My last adventure started some weeks ago when Christine Macel told me she was organizing a show with Lebanese artist Ziad Antar in Sharjah. I said to her I wanted to come and see the show… so now I am writing to you from Sharjah one of the United Arab Emirate.
I am here under the invitation of the Sharjah Art Foundation, a contemporary art institution initiated by the daughter of the emirate’s sheik Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi. Beside Ziad’s show, which is amazing thanks to an island-like display and a beautiful catalogue, the foundation is hosting a three-day conference called the “March Meetings.” At the beginning I thought this was the first edition but then someone told me they have been organized before by Jack Persekian — who as you know is not there anymore — but never open to the public. I also heard the previous editions were way more regional.
Quite the contrary, it was funny to discover that I had to go to Sharjah to finally meet people I have been in touch with like Hans Ulrich Obrist, Beatrix Ruf and Susanne Pfeffer. With Susanne and Beatrix I had fun and one night Tarek Abou El Fetouh brought us to a fantastic seafood restaurant and then to a Pakistani nightclub (you cannot drink in Sharjah we have to go to the next emirate) where, don’t ask me why, I ended up with a big garland of flowers.
The meetings were very interesting being my first time in the Middle East (if you exclude Israel). However I must admit the level of the presentations was quite uneven: some were good, some not so good. There I met my friends Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna who runs the curatorial collective Latitudes and New Yorkers like Art in General’s Anne Barlow and ISCP’s Kari Conte.
I was also super happy to meet Yuko Hasegawa — who is doing the next Sharjah Biennial — with whom I talked about Japanese female figures like Yayoi Tanaka, Yayoi Kusama, Rei Kawakubo and Kazuyo Sejima. The crazy thing is that apparently Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi speaks Japanese so does Judith Green who works for the foundation and “commutes” between the emirate and London.
If you have time I highly suggest you to read the book Owning Art: The Contemporary Art Collector's Handbook, which Judith co-authored with Louisa Buck. The book is super fun to read and peppered with a lot of quotations from dealers, collectors, artists and curators.
On our only free day they took us on a never-ending tour to see an abandoned factory, which will become a sort of kunsthalle and artist residency also under the umbrella of the foundation. On the way I spoke with someone from the staff and I discovered that out of seven emirates constituting the UAE, Sharjah is the intellectual one where they have the biennial and the meeting, Dubai is more market-driven and in fact they have the fair and Abu Dhabi is the biggest and the richest so no surprise if Louvre and Guggenheim are building new satellites there.
The last day they brought us to the fair in Dubai and it was nice to see my friends from Canna Gallery in Jakarta (this year focus was Indonesia) and some other friendly people from around the globe. However while in Dubai — where I went to the airport directly from the fair — I missed the great food and great conversations I had in Sharjah.
Next time I will write you from Jakarta!