fabbrica del Cioccolato is slightly different. I have not personally invested in the project, but I was offered the opportunity to manage it as artistic director and vice president. The project is funded by two people: Giovanni Casella Piazza and Stefano Dell’Orto.

The idea is that art can be the starting point for the requalification of a historic structure and the economic growth of Blenio Valley, a territory that needs to rethink its role within the socio-economic environment both at cantonal and at federal level.

Do you believe that such a project can become an economic resource for the village and renew it?

Art per se has this function. We do not work as museums, which can host both contemporary and historic artwork; we require artists to refer to the local environment, to understand its history and reality.

How do you involve local people? Of course you know that developing a social project implies dealing with social issues…

In different ways. As long as administrative issues are concerned, we cooperated with a local institution involved in the reintegration of unemployed people to search for human resources. As long as exhibitions are concerned, we cooperate with local workforce and artisans; we produce here everything we can produce here.

We can say that you could not resist when they asked you to become the artistic director of the foundation, for you already knew this extraordinary place, excellent example of industrial archaeology, still marked by the presence of the people who worked here, like all factories. Right?

The new owners knew my interests and my involvement with contemporary art, so they offered me the artistic director’s role.

The factory was per se a very lively place.

The factory’s main building has a 5.700 sq m wide surface, approximately half of which is owned by the foundation; the rest of it belongs to the lofts and who lives in them: inhabitants, artists, artisans. Over time, a real community, not only an artistic one, has established. Half of the factory is an exhibition space and, to answer your question, the story of this place is extraordinary and fascinating. The board thought it was the right place to work on the requalification of Blenio Valley.

Are you once again making yourself available for art, but with a different role, different from the role of the collector, who makes himself or herself for art?

We can say so…


Courtesy of Oliver Ressler, Confronting Comfort’s Continent

I remember very well that in a previous interview you noted that you are not a collector, but a “collector who makes himself available for art”…

I invested a lot in art throughout the years. But there is a difference between me and a traditional collector. I used to produce a project, when I was interested in it. A collector buys artwork he or she likes. The difference lies in the fact that I spent money “for” art. My commitment aimed at making an artist’s project possible. A collector usually spends money for himself or herself.

So, you do not own anything over time, besides Proustian memories?

I own the pleasure of having produced artwork, which is an intangible pleasure. I’ll tell you something: when I made the decision to buy a work of art, I derived pleasure from buying it, but I did not need to possess it. When I bought works of art gallerists had to call me several times to make me collect them.

When I think about the years when I opened the gallery in Berlin (Play Gallery For Still and Motion Pictures), I remember the pleasure of having organised the exhibitions I wanted to organise, having talked about art in a non-conventional fashion (among the exhibitions produced by Franco Marinotti is the project “Disobedience” and “Do It Right”, dedicated to the work of Guatemalan artist Anibal Lopez). I did not sell many works, but I am not an art dealer.

Rumours say you did not want to sell…

Rumours… but I do not remember rumours. Maybe sometimes they are true… Yes, selling was not a priority, now we can say that.

You inherited your passion for art from your family, didn’t you?

Art has always been a passion for my family. My father Paolo used to be a great collector. But not in the traditional way. The works he used to collect were always produced by artists whom he knew really well. Karel Appel (1921-2006) and Asger Jorn (1914-1973) (Jorn, like Lucio Fontana, lived for several year in Albisola, close to Savona, where he worked with ceramic producers, who used to be at that time among the most important ones in Europe), the German group Gruppe Spur. All these artists spent a lot of time at our place. They spent time with us in Milan, in Venice and on Como Lake.

My father was passionate about collecting works of art; he did not exploit the economic system to make money from art.

Then, the artists he used to know became famous and their work extremely requested.

But it was different at that time and art market was not a stock market. Sometimes I buy catalogues in museums and I find works of art produced at my place. I remember the way they were born, and the conversations that surrounded them.

(After the Second World Was Marinotti family bought Palazzo Grassi in Venice and Paolo Marinotti turned it into an international exhibition centre, “the Centre for Arts and Costume”. Part of the entrepreneur’s work at Palazzo Grassi is described in the book of Stefano Collicelli Cagol “Venezia e la Vitalità del Contemporaneo’. Paolo Marinotti a Palazzo Grassi 1959-67”.

Let us go back to La Fabbrica del Cioccolato: the foundation has organised several exhibitions. What is the impact on the audience?

The feedback we have received have exceed our expectations. We are now going to find out if it there is a real interest or if it is only a matter of curiosity. The valley is reacting. The message I am trying to communicate is that the project belongs to the local inhabitants; it is for the valley.


Courtesy of Oliver Ressler, Confronting Comfort’s Continent

The new exhibition is dedicated to Oliver Ressler, an artist whose work is always referring to the stories of people and is also strongly connected to politics…

Oliver Ressler has collaborated with several very famous galleries and museums. He is an activist, whose work is extremely socially and politically fine. But it is also a historical narration. Ressler shows untold episodes of contemporary history.

For sure, political art has always had a very important role in history. Even part of Picasso’s work was about politics… do you like Picasso?

Yes and no. I watched a film where Picasso painted a glass with a black paintbrush; it had an incredible expressive strength, he did not say a word. He painted. I have never found that film again.

The last question. The foundation draws attention towards the concept of “foreignness”. So what?

It is an English term that cannot be translated into Italian; the correct term would be “estraneità”, which in our case represents the idea of being out of context, not belonging. Such concept is clearly present in Ressler’s work.

Foreignness, is a sort of fine arts festival, and analyses the interaction between art and territory, meant as evolving cultural, social and political heritage.

Blenio valley has undergone several changes throughout the years, sometimes even from the morphological point of view, connected to the history and closing of the factory, which used to employ many people, some of whom came from other towns and villages to work. The inhabitants of the valley used to be experts in producing chocolate and brought their experience all over the world. Several chocolate factories in the world were founded by entrepreneurs from Blenio valley.

The idea of foreignness here means bringing something belonging to your history out of its context. This is Foreignness, too.

Issue 5, Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne Claude. The Floating Piers, Lake Iseo. Patron, Umberta Beretta, talks about the project with Christo.

5 June 2016
Umberta Gniutti Beretta e Christo Umberta Gniutti Beretta e Christo

Forty years on and, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are back in Italy with a work designed for Lake Iseo, a water project, entitled The Floating Piers, a three kilometres walkway floating on the surface of the lake.

“The concept had existed in my head for a long time”, explains the artist, who says he had been contemplating it since the 1970s. And Lake Iseo in the province of Brescia was the ideal place. Unlike other works, The Floating Piers has taken shape very fast, thanks to the support and help of local authorities and the involvement of Franco and Umberta Beretta, longtime friends and collectors of Christo and Jeanne-Claudes’ work.

The Floating Piers is the seventh in a series of interventions interacting with water. The first was Wrapped Coast in Sydney, Australia (1968-69); followed by Running Fence, Sonora and Marin Counties, California (1972-76); Oceanfront, in Newport, Rhode Island (1974); The Pont Neuf Wrapped, in Paris (1975-85); Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Great Miami (1980-83); and Over the River, at Arkansas River, Colorado (1992).

All these projects and their plans are shown in the anthological exhibition Christo and Jeanne-Claude Water Projects, curated by Germano Celant, housed in the magnificent spaces of the Museo di Santa Giulia in Brescia.

People have always played a key role in the extraordinary history of Christo and Jeanne-Claudes’ works. Important among these are the artists’ friends, who have all contributed in some way to the creation of their works worldwide. Umberta Gnutti Beretta’s mediation and practicle efforts make her a leading figure in the construction of The Floating Piers, so it seemed only right that she should conduct the opening conversation with Christo in this artmarket-blogmag new feature.

It is a free-flowing dialogue, in which the artist’s recollections, the present and objective reality, mingle in a sort of stream of consciousness. The conversation took place in the evocative atmosphere of the Isola di San Paolo, where work on the construction of the piers began, to a background sound of waves and the creaking of the floating jetty.


Workers start to encircle the island of San Paolo with the first floating elements

Workers start to encircle the island of San Paolo with the first floating elements


Umberta Gnutti Beretta: My first question is personal. You’ve carried out projects all over the world, and there’s always been a planning phase and a technical or manual phase, with the actual construction of the work involving a lot of people. Has it ever happened that something – not necessarily your fault, but, for example, one of the members of the team causing hold-ups in production or in the way the project was meant to be carried out?

Christo: Your question hits the nail on the head in the sense that our projects are all complex and unique. Nobody knows how to build them. Each project involves a variety of manual and technical skills. Every new art work that Jeanne-Claude and I conceive is a voyage. An adventure. When we start we don’t know how it will be executed.

One of the most important aspects in this process is building the team that will actually make the art work, then there’s a part that involves obtaining permission from various local authorities. Once the team has been put together, we start thinking about the technical aspects and we have to find people who understand what it is we want to do and each one will have a different task, their own specialization.

This part is a fundamental piece of the puzzle, if one of these people is missing it’s difficult to make up for the shortcoming. Here on Lake Iseo, the team is made up of young people from a Bulgarian sports academy, and they all have different skills. Look over there, as we’re talking, that scuba diver is preparing to go down and anchor the pier to the bottom of the lake. People are fundamental to this work in every way. To answer your question, I certainly do worry about something creating a hold-up.

The Floating Piers is a project that Jeanne-Claude and I started thinking about in the seventies, but never managed to carry out. We’ve finally been able to now thanks to your help. It was the same in New York, and Michael Bloomberg helped out. So it isn’t just in the technical phase, it’s also in the planning phase that the work is shared with a number of people who all contribute to the creation of the project.

Just think, when we got here for the first time, we didn’t know what The Floating Piers would be like. How the project will come out in the end can’t be planned around a table, because the scale model is different to how the project actually works in real life.

Our projects involve also a ‘secret life test’, they need to be tested, and we were able to try out the idea for The Floating Piers thanks to the help of a friend who has a property with a small lake on it in Germany, near the Danish border. This is where we did the first test of the work on a one to one scale. Not with these materials, which are of a very high quality, it was just to see what the work would be like.


UGB: Work that involves, in different ways, a lot of people…

C: Like many others, this isn’t just an art work, although it has something to do with painting and sculpture. Somebody defined this kind of work an architectural project, and that’s also true. Sometimes our works aren’t understood because they don’t fit into a museum.

Our projects are designed for spaces, they go into the space and change their context and the perception we have of it. It’s exactly as Jeanne-Claude often said, we come into the space and we borrow the space.

Our work intertwines with people’s lives and the spectator’s excitement is part of the aesthetic of the project itself. The Floating Piers isn’t a film, it’s something living, that people have physical contact with, it’s more than 3km of walkway on the water, where you can walk on piers and, through them, physically feeling the motion of the water.


At the headquarters in Montecolino, construction workers assemble the piers

At the headquarters in Montecolino, construction workers assemble the piers


UGB: As you yourself explained, your work is divided into a theoretical part, designing in the studio and then the actual production of the work. Which of these do you find most captivating personally, or emotionally?

C: Yes, all our projects have two distinct periods, the “software” period and a “hardware” period. In the software period, the work only exists inside my mind, sometimes it arose from an idea of Jeann-Claude’s, sometimes it was my idea, and in this phase, it begins to take on its own identity. In some cases,  the software period lasts a long time, like for the Reichstag, where lack of permission from the authorities stopped things. So the work was re-conceptualized, re-studied, re-designed, and it existed in my head and on paper. Thinking about it in the different moments and periods of its life brings back the feelings. After twenty-four years, the authorities finally gave their permission to go ahead and the production phase began. Then we were involved with the space, weather conditions, sun,  wind, rain, and in this phase there are many feelings, all different, with different types of involvement. For The Floating Piers, as with other works, at the beginning we didn’t know what the final result would be like. We knew on paper, but every work acquires an identity of its own during the production phase. All our works are in relation to an urban or a natural space. In the software phase, carried out in the studio, we can only imagine how the project will react with its context. Now, on the lake, we can clearly feel the movement of the water under our feet. This sensation was something we could only imagine during the planning phase in the studio. This generates excitement. At the moment the technicians are putting together the section of pier that connects the edge of the island to the lake shore…and this also exciting. When we first came here, with you, to see Lake Iseo, it was very exciting. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question, I can only say that it is the making of the work of art that excites me, it is what we are doing here, when you see the work grow, not the 15 days of final presentation of the work. 


UGB: What is it, in your opinion, that makes a work of art particularly successful?

C: Over fifty years, Jean-Claude and I made 22 projects, and had 27 refused. Sometimes they ask me how come only 22 projects in all these years of work, and it’s clear that the art milieu has no idea of what it means to carry out a project this big. Success, as whether or not people like an art work can’t be measured, whereas the number of people who visit a project can. Millions of people came to see the Reichstag in Berlin. At The Umbrellas, in Japan, it was incredible. People came with picnics, it was really experienced in a very natural way, people took off their shoes while they had their picnic, like they do at home, so there was a real feeling of familiarity between the public and the art work. In the different parts of the world where we’ve had art works, people have related to them in different ways, without constraints. There’s no ticket to pay for, so access is absolutely free. Does this combination of factors guarantee success? Perhaps. But what success is, I can’t tell you.


A diver connects a rope to one of the anchors on the lakebed to keep the piers in place

A diver connects a rope to one of the anchors on the lakebed to keep the piers in place


UGB.: Now I’m going to ask you a difficult question. I’m going to say three words that have a profound meaning in your work…

C.: A poetic question?


UGB.: The first word is “love/passion”. The second is “dream”. The third is “happiness”.

C.: They go together. When you carry out a project, as an artist and as a human being, these three elements merge.


UGB.: About the word “dream”?

C.: That’s an interesting question. People sometimes think my works are a dream. But it’s not true. That may seem odd, because although we haven’t been able to produce a lot of our projects, when I think about a project, I think of it as being possible to make, not as a dream. Because basically each one is very simple.


(editor’s note: all of Christo and Jeanne Claudes’ works have been financed entirely by the artist from the proceeds of sales of the plans of the project).

All the images are courtesy of Christo and Jeanne-Claude (


Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Floating Piers. Lago d’Iseo. Sulzano, Monte Isola, Isola di San Paolo.

June 18 – July 3, 2016


Christo e Jean Claude. Water Projects.

Museo di Santa Giulia. Brescia


Public transport to reach The Floating PiersFrom Milan, by train: special tickets costing 13€ [Trenord Day Pass] and 26€ [Family Day Pass] and with the special fare of 7€ return Brescia-Sulzano available to purchase online, from ticket offices, from self-service ticket machines and authorized agents.



Issue 4, African Art

Art Fair. 1:54 New York.
A Conversation with Touria El Glaoui, founder and director of the fair.

5 May 2016
Abdulayé Konaté, "Composition Bleu", detail, courtesy of Marella Gallery. 2016 Abdulayé Konaté, “Composition Bleu”, detail, courtesy of Marella Gallery. 2016

The name of the fair, 1:54, refers to the geography of Africa. One continent, 54 states, many of which are represented at the fair thanks to art galleries, foundations or nonprofit projects. Started in 2013 by Touria El Glaoui, !:54 has rapidly become the international reference point for modern and contemporary African art. Touria El Glaoui tells us how it happened…


Can you introduce 1:54? How did the fair start, what prompted you?

As a platform dedicated to promoting contemporary African art, 1:54 is the first of its kind in Europe and the US. The inaugural edition took place at Somerset House in 2013, but its conception began much earlier.

Launching 1:54 was driven by a desire for a sustainable, yet flexible platform that would bring contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora to an international audience. I hoped that the fair would act as a consolidated space for galleries and art spaces to showcase the incredible talent of emerging and established artists from the continent, from the diaspora and those connected to Africa. As an art fair, I believe that 1:54 is an unrivalled opportunity to raise artists’ profiles, lend visibility to their career and initiate top public commissions.

Abdulayé Konaté, "Composition", courtesy of Marella Gallery. 2016

Abdulayé Konaté, “Composition”, courtesy of Marella Gallery. 2016


Indeed/For sure. 1:54 now has two editions, a very established one in London and one in New York, which is on its second year. Can you please summarize the differences between these two editions of the fair?

Each edition is sensitive to its surroundings. Pioneer Works is more intimate in scale compared with the London edition. As an art space Pioneer Works is incredibly active, with a creative, local  community already invested in engaging with its programme. Somerset House is different in that respect, but benefits from its architectural status as a national treasure and as 1:54’s ‘home’; in London it’s formed in and of itself. New York is exciting for us because it’s a different audience and yet there are many visitors invested in 1:54 who manage to experience both the London and New York editions, which is special. With both editions, we’re in a good position with Frieze taking place concurrently and working with Artsy allows us to expand our outreach even further in an online capacity.


African art is well known internationally and is more and more often chosen by curators for exhibitions and biennials. But 1:54 has changed the prospective of the art market. The fair has become the starting point for deeper reflection on the African art market and on art collecting…

Institutional interest toward African artists is significant in the States, and in New York alone there are several museums dedicated to showing artists from Africa and the diaspora. This makes a huge difference in terms of interest towards the platform, our collector base and the acquisition of artworks.


Pefuna. "NON STOP CITY", 2016. Systèmes & Métasystèmes, Dak’Art, 2016

Pefuna. “NON STOP CITY”, 2016.
Systèmes & Métasystèmes, Dak’Art, 2016


What relationship does the fair have with museum curators?

We have a museum and institutions preview, which is well-attended by curators from institutions across New York, and other states such as Boston, Washington, Texas and Illinois among others. We are dedicated to working with different publics, audiences and communities – a practice at the heart of museum activity. We also feature contributions from curators from museums and institutions in FORUM, our conversations programme curated by Koyo Kouoh (RAW Material Company, Dakar). Previous participants have included Franklin Sirmans (now Director of Pérez Art Museum Miami), Naima J. Keith (Studio Museum in Harlem) and Rujeko Hockley (Brooklyn Museum), in addition to Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi (Hood Museum) and Adrienne Edwards (Performa, New York and Walker Art Center), who join us again this year. This year’s FORUM includes a panel discussion titled ‘Museums and Contemporary African Art’ and explores practices in collecting, curating and display of contemporary art by African artists in American museums. Joining the panel are Karen Milbourne (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art), Kevin Dumouchelle (Brooklyn Museum), Yesomi Umolu (Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts) and Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi.


Now can we talk about the artists? How many artists are there and which African regions are represented in this edition of the fair?

The second edition in New York will highlight works by over 60 contemporary artists from Africa and the diaspora. Artists hail from a wide range of geographies including Angola, Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Ghana, Italy, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, USA and Zimbabwe.


Meschac Gaba, from the series ‘Tresses’, courtesy of Wereldmuseum 2015

Meschac Gaba, from the series ‘Tresses’, courtesy of Wereldmuseum 2015


1.54 is a young art fair, but I noted that especially in the London edition, quite a few galleries, especially African galleries, have been attending the fairs since the first edition and that’s interesting….

We welcome new applications every year and invite galleries to apply. Our London edition has evolved with each edition, from 17 exhibitors to 37 in October 2015. This signals the increasing demand for the market and the proliferation of dedicated galleries in the field. We are interested in highlighting new perspectives and every edition is different as a result. The field is both gaining recognition and evolving from what some may have considered its infant stage and that is incredible exciting for us.


In a previous conversation with Ben Genocchio, the Armory Show’s new director, I asked him about his idea of the art fair of the future. He said to me: ‘A transformative cultural experience, in a good way’. What direction does 1:54 have to take to be more successful and to make African Art more competitive on the international art market?

We are interested in complexity and multiplicity, as well as highlighting voices that aren’t necessarily provided a platform. We’re keen to retain the intimacy of 1:54 and that is why we are presenting 17 carefully-selected exhibitors for this edition. As a fair it has always been about the experience, taking your time to enjoy the works and having conversations with the artists and gallerists. In this respect, collaboration is key and we are invested in working with institutions, art spaces and media platforms to reflect the heterogeneity of artistic and cultural production from the continent and the diaspora.

Derrik Adams, ‘Please come back’, Courtesy of Galerie Anne de Vilzlepoix 2015

Derrik Adams, ‘Please come back’,
Courtesy of Galerie Anne de Villepoix

The highlights of this edition of 1:54?

Highlights for me include the Special Projects section, our series of curated events and project collaborations. It’s exciting as we can be really expansive with this section. Projects and events include book signings and presentation with artists Mickalene Thomas and Sue Williamson, ‘Transmissions’ in partnership with Dak’Art, and the 1:54 Lounge, which this year is being designed by Stephen Burks Man Made in partnership with DEDON. For the Lounge, Stephen Burks will bring together several of his Material Compositions designs with his Ahnda lounge seating collection for DEDON – many of these designs will be presented for the first time in a functional, yet playful installation.

In terms of artists, I couldn’t possibly choose! This edition will bring together incredible emerging talent with established names in a beautiful setting and all the artists’ works deserve engaging with on their own level.

New York

Issue 4, African Art

Art Gallery. Addis Fine Art.
Addis Ababa. Ethiopia

5 May 2016
Dawit Abebe, ‘Rank & Providence IV’, detail, 2015. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art. Dawit Abebe, ‘Rank & Providence IV’, detail, 2015. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Art galleries are a hotbed for talent in modern and contemporary art because of their pursuit and support of new artists. This is no less true of Addis Fine Art in Addis Ababa, founded by collector and project manager Rakeb Sile; and by curator and dealer Mesai Haileleul, a leading figure in the Addis Ababa cultural scene. Their work has given Ethiopian artists the opportunity to be recognized globally. We met with Rakeb Sile.


When and why did you decide it was the right moment to open an art gallery in Addis Ababa?

Addis Fine Art started in 2013. It was a response to requests for advice related to Ethiopian artists directed to both Mesai Haileleul (AFA co-founder) and I from institutions, galleries and individual collectors from all over. We realised that, whilst independent art institutions were increasing in number across Africa, there was a distinct shortage of Ethiopian art spaces, especially ones which actively engage with the wider international contemporary art world.

After three years of art consulting, we decided that we had to open a gallery emerging from a local space in the heart of Ethiopia’s capital. We wanted to champion modern and contemporary art from Ethiopia and its diaspora and simultaneously engage with global art market; to become a local space and international platform for artistic expression from this region.

Dawit Abebe, ‘Rank & Providence IV’, 2015. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Dawit Abebe, ‘Rank & Providence IV’, 2015. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Would you describe the contemporary art scene in Addis Ababa?

The number of local artists invited to participate in art fairs and to show their work in prominent galleries and museums around the world is unprecedented. International collectors are noticing and buying, whist local collectors are also spending significant amounts on artwork, which was unthinkable just a decade ago. The growing public participation in art related events is also very encouraging. The youth of the city, in particular, are the most visible participants, and the most receptive to new forms of expression that challenge traditional norms.  We are particularly excited by a new generation of artists from this region such as Dawit Abebe, Ephreme Solomon, Micheal Tsegaye, Leikun Nahusenay, Tamrat Gezahegne, Robel Temesgen, Aida Muluneh and many others who are influenced not only by their local contexts, but also use the exchange of international information and ideas as part of the creative process.


Can we talk about the work of the artists and the content of their works?

Our current show (on until 11 June), Process and Progression is by a very exciting young artist, Leikun Nahusenay (b.1982 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). Though wide-ranging in his choice of medium, Nahusenay’s exploration of the world’s opposing forces (light, dark; flesh, spirit; good, evil) and the futility of their reconciliation, grounds the collection of works. Using the checkerboard motif, Nahusenay probes the Biblical passage which illustrates the drunken gambling and revelry that took place underneath the cross during the Crucifixion. Using rows upon rows of black and white squares and etchings, he takes this meditation to a more secular context, as the alternating squares sinuously trace the calm repose of a woman seated behind a café table, clasping her mobile phone. In his photography, the use of double exposure, collage, and scratch-and-peel methods allows Nahusenay to create irreproducible, dreamlike worlds in which the spiritual ostensibly strains against, and spills into, the physical. The ghostlike rendering of a busy street scene hollows out the solid but battered exterior of a green and yellow public bus, in turn allowing us a glimpse into its inner function. A colorful market scene curdles and coagulates—its participants juxtaposed against the raw grains they will soon consume.  Nahusenay’s fascination with life’s cyclical nature, and its expression in physical spaces, is evident throughout the collection. Informed by the simple yet layered, circular structure of a traditional hut, his earliest works feature interposed cardboard shapes, each of various textures, sizes, and shades of taupe, suggesting movement, and a certain playfulness of perspective. This playfulness seeps into other pieces where Nahusenay quite literally offers us a window into a dark, tenuous landscape, albeit through the protective shield of a woman’s shawl.

Leikun Nahusenay, ‘Body vs Soul’, 2016. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Leikun Nahusenay, ‘Body vs Soul’, 2016. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art.

Our first show was the group show, Addis Calling, which ran from 9 January to 26 March. We aimed to celebrate the diversity of artistic practice here in Ethiopia through the presentation of works by seven contemporary artists who live and work in the capital city Addis Ababa. The exhibition was a vibrant mix of painting, photography and mixed media. Dawit Abebe’s (b. 1978, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) new series Rank and Providence, explores the relationship between society and those in positions of authority. His work is concerned with the visible imbalances of power in modern life. Yosef Lule (b. 1977, Assela, Ethiopia) explores the impact of urbanization on the traditions, religions, and lifestyles in his home city of Addis Ababa. Tamrat Gezahegne (b. 1977, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) studied under the esteemed Ethiopian artist Mezgebu Tesema and is known for the bold use of colour and the repetition of motifs that define his compositions. Gezahegne’s inspiration comes from the customs and traditions of indigenous tribes of the Omo Valley in Sounthern Ethiopia. Emanuel Tegene’s (b. 1985, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) pieces explore changing cultural dynamics in society and are deeply rooted in his own personal encounters. Mixed media artist Workneh Bezu (b. 1978, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) draws inspiration for many of his compositions from his own dreams. Figures in Bezu’s paintings are often immersed in a supernatural world. Michael Tsegaye (b. 1975, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) has an attentive voice in recording and documenting his rapidly changing surroundings. Series such as ‘Future Memories’ display his grasp of change and the shifting topography of the city over the last decade.


Can you give us an idea of the range of prices for the artists you represent as a gallerist?

Currently, our prices generally range from USD $500 – USD $10,000.

Leikun Nahusenay, 'Colour of Ethiopia', Somali, 2014. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art

Leikun Nahusenay, ‘Colour of Ethiopia’, Somali, 2014. Courtesy of Addis Fine Art

How did you choose the artists you represent? And what about the work of women artists?

The artists we work with tend to be contemporary artists, first and foremost. The fact that they are of Ethiopian origin is a point of departure, not the whole story. Some artists challenge the assumed “African” aesthetic and some use the rich tapestry of their cultural heritage as an integral part of their work. Regardless of how their art is expressed, the artists we work with are determined to convey their personal narratives and develop their creative practices in an increasingly interconnected world. We have yet to feature a female artist in our short history, but we have plans to do so in the near future.


As a gallerist do you only work with Ethiopian artists?

At the moment, our aim is to champion contemporary art from Ethiopia and the diaspora. However, we intend to enrich our programme by initiating collaborations and dialogues with artists, curators and practitioners from the continent and internationally.


Who is your audience, the visitors to the galleries?

Addis Ababa is second only to Geneva in its number of international offices and NGOs, which makes the city very diverse and transient. The presence of this large expatriate community lends support to the local art scene. We also have a long history of locals collecting art so there are number of collectors who we attract. We also attract the increasing number of visitors to the country, be it for business or leisure.

Leikun Nahusenay, 'Beyond', 2015, Courtesy of Addis Fine Art

Leikun Nahusenay, ‘Beyond’, 2015, Courtesy of Addis Fine Art

The last question is about Modern East African and Ethiopian art, a segment that is gaining more and more attention on the international art market, especially in auctions. Can you please talk about the Modern artists you represent?

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church played a major role in shaping the style of early Ethiopian modernists. The first group of artist who led the movement were Ale Felege Selam, Afework Tekle, Skunder Boghossian and Gebre Kristos Desta. However from the mid 1970s, Ethiopia was in the grip of communist rule for over two decades, which greatly inhibited artists from practicing freely like their counterparts across the continent and beyond. Fortunately, with the persistent work of the only Art School in the country, Alle Felege Selam School of Fine Art and Design, and with the recent addition of new private art schools; Ethiopia is experiencing a resurgence in artistic expression and appreciation.

This year, we have a group show planned dedicated to living modernists who have elevated modern Ethiopian art to new heights, which should get them the international recognition they deserve. In addition, we continue to work with Wosene Worke Kosrof (b.1950), who has had a very successful international career spanning forty years.

Issue 4, African Art

Art Gallery. ArtLabAfrica.
Nairobi. Kenya.

5 May 2016
Peterson Kamwathi ‘Untitled’ (Positions VI), detail, 2015. Courtesy of ArtLabAfrica

ArtLabAfrica is a latter day version of the classical literary salon: it is a place where ideas that emerge from conversation inspire and take form in art works. ArtLabAfrica was founded in 2013 by Lavinia Calza when she discovered Nairobi’s artists and their works. ArtLabAfrica was also the natural outcome of her own long-standing work as a gallerist, in  researching and marketing art. This is what she told us.


Can you please introduce ArtLabAfrica, what made you open a gallery?

ArtLabAfrica is the natural continuation of the work I started twenty years ago in London and New York, first as a specialist in 20th century art at Sotheby’s and then as a gallerist and advisor to collectors. In 2012 my family and I moved to Nairobi, a city we’d been coming to for years and I immediately realized, after a quick survey, that part of the local art scene was ready for this and that there was a lot of potential.

Peterson Kamwathi ‘Untitled’ (Positions VI), 2015. Courtesy of ArtLabAfrica

Peterson Kamwathi ‘Untitled’ (Positions VI)

But, as is often the case, they had little opportunity to emerge?

In a way, yes. Some Kenyan artists are in fact internationally known, and their works are often included in group shows; or they have a priviledged relatoinship with certain kinds of institutions, like resident artists in museums or foundations. For example, Peterson Kamwathi, who has exibited at the Frost Museum in Miami, at the KunstHaus in Bregenz, at the Marte Museum in San Salvador, at the Biennal in Dakar and at  Kouvola Museum in Finlandia. Or Gor Soudan, who’s just got back from a residence in Japan. What they were missing was contact with the international market.

There aren’t many galleries in Nairobi, they don’t have connections with the international market, and they tend to favour a traditional style of painting. Artists whose work was close to contemporary concepts and aesthetics, who had contact with global themes and who used media other than painting, got little attention. But what was mostly missing for them was the market, if you know what I mean.


Sure. And it all started with 1:54…

Taking part in 1:54 was crucial. I met curators and museum directors I could show the work of the Kenyan artists, many of whom hadn’t been seen before. Eastern Africa isn’t very connected to the international cultural milieu. Many of the African curators come from Western Africa, and in a sense they priviledge that part of Africa. Kenya is somewhat left out. The fair was an essential first step in getting their work known.


How did you get into 1:54?

We have to go back a few years. While Touria was organizing the first edition of 1:54 she told me she didn’t have anyone from East Africa, and because she knew about the work I’d done previously and my experience, she asked me if I wanted to partecipate. So I gathered my artists together and asked if they wanted to take part, and that if they did they’d have to produce some works. And that’s how it started.

Paul Onditi, ‘Alien Blot’, 2015, Courtesy of ArtLabAfrica

Paul Onditi, ‘Alien Blot’, 2015, Courtesy of ArtLabAfrica

The difficulties you’ve encountered in your work as a gallerist?

First and foremost, practical difficulties. Organization as we mean it in the West doesn’t exist, you have to be very good at improvising. Nairobi is a city whose economy is growing very fast, but whose public infrastructure is far behind. Internet is available only in very few places. Most of the artists don’t have access to it in their studios. They have to come to my studio or go to cybercafes to navigate.


And what is the art scene in Nairobi like, now?

It’s changed a lot in the last four years, it’s become dynamic. A lot of small spaces, artists’ collectives are coming up all over the place. There’s a new generation of artists who produce work that doesn’t reflect African aesthetics but looks towards global issues. Artists like Gor Soudan, a young conceptual artist whose work is deeply embedded in urban culture and often subtly engaged with contemporary political and social practice. Or Paul Onditi, who uses filmstrips, prints, transferred images, pared-down layers of pigment and caustic acid and patches them together in a meticulous way to map a rapidly urbanising city, with its look-alike contemporary buildings, loss of green space and increasingly polluted air. Syowia Kyambi, who is a performance artist much more interested in issues of identity, history and gender context. All of them are urban artists and they’re totally global in terms of concepts. And this is what I’m interested in, the work of this type of artist. The artists who show at 1:54 and who I’ve shown at Volta in New York deserve to be thought of as international, not just African. There’s obviously still something that identifies their work as African and that makes it special, in my opinion, like the use of colour, for example.


Can you give us an idea of the range of prices of the artists you represent as a gallerist?

For photography, they go from two to three thousand euros. Large pieces and installations, from ten to fifteen thousand. This is for the emerging artists.

Gor Soudan ‘Untitled III’ (Joint the Dots), 2015. Courtesy of ArtLabAfrica

Gor Soudan ‘Untitled III’ (Joint the Dots), 2015. Courtesy of ArtLabAfrica

How do you choose the artists you represent? And what about the work of women artists?

I choose them instinctively and I only represent a few.

As far as women artists go, It’s not easy for a woman to be an artist in Africa. Gender is definitely an issue. Four of the ten artists that I represent are women. Syowia Kyambi, who is half African half German, does a lot of work on the concept of identity, and one of the works she has here that is very well known – an installation called My Mother’s Mother – and that has been shown at the Iwalewahaus, is a reflection on the Kenyan middle class female model and the corresponding German model.

I will be taking Beatrice Wanjiku to 1:54 New York. She debuted at the London edition last year, and it went very well. We will be presenting her latest series of paintings, entitled “Straitjacket”. It’s powerful work, representational if you like, a narration of the social limits we often find ourselves physically and mentally constrained by as human beings.


Can you tell us something about your collectors?

They’re mainly international collectors, that’s my market, I don’t work at the local level.


Are there any of your artists’ work in public or private museums?

Not in museums, although they’ve been shown in a lot of collective exhibitions. There are a lot of them in the large private collections in Europe and  the USA. The attention that’s been focused on Africa recently, both by investors and economic players but also in terms of culture, is catalyzing the interest of collectors, advisors and curators.

Issue 4, African Art

Auction House. Arthouse Contemporary. Lagos. Nigeria.
We met its founder, Kavita Chellaram.

5 May 2016
Ablade Glover, 'Townscape', detail 2002. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Arthouse is a progect that arose from the experience and the passion of the art collector Kavita Chellaram. Her meticulous research in art auction houses has lead to the global recognition of numerous modern African masters, including Ben Enwonwu, Kolade Oshinowo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ablade Glover, Yusuf Grillo Uche Okeke. Kavita Chellaram still keeps her eye on the young African artists, who have a dedicated space in the auction.

We met her.


Arthouse Contemporary, an auction house in Lagos. How did it start and why?

I founded Arthouse Contemporary in 2007 with the support of my friends in the art world as well as my family.  I’ve always had a keen interest in art and have been collecting for many years, yet I wanted to go beyond merely being a collector and patron, and more actively seek to contribute to the development of the arts in Nigeria.

The decision to create an auction house was in response to what I experienced in the art scene in Lagos at the time. Artists kept works with multiple galleries across town and also sold directly to buyers from their studios. As a result, prices varied greatly and all efforts to market art in Lagos were fragmented. We saw how auctions transformed the Indian art market, fostering greater awareness of artists, their works and values, and we felt the same impact could be generated here. At Arthouse we position ourselves as a trusted, reliable avenue for buying, selling and evaluating art from Nigeria, the West African region and the artists from here who live abroad.

Ablade Glover, 'Townscape', 2002. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Ablade Glover, ‘Townscape’, 2002. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Over the last few years, thanks also to the work you’ve done with Arthouse, the art scene in Lagos has changed significantly. Now there are some new art galleries (like Art Twenty One and Omenka Gallery), an increasing number of artists live there, Nigeria is the guest country in this edition of Dakar Biennale…

In this dynamic context, has art collecting also changed?  Can we say that art collectors are more knowledgeable about art? How have their tastes in art changed? Also, is there a new generation of young art collectors?

It is exciting to see that the contemporary art world in Nigeria is expanding, and we need all the spaces and platforms that we can get. There has always been a dynamic art world in Nigeria historically, but we are seeing now the emergence of new galleries and platforms that aim to provide more infrastructure and support for its artists. Of course, there is still a long way to go and much more work to be done.

The growing interest in contemporary Nigerian art has created a new base of emerging collectors that are interested in learning more about the art world in Nigeria. At Arthouse, we recently inaugurated a new auction series, The Affordable Art Auction, which targeted new and emerging collectors who are looking to enter the market at a more affordable and accessible price point. It is important to grow the network of collectors to reach new audiences, and we were happy that the Affordable Art Auction brought in a new group of young professionals who had not bought at our auctions before.

Athena Epelle – ‘Nine lives’, 2016. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Athena Epelle – ‘Nine lives’, 2016. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Sure, and is that why in your recent sales you have shown a growing number of young artists?

Our aim at Arthouse Contemporary has always been dually to showcase the modern masters as well as the emerging group of contemporary artists. Each edition of the auction, we include new artists for the first time.


Apart from South Africa, what is the most prolific African region  in term of contemporary art today?

While the South African art scene is clearly strong in its infrastructure and market, Nigeria is growing at a very rapid pace and creating its own voice on the continent. There are also a strong group of Nigerian collectors who like to buy Nigerian art, which helps to boost Nigeria’s market power and potential.

Bruce Onobrakpeya , ‘Good Governance’, 1980. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Bruce Onobrakpeya , ‘Good Governance’, 1980. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos


Some interesting topics in contemporary African art today are?

I think it’s fascinating the way technology and new media are bringing about new ways for artists and practitioners in the field to represent themselves. It will be interesting to see what developments this will bring to the industry. It’s also interesting to see the new ways in which contemporary artists like El Anatsui, Kainebi Osahenye and Olu Amoda incorporate found objects and waste material into their work. Some of these works have spurred conversations about the nature of human life, what constitutes art and what, if any, the boundaries of artistic expression should be. Also, photography has been attracting more interest and a larger following in recent times, with works from the likes of George Osodi and the late Okhai Ojeikere.

Victor Ekpur, ‘Head 5’, 2015. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Victor Ekpur, ‘Head 5’, 2015. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

As an art collector, can you mention three  women artists you have or you would like to have in your collection?

Three female artists I especially admire are Sokari Douglas Camp, Peju Alatise, and Nnena Okore.

Issue 3, Art Dubai

Art Fair. Art Dubai.
In Conversation: Antonia Carver.

12 March 2016
Ahmed Oran, "UNTITLED", 2014, courtesy of Rampa Istanbul Ahmed Oran, “UNTITLED”, 2014, courtesy of Rampa Istanbul

Art Dubai is a fair, but above all it is increasingly becoming the International reference point for Modern and Contemporary art in the Middle East. Art Dubai, since 2011, under the direction of Antonia Carver, has changed. A lot. Over successive editions, the fair has evolved a new look that reflects its character as a Middle Eastern art fair but with an International vocation. The recent proposal of a dedicated modern section has prompted reflection on a segment that is not well-known to the public: Middle Eastern, African, Pakistani and Asian Modern Art. The director of a famous international art fair defined art fairs as “a transformative cultural experience- in a good way”. This description fits perfectly Art Dubai. We met its director, Antonia Carver.

This year, Art Dubai celebrates its tenth edition.  In some way, it is time to take stock.

Absolutely. These birthdays are useful as moments of pause, and to think how far we’ve come – in terms of the local arts scene and its galleries, the ways in which today’s UAE government now foregrounds the arts, and for us, as a fair, and one with ambitions to develop a new model of a fair – one that is resolutely global (the galleries come from 40 countries) and one that provides a unique level of context and debate around the works on view (through the Global Art Forum, our commissioned projects, our community art school, and so on).

I think what’s unique about Dubai in the wider Middle Eastern region is the way in which the scene here is so homegrown, with many individual gallerists and patrons driving development forward, and with a certain communal spirit.

Huguette Caland, "Untitled" 1999, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

Huguette Caland, “Untitled”, 1999, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

Sure, Art Dubai has certainly contributed to the development of a broader collecting culture here and around the region…. In terms of art market we can say that Dubai is more mature than other places, even if it’s still new….

Yes, I think so. Many of today’s key collectors “grew up” with Art Dubai – we were the first fair they attended, and we’ve made real efforts to build this new market together with the local galleries and the key patrons who are based all over the world but think of Art Dubai as their home fair. The market is particularly interesting because of its breadth – we have collectors coming in from across Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, as well as the international “usual suspects” of major collectors and curators. Also because of its potential – and this is something that international galleries are acutely aware of, given the economic situation globally and the saturated nature of the established art capitals in Europe and America.

In terms of the market performance of the artists presented over the years at Art Dubai, can you mention some artists who are now well established on the international art market?

There are some obvious examples – the Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, who has been known for many years locally, but has become a superstar over the years the fair has been running. The Qatari-American artist and writer Sophia Al Maria, who participated in the Global Art Forum, and as a commissioned projects artist, then signed with the Third Line, and now has a solo show at the Whitney. Wael Shawky, represented by Sfeir Semler, who has spoken at the fair, won the Abraaj Group Art Prize, and is now in the collection of many major museums and is shown in major biennials. Or Basim Magdy, who was a projects artist, then an Abraaj Group Art Prize winner, then Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, included in a New Museum show, and many more. This role of contributing to artists’ careers is something we’re intensely interested in and proud of.

Jamil Molaeb, Digital city, 1987, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

Jamil Molaeb, Digital city, 1987, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

How has Art Dubai’s relationship with the international museums and the future museums in the UAE evolved over the years?

From the beginning, the fair put particular emphasis on working with museums and bringing museum curators and patron groups to the fair. In the past decade, we’ve seen major European and American museums transform in terms of their engagement with the Middle East and South Asia, and now Africa.  Increasingly, there’s a recognition that the story of modern art was always global, and that institutions who only tell the story through Western artists are only telling half the story. Art Dubai has been described by museum directors as a “university” and as the one stop for the real world of the art world”. In recent years, there has been particular success in terms of acquisitions from Art Dubai Modern, perhaps for this reason. We have a close relationship with the Sharjah Art Foundation, and Qatar Museums, as well as the new museums coming up on Saadiyat Island.

The fair has three art sections, Modern, Contemporary and Marker, the curated section with a new focus every year. But, with respect to the attitude and attendance of your growing audience and the presence of more and more international galleries at the fair, what direction does the fair have to take in the years to come?

Marker has acted as a point of discovery for our audiences – and this year we focus on a new generation of artist-run spaces from the Philippines, which is exciting, also as a nurturing tool, to put galleries, artspaces or countries on the map, and hopefully boost them enough that in future years they can return as a regular gallery to the fair. For example, this year the Nubuke Foundation from Accra is taking part in the fair, having participated in Marker: West Africa in 2013. You’re asking an interesting question, and it’s one we repeatedly ask ourselves. But for now, we still stand out as a fair in terms of our international identity – there are no other major fairs with our global breadth.