Time Out lets rip on a few of this year’s summer art shows
XVA’s summer collection
Right on time, the XVA unleashes its annual summer show with a packed-out collection of works. But, contrary to the usual summer set-up, this Bastakiya space has gone all out and introduced a few new names into the collection. Among them, German artist Jacob Roepke’s absurd miniature paintings pose one of the more unusual selections. Painted on squares of hand-width wood, Roepke depicts a surreal world where his lead character, a dour looking figure that we can only assume is Roepke himself, is harangued by nature.
Parakeets peer on as he feasts on doughnuts, ducks harass him in his house and horses insist on galloping through the window at any given opportunity. While some verge on the humorous, they’re also rather isolating. What’s the point of these sketches and situations? Similarly, the XVA has decided to stick them three-to a-plinth under a glass case, meaning you have to look down to see them. As it is, without space to breathe, the pieces appear sketchy, the effect is dimmed by being too close together and the narratives in each get confused. Shame.
Another new name is Melanie Sarrasin, a Canadian artist working in heavy oil to create abstracted and shattered forms on the canvas. Employing a drip technique here and there, Sarrasin manages to create a segmented effect on her canvas. There’s an effect like glass at the point of bursting in these compositions and, perhaps most interestingly, the obliterated mass lingers on forms vaguely reminiscent of the natural world. In ‘Aout No. 3’, the strongest piece in the collection, we can just glimpse the lolloping ears of a donkey peeking out, and Sarrasin’s segmenting technique mingles with the flashing colours of the piece into a simple harmony.
Then things go a bit off-kilter. Laudi Abilama’s portraits see HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, figured in the heights of glittery garishness staring onto Audrey Hepburn in her typical Tiffany’s pose. Can we still give wallspace to this sort of faux pop-art inspired? Then there are a couple of indulgent pieces from XVA-regular Jonathan Gent.
Gent seems to have given up making sketchy and messy depictions of his own grotesque view on life, interspersed with kebabs and the odd Dubai-relevant symbol, instead turning that discerning eye onto himself in a series of self-portraits. Piling on paint into a loose blob resembling his own face, Gent then chucks in a few Arabic characters, slaps a contrived name on it like ‘Save Me’ and leaves the rest of the canvas white for us to take in the void that is this series.
Stepping into new territory is always a good thing, but XVA’s more prominent artists (with the exception of Gent) really represent what this gallery does better. Right now, this is a confused and overwhelming collection of bit parts.
Picking up where its inaugural Sneak Peek show left off last year, Carbon 12 gives ample space to those who the gallery deems to be its emerging talents: Florian Hafele, Mathias Garnitschnig, Omid Massoumi, Philip Mueller, Alessa Esteban, Bernhard Garnicnig and, the undeniable star of this collection, Farzan Sadjadi. So that’s a Mexican who hangs crystals from her paintings, an Austrian who sculpts figures wrapped up in themselves and a pale Goya-esque Iranian who marvels and mopes over the disaster that is war. Carbon 12 has carved out an international niche, and they do it well. By and large.
When we saw Florian Hafele’s work at last year’s Sneak Peek, the Austrian artist seemed quite interesting. He’d sculpted an athlete fitted with multiple arms, Hindu deity-style, grabbing at a ball overhead. Stuck on a cheap looking wooden stand, this was like a trophy for the modern athlete, who has been wrought into every possible direction by an over-reaching society.
But now Hafele has gone a step further with this. Urbane and faceless sorts indulge in a senseless semi-breakdance, with legs whipping off in all directions, or arms flinging themselves around in a tiring, complicated rave. Now, if these were huge, what Hafele does would be impressive but the sculptures lack oomph at this scale. There’s no doubt he can sculpt, but they come off polite, too polished, lacking the rawness that the theme demands.
Farzan Sadjadi, on the other hand, has really come into his own since he was introduced at the inaugural show. Working in his uncomfortably bright studio in Tehran, Sadjadi weighs down his works with masses of household paint struck into a kinetic depiction of violence. Taking something of a lead from Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings series, the works force us to peer into Sadjadi’s dark and moody belly. Through the dimness we glimpse the dissipating form of two horsemen leaning from the saddle to lift a goat’s carcass in the manner of the Afghan sport of Buzkashi.
Distorted and darkened by the nature of the paint, click the lights off and take a torch to the pieces and the flourishes of the young artist’s works burst out. He’s dropped the wryness and sardonic humour that we saw in earlier works: the colours are darker, the style more prone and he’s steadily coming into his own as one of Carbon 12’s most exciting artists.
Mexican artist Alessa Estaban’s paintings of little girls are too cartoony and confused by a mass of spirals and crayon-like flowers to really get anywhere. Meanwhile, Bernhard Gernicnig presents a few of his digitally formed colour fields and geometric shapes, showing us nothing new at all – aesthetically or otherwise. Pieter Mueller puts out his ape paintings, a couple of eerie works showing hollow-eyed primates sitting around and gazing ominously from the canvas. And Matthias Garnitschnig pulls out more of his plaster casts in the shape of taut pillows, exploring the visual whims of shape and tension.
A show like this should reveal something of the aesthetic trend of a gallery and suggest where it’s looking towards. But right now, it suggests a mix of aesthetics, on the one hand, the formalism of someone like Mueller or Sadjadi, meeting head on with very European, digitalised and paired-down aesthetics of Gernicnig and Garnitschnig. Sometimes the connection is clear, but often it just isn’t. On the emerging side, the gallery should stick to the painters for now.
Something in this vast collection will be familiar. The gallery has rolled almost everybody out for the summer show, from big names like Safwan Dahoul and Khaled Takreti upstairs, rendered in their new funds-friendly print version (dubbed ‘Ayyam Editions’) right through to some of the galloping new names in the Shabbab project of fresh Syrian talent.
While there’s nothing outstandingly new on the walls, it’s good to see Ayyam continuing to push its newer artists forward: Kais Salman’s disturbing and primitive reflections on the world of models, Mouteea Murad’s complex and rather un-Ayyam constructions of garish colour and clean layers and also a couple of new (yet still chair-orientated) rough- hewn pieces by Walid El-Masri, just back from a set of shows in China.
Safwan Dahoul was recently asked to propose a fresco for Havard Medical School Dubai, intending to paint his enigmatic and pharaonic figures directly onto a dome in the school. Put on hold for the time being, Dahoul’s proposed work has been printed and laid out on one wall of the gallery. The piece reflects something of the way Dahoul has been moving in recent months in the run-up to Ayyam launching a gallery in Beirut, which will be inaugurated with a vast show of the artist’s recent works. Alongside the faded and weathered colours used in his earlier works, Dahoul is moving ever more towards a burnished brilliance in the way he creates his figures.