Beat the heat with a summer of art watching in Dubai. You'll be an expert before Ramadan's over
Green Art Gallery
The first time you see a hand-painted photograph you can’t help but be impressed. Suddenly, a contemporary photograph has been given a patina of age, of mysticism. It hearkens back to a more decorous time when things were simpler, colours were muted and anything, however mundane, looked exciting.
So it is with Laila Muraywid’s collection Blood Deeper Than Shadows, which forms the greater part of Green Art Gallery’s summer show. The Syrian photographer also doubles as a sculptor, incorporating melting, organic resin creations into her scenes. The images incorporating sculpture are good, they equate the textures of nature with mysteriousness and sensuality. But the collection is just too passé. Women flinging themselves onto the bed in frustration, obese people wrapped in towels and even a few shots in a graveyard: Seen it all before, sadly.
Then there are Jaber Al Azmeh’s horse photographs, focusing in on the dramatic ridges of a horse’s back suggesting the rising contours of a landscape and trying to distance the image as much as possible from a horse. Again, this has been done to death before, and has been done better by other photographers who manage far more adeptly than Azmeh to evoke something ethereal about these horses. Hakim Ghazali’s textural interplay between text and a roughly hewn canvas are effective, and do stand out as the more inventive side of this collection, but, as it is, this look-back over Green Art Gallery’s past 12 months of shows falls a little flatly.
Cuadro’s summer show forges a link between several very different artists: Hunt Slonem, A. Rahim Sharif, Manal Al Dowayan, Marc Sijan and others all come together in this vast, sober DIFC space. Don’t try to find common ground, there’s no logic why this disparate group of artists has been brought together.
The first room sets the tone with a cacophonous conversation between the abstract expressionism of Ernst Van Leyden, Samer Tabbaa’s minimalist sculpture, the feminist photographs of Manal Al Dowayan and the worn, ash-covered paintings of Syrian artist Nizar Sabour. There’s a lack of harmony in here. Saudi artist Tabbaa’s raw sculptures are made of wood, interspersed with gold, silver and worked with a selection of cheap natural dyes into a number of minimalist obelisks.
It’s easy to see how Tabbaa has imagined these pieces as nature removed from its original context but the sculptures hardly stir a sensation. The aesthetic dimension of each one is not strong enough for these tall chunks of wood to really affect the space. Fortunately, the room looks onto a selection of excellent works by American artist Dale Chihuly. These beautiful, multicoloured glassworks evoke an underwater atmosphere: open shells and upside down, abstracted octopi relax this rather confusing collection.
The second room is a different story. Hunt Slonem’s ‘Flora and Fauna’ paintings and Mariane Houtkamp’s African bronze sculptures work well together and present an audacious selection by the gallery. The huge, Africanised chess set by Houtkamp is memorable, suggesting a dramatic confrontation of two noble tribes. This is the strongest room by far, complemented by the abundance and tropical atmosphere that gushes from Slonem’s paintings of scratched exotic birds and butterflies. This is all set off by the colonial undercurrent of Houtkamp’s figures.
Room three is given over entirely to Abdul Rahim Sharif’s very personal portraits. These are dark works by the Bahraini artist. Each one generates an emotional paradox: the vacant expressions of his characters clash with the bright background in each. ‘The Donor’ is the high point of this mix of sentiments – the deep despairing glance of a man is set against an incongruously cheerful yellow canvas, suggesting that people and life were moving loudly around this figure without noticing his distress.
Each room has plenty of books to give background to this obscure group of artists. And, if you’ve not yet seen the space, Marc Sijan’s ultra-realistic resin sculptures of security guards and caretakers are still standing around the gallery, confusing tourists and convincing the gallerists that they can ‘feel them breathing’. Myriam Joudet
Cuadro (04 425 0400) Gate Village Building 10, DIFC. Until September 1