“Let’s play”: Egyptian artist Nermine Hammam on the credibility of images – interview



Egyptian artist Nermine Hammam captures the farce of stereotypes in contemporary mashups. 

Nermine Hammam challenges mass media and the slippery slope of myths and fantasies with her bold series depicting a decidedly new narrative on “Orientalist” art. Art Radar spoke with the artist to learn more about the importance of an image’s credibility and the many “micro-violations of truth”.

Nermine Hammam, 'An Akmee's Admirers' by Francesco Peluso from the “Wétiko ... Cowboys and Indigenes” series, 2013, hand tinted digital collage, edition of 3, 67 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, ‘An Akmee’s Admirers’ by Francesco Peluso from the “Wétiko … Cowboys and Indigenes” series, 2013, hand tinted digital collage, edition of 3, 67 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam (b. 1967, Cairo, Egypt) graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Filmmaking in 1989. After graduation, Hammam worked in the film industry for Simon & Goodman and Egypt’s Youssef Chahine, and then became a graphic designer before moving on to the visual arts and photography.

Hammam’s work has been shown widely throughout the world, including solo and group shows in Denmark, Egypt, France, Italy, Kuwait, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States. Cairo/Texas: A Photographer’s Diary, a monograph about Hammam’s work, was released in 2014 by Rose Issa Projects. The artist’s work can be found in both private and public collections, including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam and Italy’s Parco Horcynus Orca.

Art Radar caught up with Hammam, who spends time between Cairo and London, to learn more about her experience as a photographer during the unrest in Cairo in 2011, why the artist thinks that street art is effective, and how the intersection of East and West plays out in contemporary art.

As mass media continues to have a significant impact on contemporary society, how do you view the “strategic editing and micro-violations of truth for the sake of the narrative”?

These things are not new or only happening now. They have been happening for hundreds of years. Only now, the medium has changed. If you look back a couple hundred years ago at Orientalist art, it was doing the same thing. The images were not real. These images were from the fantasies of the men who drew them.

In the past, artists would use paint. Today, they use mass media and images in the news, but the content is constant – how they view the ‘other’, how they want to have a second narrative that’s been built on layers and layers, over hundreds of years, to create a certain mindset.

Look at the BBC and what they have done with images in the past several years. For example, they have shown images of people running over corpses and have proclaimed that “we have to bomb Syria”. Then, it was discovered that the images were in fact from Iraq, two or three years earlier. This causes one to lose truth and credibility in an image.

Nermine Hammam, from the “Cairo Days” series, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, from the “Cairo Days” series, 2011. Image courtesy the artist.

How do you use images or narratives from mass media to bring to life what is happening in the world without portraying the “second death of victims” or further desensitising the viewer?

I don’t go about just portraying anything. I do the opposite. My mindset is, “Let’s go all the way and let’s play around and take it further.” Everyone is saying it’s not a farce. So, if you throw it in people’s faces that it is a farce, maybe the idea will come through.

This whole thing started when I went to Rabaa Square, where the Muslim Brotherhood were all sitting against the government. This is where the idea for the Wétika series came. I went with a French journalist. The others thought I was also French, and they were speaking in Arabic. I could hear them saying “Lie down and just pretend that you are dead at the end of the road.” So I kept telling the journalist, “This is not true, they are playing you.” In the end, I realised that the journalist wanted to hear that story. It was a game between the two of them – an unspoken game. When I wrote about this, I got so many letters asking me how I could say these untrue things about journalists.

So, I said to myself – let’s play. There’s nothing real. Whatever is portrayed is a kind of Orientalist art, a reflection of the portrayal of the region from a couple hundred years ago.

Nermine Hammam, 'Dreamland', from the "Upekkha" series, 2012, digital photography, Epson Ultrachrome K3 ink on Hahnemuhle FIne Art Pearl Aper, Edition of 3 + 2 AP, 67 x 90 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, ‘Dreamland’, from the “Upekkha” series, 2012, digital photography, Epson Ultrachrome K3 ink on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl paper, edition of 3 + 2 AP, 67 x 90 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

In 2015, how are Arab subjects portrayed in art? Is there a connection to Orientalist painting of the nineteenth century? Does this image impact East-West politics and policies and how people in the West view the populace from the Middle East? 

We end up seeing ourselves the way we are portrayed. After a few hundred years, we look at ourselves as such. Always, when a dominant culture starts portraying another in a certain way over time for a few hundred years, it is my idea – although I may be wrong – that the “subjects” start seeing themselves as such. Look at the history of a lot of people that have been dominated. I hate to talk about politics all the time! Whenever one talks with an Arab or Middle Eastern artist, it always ends up being about politics.

According to Jack D. Forbes, a Native American scholar and writer,  “modern civilisation has suffered through many decadent times” and is faced with ‘Wétiko’, a psychosis at the heart of civilisation, first spoken of by the American Cree tribe. Does your series “Wétiko … Cowboys and Indigenes” challenge myths to “propagate a new way of seeing”?

I think we are now entering very deep waters, because what exactly is a myth? I think the way that we are using a myth now is something that is not real, while in the past a myth was a story that enhanced society and tried to make society better. Today, we’re talking about a myth being something that is not real. Joseph Campbell talks about this a lot and about how the word has changed in society. We have to be very clear and if we are using myth as something that is not real. In this case, it is more like a fantasy.

Nermine Hammam, 'Armour 1' from the "Cosmos" series, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, ‘Armour 1′ from the “Cosmos” series, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

What is a “myth consumer”? What myths do you depict and investigate in your artwork?

The whole idea of myths in the past included things like African or Native American myths. These are stories that deal with the psyche and the subconscious to enhance society. Right now myths have become more like a fantasy, or how we’d like to view others based on how we’d like to fantasise about them.

In the “Wétiko … Cowboys and Indigenes” series – those are not myths, they are fantasies. For example, the West fantasised about how the Orient would be. If you look at the images, you’ll find that all the women are voluptuous, lying there smoking a hookah. I haven’t seen that during my lifetime and I don’t think that a couple hundred of years ago they were living like that. I don’t believe that one hundred years ago, my great grandmother was doing those kinds of things. This fantasy in the modern world took another form. You have the fantasy of the barbaric Arab. I have a feeling that after some time, we start seeing ourselves as that image. I believe that Edward Said said a lot about that as well.

I look around and at these images and think these are not me, these are not my people. Who are these people? Who made these people? These people are fabricated by Austrian or French people who hung out in Egypt for a couple of years.

Nermine Hammam, 2013, 'Audience Chez Un Kalifat' by Eugene Fromentin (1859) from the "Wetiko Cowboys and Indigenes" series, hand tinted digital collage, 63 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, 2013, ‘Audience Chez Un Kalifat’ by Eugene Fromentin (1859) from the “Wétiko … Cowboys and Indigenes” series, hand tinted digital collage, 63 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Can art play an important role in challenging the nuances of culture and belief? How?

Sure. Art and other things – not art only. Often, those who appreciate art are from a certain educational background. Art in itself does not trickle down. For example, in Egypt there was a huge movement of graffiti. It was fantastic! Of course, the government was trying to paint over it and then the artists would come back and do it again. I think by itself that [street art] is a fantastic form of art, which can reach the masses. It is very direct, very playful. How many people have seen the graffiti on the streets in Cairo and how many have seen the “Wétiko” series? I feel that street art reaches more people and has more of an impact.

You were in Cairo during the revolutionary upheaval in 2011. What did you see there regarding stereotypes and myths that surprised you?

When I was in Cairo, there were no foreigners and no foreign press or photographers, just Egyptians. What was very interesting during that time was that there were very few people with traditional cameras – maybe me and a couple hundreds other people. There was something very equalising about the situation in 2011. The whole uprising, if you want to call it that, was photographed by phones. There were millions of people in the streets and you would then have millions of images. People would be holding up their phones and taking videos and photographs. There was no high art or the expert photographer, who would come and take the picture and then tell everybody how to interpret it. Everybody was part of it!

Nermine Hammam, 'Fauna' from the "Unfolding" series, 2012, digital photography, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Rice Paper, editions of 3 + 2 AP, 26 x 20 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, ‘Fauna’ from the “Unfolding” series, 2012, digital photography, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Rice Paper, editions of 3 + 2 AP, 26 x 20 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

You blended Japanese scenery and aesthetics alongside military personnel in riot gear in your “Upehkka” and “Unfolding” series. Do you think that power and the construct of military might are often revealed through similar choreographed performances and imagery regardless of what country they are happening in?

Yes. For sure. But a lot of these images were taken by ordinary people and their phones. It’s a purer image. This person is walking down the street and he sees something and takes a picture of it. These aren’t professional images. These are for the people, by the people. For example, if you have one image or one scene and twenty people are taking the image from different angles, it is difficult to adulterate that image.

Please tell us more about “Upehkka” and what it means.

Upehkka means steadiness in one’s mind in the midst of turmoil. An indifference to gain and loss. Being focused.

Nermine Hammam, 'Armed Innocence II', from the "Upekkha" series, 2012, digital photography, Epson Ultrachrome K3 ink on Hahnemhule Fine Art Pearl Aper, Edition of 3 + 2 AP, 60 x 90 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, ‘Armed Innocence II’, from the “Upekkha” series, 2012, digital photography, Epson Ultrachrome K3 ink on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl Paper, edition of 3 + 2 AP, 60 x 90 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Do you feel that at its very core, contemporary art has the ability to bring people together and achieve a state of equanimity or is it, by its very nature, exclusive and self-serving? How?

Unfortunately, it is self-serving. It is exclusive. When I sell my prints, each one is worth “x” amount, it is in itself “exclusive”. The message is exclusive, the text is exclusive, the gallery is exclusive. In a way, maybe yes. However, if the press takes it and puts it out there with no thinking of gain and it reaches a wider public, then that can be more inclusive. But unfortunately, it is [primarily] exclusive and self-serving.

Nermine Hammam, 'Days on the Range - Hands Up!' by Frederic Russell (1900-1904) from the "Wétiko…Cowboys and Indigenes" series, 2013, hand tinted digital collage, edition of 3, 80 x 54cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Nermine Hammam, ‘Days on the Range – Hands Up!’ by Frederic Russell (1900-1904) from the “Wétiko…Cowboys and Indigenes” series, 2013, hand tinted digital collage, edition of 3, 80 x 54cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Any upcoming solo or group shows, exhibitions or biennales that you will be participating in within the next six months?

I will be participating in the “Intimate Transgressions” group show this September in New York City at the White Box Gallery. Currently, my work is part of “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World” showing at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center through 4 May 2015.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: art and activism, Egyptian artists, art and mass media, photography, political art, art about war

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8 artists to know at Art Paris Art Fair 2015



Art Radar profiles 8 artists from Asia, the Middle East and Africa at Art Paris Art Fair 2015.

Just over a week after Art Basel Hong Kong’s closing, Art Paris Art Fair launches at the end of March, with a focus on Southeast Asian art and Singapore as a guest of honour. Art Radar brings you 8 artists who are having solo presentations at this year’s edition of the fair.

Ren Hang, Untitled, 2013, photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Nicholas Hugo.

Ren Hang, ‘Untitled’, 2013, photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Nicholas Hugo.

Art Paris Art Fair 2015 runs from 26 to 29 March and showcases modern and contemporary art, with 145 participating galleries from twenty countries worldwide. Having previously focused on Russia and China, the 2015 edition sees Singapore and Southeast Asia as the guests of honour.

The regional platform is directed by curator, researcher and Southeast Asia specialist Iola Lenzi. Featured galleries from Singapore include:

The last two galleries skipped Art Basel Hong Kong to be able to attend the fair in France. The Southeast Asian artists on show at the booths represent the art scenes of Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.

Niloufar Banisadr, 'Freud', 2004, photography. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie 55Bellechasse.

Niloufar Banisadr, ‘Freud’, 2004, photography. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie 55Bellechasse.

Additionally, a number of galleries in the main Galleries sector will display the work of Southeast Asian artists, such as Myanmar’s Aung Ko at Primo Marella, Vietnam’s Dinh Q. Le and Bui Cong Khanh at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, and from the Philippines, Manuel Ocampo at Nathalie Obadia and Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan at Hélène Bailly.

Another novelty of this year’s fair is the record number of solo shows: 35 galleries are presenting the work of artists from around the world. Art Radar profiles eight artists from Asia, the Middle East and Africa who are having solo presentations.

Niloufar Banisadr, 'Sexy Windows', 2012, photography, 140 x 130 x 6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie 55Bellechasse.

Niloufar Banisadr, ‘Sexy Windows’, 2012, photography, 140 x 130 x 6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie 55Bellechasse.

1. Niloufar Banisadr (Iran) | 55Bellechasse

Born in Tehran in 1973, Paris-based Niloufar Banisadr works primarily with photography to create works that she defines as “abstract, narrative, contrasted, harmonious, and aesthetic”. Banisadr believes that art “should and may breed elevation, not controversy”. Her oeuvre reflects the duality of her cultural experience and is inspired by Western and Eastern aesthetics, as well as cultural constructs.

The artist explores the complexities of being an Iranian woman educated by a traditional family, living in a country where female emancipation has come a long way. In her work, she reflects on the conflict between freedom and censorship, centred around issues of gender, and on her own quotidian process of emancipation.

Fouad Bellamine, Sans Titre, 2009, painting, 140 x 160 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Frédéric Moisan.

Fouad Bellamine, ‘Sans Titre’, 2009, painting, 140 x 160 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Frédéric Moisan.

2. Fouad Bellamine (Morocco) | Galerie Frédéric Moisan

Fouad Bellamine was born in Fez in 1950 and has been exhibiting his paintings since 1972. As a result of his interest in the debate on the problems of identity in Morocco and its repercussion on art and culture in the 1970s, the artist believes that “there is no Moroccan painting, only Moroccan painters”.

Bellamine’s painting has evolved throughout his career, and yet has retained a minimalist abstract style that expresses a unique relationship with light, its manifestation and manipulation on canvas. Architectural forms are a recurrent subject in his work, inspired by the medina of Fez, such as dome ceilings, whitewashed walls and skylines, re-interpreted through abstract techniques like smears, drips and movement.

Ren Hang, Untitled, 2013, photography, 40 x 27 x 1 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Nicholas Hugo.

Ren Hang, ‘Untitled’, 2013, photography, 40 x 27 x 1 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Nicholas Hugo.

3. Ren Hang (China) | Galerie Nicholas Hugo

Beijing-based poet and photographer Ren Hang (b. 1978, Chang Chun, Jilin Province) is a rising star of Chinese photography, who uses provocative and explicit imagery that has often been censored in his native country. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped the artist from garnering international attention and showing his work worldwide.

In 2013, he was part of “FUCK OFF 2” (2013), an exhibition curated by Ai Weiwei in the Netherlands. Ren’s work is at times erotic and sexually ambiguous, boldly exposing the nude in strange poses and with unlikely accessories, such as an iguana. His oeuvre is characterised by hints of violence, a ubiquitous sense of weirdness and sexual innuendos.

Jane Lee, 'Deja Vu', 2015, mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Jane Lee, ‘Deja Vu’, 2015, mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

4. Jane Lee (Singapore) | Sundaram Tagore Gallery

Singaporean Jane Lee’s (b. 1963) use of inventive techniques and innovative materials explores the very nature of the medium of painting. By manipulating stretcher, canvas and paint in unconventional ways, she “re-examines the significance of painting and the relevance of contemporary art practice.” The sculptural quality of Lee’s work gives it a tactile and sensuous texture.

At times, Lee avoids the canvas to paint directly with acrylic onto wooden stretchers, creating hollow, three-dimensional objects. Movement is an inextricable characteristic of her work, which lends it the appearance of the everyday and familiar, such as a hose, a carpet or a door. The display is also unusual, spanning from wall hangings to floor and room corners, thereby using the space as a medium.

Hur Kyung-Ae, 'N369', 2013, painting, 120 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts.

Hur Kyung-Ae, ‘N369′, 2013, painting, 120 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts.

5. Hur Kyung-Ae (South Korea) | Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts

Born in 1977 in Gwang-Ju, Paris-based Hur Kuyng-Ae creates works that explore the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Surface and materials are of extreme importance in her practice, which makes use of bright colours and a subdued tone to express the joy of life. The meditative atmosphere she creates gives space to a diverse range of chromatics that merge with each other, emerge from one another and fade into space.

Hur collects the fragments, dust, layers and strips of dried paint that fall off her work during her painting process and re-pastes them onto the surface, thus giving it a relief texture. Her work preserves traces of “abolishment and transformation”, akin to the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Mohamed Melehi, 'L'arbre de Cléopatre VII', 2014, painting, 200 x 160 cm. image courtesy the artist and Loft Art Gallery.

Mohamed Melehi, ‘L’arbre de Cléopatre VII’, 2014, painting, 200 x 160 cm. image courtesy the artist and Loft Art Gallery.

6. Mohamed Melehi (Morocco) | Loft Art Gallery

Born in 1936 in Asilah, Mohamed Melehi is known as Morocco’s “master of modern painting”. Hovering between reality and the spirituality of abstraction, his work is characterised by a unique approach to lines and colour. Melehi has been, since the 1960s, creating a body of work that revolves around the motif of waves, which at times become vertical flames or diagonal movements across the canvas.

His research into colour and form has yielded consistently hard-edged and optical abstractions, with clean lines, clearly delineated colours and invisible brushstrokes. Melehi’s meditative art has been connected to transcendence and prayer, as well as to the waves on the beaches of Asilah, his hometown, and the gesture of writing Arabic calligraphy.

Dawn Ng, 'Pink', 2015, photography, 116 x 116 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Chan Hampe Galleries.

Dawn Ng, ‘Pink’, 2015, photography, 116 x 116 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Chan Hampe Galleries.

7. Dawn Ng (Singapore) | Chan Hampe Galleries

Singaporean multimedia artist Dawn Ng (b. 1982) works with collage, photography, illustration, light and installations. Her oeuvre is informed by her nomadic life and engages with notions of home, identity and nostalgia. Ng’s work resonates with pop culture, an element that is a remnant of her previous background in advertising.

The photographic series A Thing of Beauty captures installations of small, locally sourced objects, collected from a range of stores in residential Singapore – from bakeries to convenience stores. The installations function as an “anthropological documentary of things we collectively own in this day and age.”

Lindy Sales, 'Sever', 2015, cut-out, paint, blood and mercurochrome on Arches paper and pins. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Maria Lund.

Lindy Sales, ‘Sever’, 2015, cut-out, paint, blood and mercurochrome on Arches paper and pins. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Maria Lund.

8. Lyndi Sales (South Africa) | Galerie Maria Lund

Lyndi Sales (b. 1973, Johannesburg) works primarily with paper cut-outs and is interested in exploiting the possibilities of perception beyond our senses, and exploring the concept of time. More specifically, she seeks to slow time down in order to better observe and understand it. Central to her search is the instant that precedes a transformation – times of tension and of intersection.

Engaging with what she refers to as “the real-imaginary”, Sales believes that by surpassing the limits of perception, new paths become accessible. She strives to create a vision where everything is interconnected, as a whole rather than the fragmented reality we usually experience. Sales draws inspiration from the structures and shapes of nature – from the microcosm as well as the macrocosm.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Art Basel Hong Kong 2015: Hong Kong as “rebel city” – Salon talk



The potential and limitations of art as protest, activism and intervention.

“Rebel City—Hong Kong as Site and Situation” was an evening salon that took place on March 16 2015 during Art Basel Hong Kong. The discussion revolved around the intersections between art and social activism in Hong Kong, especially surrounding the Umbrella Movement which lasted for 79 days in late 2014.

(L-R) John Batten, Leung Po-Shan, Stephanie Sin, Kurt Chan, Clara Cheung. Image courtesy Art Basel Hong Kong 2015.

(L-R) John Batten, Leung Po-Shan, Stephanie Sin, Kurt Chan, Clara Cheung. Image courtesy Art Basel Hong Kong 2015.

The speakers also discussed their individual experiences in using art as intervention in response to different social and political situations in Hong Kong. The panel consisted of:

  • Kurt Chan Yuk Keung: professor in the Department of Fine Arts, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Leung Po-shan Anthony: artist and one of the founding members of the contemporary art space Para Site
  • Stephanie Sin: artist
  • Clara Cheung: artist and co-founder of C & G Apartment, a contemporary art space

The discussion was moderated by John Batten, a writer, art critic, curator, organiser and urban planning activist.

Public sculpture 'Umbrella Man' by artist Milk during Occupy protests in Hong Kong 2014. Image by Ben Hon Chung Hei.q

Public sculpture ‘Umbrella Man’ by artist Milk during Occupy protests in Hong Kong 2014. Image by Ben Hon Chung Hei.

Occupy Central

Art and social activism

John Batten led the speakers directly into a conversation on the role of art in Hong Kong’s present political and social situation by referring to the ubiquitous signs exclaiming “We Will Be Back” during the last days of the Occupy Central Movement last year. Batten explained that the Occupy Central Movement, or the Umbrella Movement, was a social movement in Hong Kong that took place over a period of 79 days, starting from September 2014. Sites in Admiralty, Mongkok and Causeway Bay – major commercial districts in Hong Kong – were occupied by protestors who demanded true universal suffrage as well as more fairness within the city’s system of governance and legislature. Many artists and members of the public created artworks at the protest sites, many of which have been documented, collected and even archived.

Artist Stephanie Sin said that the most important question for her was not whether but how “we”—artists, citizens, young people, all the protestors—will be back with their demands, which have been completely unanswered by the government. During the Umbrella Movement, artists and non-artists alike showed a lot of creativity. People made art at the protest sites, but Sin questioned whether that body of creative work could really be called art. As an active participant in the protest, Sin reflected that, instead of trying hard to make art every day, she simply participated in the movement by sleeping in the tents day after day. She saw the act of being there and taking part as more important than making art for art’s sake.

Professor Kurt Chan said that he witnessed a range of responses among his art students, who questioned how they could contribute to the movement as artists. Some students were particularly active and created student groups that explored the phenomenon of the movement in depth, even involving other faculties in the university such as the Sociology Department in finding answers to pressing questions of how art can respond to politics.

Student study area at Admiralty Occupy protest site in Hong Kong 2014. Image by Ben Hon Chung Hei.

Student study area at Admiralty Occupy protest site in Hong Kong 2014. Image by Ben Hon Chung Hei.

Students as stakeholders

Art students responded in completely organic and bottom-up ways and never sought the “permission” of authority figures from their institutions. Through the movement, Chan observed that students started to explore their roles as not only artists but also stakeholders in civil society. A guiding question for these socially and politically active students was, of course, what types of action would have the most significant impact, and it was Chan’s role as an educator to help students find answers.

Chan also noted how some artist alumni of the university, such as those who run the Woofer Ten community art space in Hong Kong, initiated activities in response to the social movement, like starting a competition to pick the most useful and beautiful tent at the protest sites. Chan was invited to be a judge for this contest and to go to the sites and critique the art works that were produced there. At one point, he was even given a loud speaker to speak on art and politics. For Chan, this was an opportunity to see what types of student artistic responses were possible and how awareness about responsible citizenship could be raised.

As such, he added social engagement art to his teaching plan and regularly engaged with the protestors at the front line during the movement. Although he conceded that some younger students had no clear understanding of politics and did not fully know how to position themselves as artists in society, he still felt that the discussions engendered by the movement were invaluable lessons for student artists. He was grateful for the opportunity to use the monumental social happening in Hong Kong as a teaching resource.

Interactive street painting during the Occupy protest in Hong Kong 2014. Image courtesy Francesco Lietti.

Interactive street painting during the Occupy protest in Hong Kong 2014. Image courtesy Francesco Lietti.

Art belongs to everyone

Artist Leung Po-shan added to this discussion by articulating some of her observations on the Hong Kong artist experience during the movement. She brought up how the Umbrella Movement was the culmination of waves and waves of social movements in Hong Kong in the past few years, such as the anti-high speed railway protests.

One major observation Leung had during Occupy Central was that artists who were previously optimistic about their art activism and believed their art could change society were collectively humbled in the face of the explosive creativity from the public during the movement. Specifically, Leung pointed out that the large-scale yellow banner hung on the side of Lion Rock in Hong Kong with the words “We Want Universal Suffrage” printed vertically was the single most powerful piece of art to emerge from the movement—and this work was not made by an artist. In a way, Leung was happy to see that many local artists’ belief that creativity should belong to everybody and not just artists was finally realised as a result of the movement. At the same time, however, she felt there was a level of backlash among artists who felt a sort of frustration at the fact that the most impressive icon of the movement was created by a non-artist. Artists had to grapple with the question of what their role would be after that.

Facing fear

Artist Clara Cheung added to the discussion on art and civic responsibility by saying that it is very difficult to speak about the Umbrella Movement in general terms because of its scale and scope. The Movement meant different things to different participants because each protestor had their specific place and duty. Cheung initiated some community art projects at the protest sites when nothing much was happening during mornings and afternoons, but at other times, she was engaged in other activities as a front line protestor. She further reflected that an element of fear was at the core of many of the creative endeavours undertaken by artists and protestors during the Movement. She recalled that some participants in Occupy Wall Street came to Hong Kong to attend an exhibition initiated by an independent art group in Hong Kong, and one of the things that they asked local protestors was “how much fear they had”. Cheung felt that the protest trained more people to face fear and react to it.

Para/Site Art Space in Hong Kong. Image by Art Radar.

Para Site Art Space in Hong Kong. Image by Art Radar in 2012. 

Art as intervention

Gentrification

Batten then led speakers to explore their past experiences with artistic interventions that led to social change. He started by reflecting on how Hong Kong used to have a much smaller art scene in the 1990s. Para Site was one of the first artist-run contemporary art spaces in the city, founded by speaker Leung Po-shan along with her co-founders, with Professor Chan an important teacher to the founding group from the start. Batten commented on how Para Site, started in a little shop in Kennedy Town, changed the art landscape in Hong Kong by allowing artists to fabricate works on site. Each group of exhibiting artists would take over the shop and repaint the walls for their own purposes, and this was groundbreaking at a time when Hong Kong had no such art spaces.

Leung’s response to Batten’s example was that she did not believe in art as a tool for intervention. She saw the Para Site project as a failure because they introduced gentrification into a local area with grassroots culture by bringing in an international audience and driving out small shops and citizens in the neighbourhood. To Leung, art in Hong Kong is always going to be a tool for gentrification. Para Site recently had to move to a new space in North Point because they could not accommodate the rent of the old space which had increased a great deal because of rapid gentrification.

In contrast, Cheung felt that art could be a useful tool for small-scale interventions. At her art space C & G Apartment, for example, she initiates an event called the International Sick Leave Day on May 13 every year. Participants take a sick leave from work and join Cheung and other artists in a day of painting, fishing and other activities. In broader terms, Cheung felt that art is an important tool in battling different ideologies.

Differing value systems

Taking parallel traders (mainland Chinese from Shenzhen who come to Hong Kong regularly on unlimited tourist visas to buy goods such as milk formula to sell for a profit in China) as an example, Cheung expressed that she recognised that these traders had their own set of values in a parallel system which were bound to cause conflict with Hong Kong citizens living in parts of the New Territories. Another example Cheung used was the farming intervention undertaken by some activists in Choi Yuen Village in rural Kam Tin to protest against the “white elephant” construction project of a high-speed rail that would link Hong Kong to Guangzhou twelve minutes more quickly than the existing rail link.

Leung added that time is also an important but often neglected dimension in using art to create change. Initiating an International Sick Leave Day would disrupt the normal temporal workings of capitalism, just as farming in a village in Kam Tin is not just about occupying the soil but about investing time in a place. In other words, Leung felt that using art as a quick and effective way of attracting attention is not viable. Rather, art has to be used as a means to engage with a place or an issue, allowing actions to take root over time.

South Ho, 'Those Shores 6', 2012, Backlit Transparency Print, aluminium light box 110 x 81 x 15 cm. Image courtesy Rossi & Rossi.

South Ho, ‘Those Shores 6′, 2012, Backlit Transparency Print, aluminium light box 110 x 81 x 15 cm. Image courtesy Rossi & Rossi. 

For Professor Chan, art as intervention is becoming more important at a time when the younger generation is actively seeking out new ways to improve their lives and find happiness. He reflected that many young people are disconcerted with the way in which the city’s capitalistic system is making it impossible for them to have a different value system and lifestyle from the mainstream. The sky high property prices in Hong Kong are one obvious grievance that have prompted young people to join in social movements in addition to their demands for universal suffrage.

From the perspective of an educator, Chan also reflected on how the city’s mainstream education system continues to fail to create a diverse society in which different values are abilities are rewarded—for instance, vocational training for different trade skills is not seen as prestigious, and everyone is driven to vie for a university place, which there is not enough of to start with in Hong Kong’s unfair system. Chan felt that this society makes an opportunist out of everyone and severely limits the potential of many people. Young people who are now more well-off than previous generations should have more opportunities to explore different paths in life, but they are restricted in this by an unfair society. It is therefore important to use art as a means to restore a more accommodating and tolerant atmosphere in society.

The role of art fairs

The salon ended with a few questions from the floor, including one regarding the role of an international art fair like Art Basel in bringing communities together through public art and education. The speakers reflected on how a large-scale art event could create diversity in art but at the same time also restrict its free development in a city.

Batten, for example, pointed out that since the designation of the so-called “Hong Kong Art Week”, different art organisations, including the open studios event initiated by local artists in Fotan, have been jumping on the bandwagon in moving their shows and events to the same weekend in March, which to him signals an immature art landscape.

Charlotte Chang

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Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, art fairs, lectures and talks, activist art, community art, art and the community, events in Hong Kong

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Slavs and Tatars take on Machiavelli and self-help books in Abu Dhabi – in pictures



The latest ambitious, immersive exhibition by art collective Slavs and Tatars inaugurates NYUAD Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi.

The international artist collective has created their most immersive installation to date, exploring the historical literature of ‘Mirrors for Princes’ throughout the Islamic and Christian state tradition. NYUAD Art Gallery is the second chapter of Slavs and Tatars’ newest cycle of works.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Bazm u Razm', 2014, dichroic glass, wood, 90 x 50 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Bazm u Razm’, 2014, dichroic glass, wood, 90 x 50 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars is a collective of artists, writers and designers, defining itself as “a faction of polemics and intimacies”. They are somewhat akin to academically-minded explorers of political and cultural history across Eurasia, a region that they refer to as “an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China”.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Dil be Del', 2014, brass, copper, acrylic paint, 10 x 12 x 9 cm. Installation view at "Mirror for Princes", NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015). Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Dil be Del’, 2014, brass, copper, acrylic paint, 10 x 12 x 9 cm. Installation view at “Mirrors for Princes”, NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

The collective’s exhibitions and projects worldwide, such as the recent “Concentration 57” at the Dallas Museum of Art (2014), “Beyonsense” at MoMA New York (2012) and “Not Moscow Not Mecca” at Vienna Secession (2012) among others, are all characterised by an immersive element. This provides an environment that exhibits the results of their research-based practice, focusing on literature, texts and language or linguistics. They also address the mutual influences between Central Asia and Eastern Europe within these contexts.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Sheikha', 2014, steel, textile, fans, 125 x 80 x 130 cm. Installation view at "Mirror for Princes", NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015). Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Sheikha’, 2014, steel, textile, fans, 125 x 80 x 130 cm. Installation view at “Mirrors for Princes”, NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Advice for princes

The visual and the textual in their work are inextricable; without one, there would not be a complete understanding of the collective’s findings. Their newest cycle – as they call their projects – entitled “Mirrors for Princes” is, to date, the most ambitious immersive presentation.

The exhibition, launched at Kunsthalle Zürich (PDF download) in 2014, opened its second leg of the tour by inaugurating the new NYUAD Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi on 28 February 2015, where it will run until 30 May 2015.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Stonguei', 2015, resin, 27 x 10 x 9 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Stonguei’, 2015, resin, 27 x 10 x 9 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

“Mirrors for Princes” engages with an ancient tradition of political writing of the same name that could be placed within the category of advice literature (or fürstenspiegel), shared by both Muslim and Christian lands particularly during the Middle Ages, but also between the 16th century in the Renaissance period and the 19th century. These texts – guides gifted to future rulers – attempted to “elevate statecraft (dawla) to the same level as faith/religion (din).”

Slavs and Tatars, '5 o’clock shadow', 2014, linden wood, mirror, shaved copper ore, 48 x 18 x 31 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ’5 o’clock Shadow’, 2014, linden wood, mirror, shaved copper ore, 48 x 18 x 31 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Payam Sharifi – one of the collective’s founders – told The National:

Our work tries to push back against the consensus, especially among westerners and among intellectuals in general, that we are now some kind of new human being that doesn’t need faith. But we are not different people from the people we were 2,000 years ago or 500 or even 300 years ago. Faith has to play a role and a progressive one, not a regressive one.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Mystical Protest', 2011, luminous paint on silk-screened fabric, fluorescent lights, 620 x 240 x 15 cm. On loan from Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Mystical Protest’, 2011, luminous paint on silk-screened fabric, fluorescent lights, 620 x 240 x 15 cm. On loan from Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.

Probably the most widely known example of such texts is Niccolò Macchiavelli’s The Prince (1532), which addressed the delicate balance between seclusion and society, spirit and state – aspects that are still echoed several centuries later in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

Qum Rabat shrine, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, 2013. Documentation of site. Image courtesy the artists.

Qum Rabat shrine, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, 2013. Documentation of site. Image courtesy the artists.

At the centre of Slavs and Tatars’ research stands a similar text written in the eleventh century for the prince of Kashgar. Kashgar is the westernmost city of China, in the Xinjiang region, near the border with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and an important centre on the ancient Silk Road between Europe, the Middle East and China.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Hung and Tart (full cyan)', 2014, hand blown glass, 34 x 16 x 12 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Hung and Tart (full cyan)’, 2014, hand blown glass, 34 x 16 x 12 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

The Kutadgu Bilig, or Wisdom
 of Royal Glory, by Yusūf Khāss Hājib promoted a different,
 more egalitarian form of instruction, as Anthony Downey, Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz, points out in his essay in the exhibition’s accompanying publication examining the topic at hand. Publications of this nature are another necessary feature of Slavs and Tatars’ projects.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Nose Twister', 2014, veneer, faux leather, foam, paint, 45 x 250 x 250 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Nose Twister’, 2014, veneer, faux leather, foam, paint, 45 x 250 x 250 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Installation view of Slavs and Tatars' "Mirrors for Princes" at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015). Left: 'Love Letters No. 2', woolen yarn, 250 × 250 cm. Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Installation view of Slavs and Tatars’ “Mirrors for Princes” at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Left: ‘Love Letters No. 2′, woolen yarn, 250 × 250 cm. Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Self-help: the ‘mirror for princes’ in modern society

The art collective plays on references to the ubiquitous contemporary self-help literature that governs every aspect of our life and claims to elevate the individual to a higher state of existence, be it financial, spiritual or cultural. Slavs and Tatars also explore the ways in which the advice and counsels of yore have been twisted out of proportion and importance, such as in their series of works about grooming or the stylisation of appearance.

A turban from Slavs and Tatars, 'The Squares and Circurls of Justice', 2014, steel, textile, cotton turbans, polyester hats. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

A turban from Slavs and Tatars, ‘The Squares and Circurls of Justice’, 2014, steel, textile, cotton turbans, polyester hats. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

    A turban from Slavs and Tatars, 'The Squares and Circurls of Justice', 2014, steel, textile, cotton turbans, polyester hats. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

A turban from Slavs and Tatars, ‘The Squares and Circurls of Justice’, 2014, steel, textile, cotton turbans, polyester hats. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Javanfemme', 2014, hand-blown glass, string, 25 x 10 x 8 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Javanfemme’, 2014, hand-blown glass, string, 25 x 10 x 8 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

The exhibition comprises three spaces, starting with a room installation that welcomes visitors with a coat rack on which a series of traditional head accessories such as turbans are hung. The space contains a five-channel audio installation, Lektor (2014-present), with a series of mirrored speakers arranged on traditional book stands that play excerpts about the use and performance of language as a means of exercising power.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Lektor (Speculum Linguarum)', 2014-present, five-channel audio work, plexiglass, speakers. Installation view of Slavs and Tatars' "Mirror for Princes" at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015).  Image courtesy the artists, The Third Line and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Lektor (Speculum Linguarum)’, 2014-present, five-channel audio work, plexiglass, speakers. Installation view of Slavs and Tatars’ “Mirror for Princes” at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Image courtesy the artists, The Third Line and NYUAD Art Gallery.

The snippets are read aloud simultaneously from the Kutadgu in four languages – Turkish, Polish, German and Arabic – over the still audible original Uighur audio. The monotone and monotonous translated voice-overs are recorded in a style typical of Polish and Russian traditions of broadcasting and film.

Installation view of Slavs and Tatars' "Mirrors for Princes" at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015). Left to right: 'Sheikha', 2014, steel, textile, fans, 125 x 80 x 130 cm; 'Zulf (brunette)', 2014, oak wood, hair, 82 x 50 x 30 cm. Image courtesy the artists, The Third Line and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Installation view of Slavs and Tatars’ “Mirrors for Princes” at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Left to right: ‘Sheikha’, 2014, steel, textile, fans, 125 x 80 x 130 cm; ‘Zulf (brunette)’, 2014, oak wood, hair, 82 x 50 x 30 cm. Image courtesy the artists, The Third Line and NYUAD Art Gallery.

The second space, a dark and psychedelic gallery, presents a series of glowing, fetishised sculptures that explore the ancient text’s concern with personal grooming – of one’s hair, as in Zulf (brunette) (2014) as well as the heart and tongue such as in Dil be Del (2014) or Stonguei (2014).

Installation view of Slavs and Tatars' vitrine with grooming tools and other ephemera in "Mirrors for Princes", NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015). Left to right: 'Javanfemme', 2014, hand-blown glass, string, 25 x 10 x 8 cm; 'Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun', by Wess Roberts, PhD; 'Stonguei', 2015, resin, 27 x 10 x 9 cm; 'Hirsute happily with hairless', 2014, dichroic glass, tinned copper, 25 x 10 x 8 cm. Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Installation view of Slavs and Tatars’ vitrine with grooming tools and other ephemera in “Mirrors for Princes”, NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Left to right: ‘Javanfemme’, 2014, hand-blown glass, string, 25 x 10 x 8 cm; ‘Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun’, by Wess Roberts, PhD; ‘Stonguei’, 2015, resin, 27 x 10 x 9 cm; ‘Hirsute happily with hairless’, 2014, dichroic glass, tinned copper, 25 x 10 x 8 cm. Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Dil be Del', 2014, brass, copper, acrylic paint, 10 x 12 x 9 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Dil be Del’, 2014, brass, copper, acrylic paint, 10 x 12 x 9 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Installation view of the teahouse and reading room by Slavs and Tatars in "Mirror for Princes" at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February - 30 May 2015).  Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

Installation view of the teahouse and reading room by Slavs and Tatars in “Mirror for Princes” at NYUAD Art Gallery (28 February – 30 May 2015). Image courtesy the artists and NYUAD Art Gallery.

The last room features a serene teahouse and reading room, where a selection of books from the NYU Abu Dhabi library collection is curated by Slavs and Tatars, and merges with their art practice and their present work.

Slavs and Tatars, 'Both sides of the tongue', 2015, book, acrylic paint, 21 x 30 x 4 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

Slavs and Tatars, ‘Both Sides of the Tongue’, 2015, book, acrylic paint, 21 x 30 x 4 cm. Image courtesy the artists and The Third Line.

In his essay, Downey explains about the cycle:

On both a performative and reciprocal level, “Mirrors for Princes” is concerned with reviving concepts shared by Christians and Muslims alike, and thereafter imbricating them within a present-day social
 and linguistic order so that we can re-engage with their critical
 import and ongoing importance as texts and ideas.

 C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Central Asian artists, art about history, politics and art, gallery shows, touring exhibitions, picture feasts, event in the UAE

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12 resources on art investment



Art Radar lists 12 useful resources for art investors, including online platforms, research publications and books.

Whether you are an art lover preparing for your first purchase, or a seasoned investor looking for something more interesting than stocks and bonds, the following list of resources will help you get started. 

The hammer comes down during one of Sotheby's Spring 2013 auctions in Hong Kong

The hammer comes down during one of Sotheby’s Spring 2013 auctions in Hong Kong.

Please note that the list below, composed of online resources, accessible research publications and books, excludes art funds and art advisory houses as well as resources from auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Online resources

1. Saatchi Art

“Collecting works by emerging artists is the best way to begin investing in art”, reads the introduction to the ‘Invest in Art’ section of Saatchi Art, a leading online gallery and art advisory. For those intimidated by the vast quantity and diversity of artists in fairs and festivals, the page publishes a few editions each year with profiles of the hottest emerging artists from around the world, handpicked by Director and Chief Curator Rebecca Wilson.

The site also features a unique art advisory service free of charge – perfect for beginner investors who need help getting started. The page reads:

Your Saatchi Art curator selects art tailored to your needs, space, and style. Depending on your request, your curator might suggest as many as 50 works for you to browse through online. No other art advisory programme offers this time-saving service to both individuals and trade professionals free of charge.

2. Artprice

After developing their own eye for artworks, investors face more difficult questions: how much to pay for an art item and how much to sell it for. This is where global databanks and art indices come into play. With over thirty million indices and auction results covering more than 550,000 artists around the world, Artprice is the global leader in art price and art index databanks. According to a press release:

Artprice permanently enriches its databanks with information from 4,500 auctioneers and it publishes a constant flow of art market trends for the world’s principal news agencies and approximately 6,300 international press publications. 

Chinese artist Chen Yifei's Thinking of History at My Space, 1979 sold for CNY36,100,000 landing him at #69 on Artprice's 2009 Hammer Price List

Chinese artist Chen Yifei’s ‘Thinking of History at My Space’, 1979, sold for CNY36,100,000 landing him at No. 69 on Artprice’s 2009 Hammer Price List.

3. Artnet

Not only is Artnet a principal venue for online art auctions; it is a resourceful and user-friendly platform for seasoned investors and beginners alike. Price Database, for example, is a valuation tool containing records from over 1,600 international auction houses and eight million sales results. The site explains that:

With results dating back to 1985, the database allows users to easily and discreetly determine what they should pay for a work of art, the value of their collection, and the right time to buy or sell. 

In addition, the Analytics Reports benchmark the market performance of artists, art categories and customised sets of artworks against financial indices, such as the S&P 500 and Dow Jones, or specific assets such as gold. For busy professionals, the handy Market Alerts tool informs subscribers via email when artworks by their favorite artists hit the market at any major auction house, gallery or event.

4. The Mei Moses Index

Tailored for the financially-minded, the Mei Moses Fine Art Index describes itself as “[t]he art indexes most often quoted by the media in the analysis of the financial returns of the art market”. The site focuses heavily on the financial side of things, pitting its own art indexes against major financial benchmarks.

However, investors should beware the limitations of even the most sophisticated indices. Mike Moses, Co-founder of Mei Moses, reveals in a 2014 Forbes article that “[e]very index provider faces the same problem of how to deal with buy-ins. [...] There’s no way to assign any value to these lots, other than making up a price”. The same article warns:

While making a laudable attempt to bring transparency to the opaque art market, [art indices] have always been hobbled by the lack of sales data available. All of them rely on data from just half the art market – the auction market – when 53 percent of the global art market is actually made up of private gallery and dealer sales.

5. ArtRank

Despite such analytical limitations, adventurous investors might nevertheless enjoy ArtRank, a unique yet controversial site that uses a complex algorithm to place emerging artists into buckets including ‘buy now’, ‘sell now’ and ‘liquidate’ – “in the same way stockbrokers rate shares”, as The Guardian states.

Carlos Rivera, Co-founder of the company, tells The New York Times that the algorithm was designed by a financial engineer who still works at a hedge fund. In response to strong criticisms from artists, Rivera insists that he is not endorsing speculation, but merely increasing transparency and quantifiability in the notoriously opaque art market. He also openly states his wish to hook in a new class of investors – a class that can only understand art as pure commodity:

He [...] believes the art market cannot sustain its current rate of growth without broadening the base of collectors. The obvious place to look is the new class of super-rich technocrats, people who made their fortunes in data-crunching and want art, or their understanding of it, to conform to that view – not as a proposition fashioned by self-styled elites in New York and London.

Research reports

For the analytically minded who prefer to get dirty with the data itself rather than accepting recommendations from advisors, the recent boom of research publications on the art market is a godsend.

6. The Art Market in 2014 - Artprice and AMMA (Art Market Monitor of Artron) 

Now in its thirteenth edition and published in six languages, Artprice and AMMA’s annual report The Art Market in 2014 (PDF downloadable here) combines powerful resources and different perspectives of the West and the East to provide top quality information for art market participants.

Wan Jie, CEO and Founder of Artron Art Group and AMMA, writes in the introduction:

Compared with the annual report in 2012, this report improved its structure and content to fit the totality of Eastern and Western art market. Firstly, it introduces the characteristics of Eastern and Western art markets; secondly, it illustrates the segmentation of the art market by period and by medium; thirdly it focuses on some great art market capitals around the world; finally, it analyses some hot topics of [the] global art market in 2014 (such as the establishment of a free trade area and the importance of young artists).

7. Art & Finance Report 2014 – Deloitte Luxembourg and ArtTactic

Consulting giant Deloitte and art research firm ArtTactic released their third Art & Finance Report (PDF downloadable here) in September 2014. The report synthesises information contributed by 261 private banks, family offices, art collectors and professionals and acts as “a barometer for the emerging Art and Finance industry, to highlight the main trends and developments [and] to capture and measure the changing motivations and perceptions among its participants”.

Geared towards seasoned investors (not just art investors), the report’s comprehensive data situates art investments in comparison to other asset classes, analyses the growing sector in detail and forecasts future market trends. A summary and commentary of the report by Artnet states:

[...] the report [...] found that the average wealthy individual currently allocates approximately 9 percent of his or her portfolio to art and collectibles. However, particularly in the United States [...] wealth managers are forecasting increased portfolio allocations to art as an investable asset class.

Larry's List Art Collectors Report 2014 report cover: Boo Ritson, 'Monique', 2009, archival digital print on Somerset paper, 101.6 x 78.05cm, unframed. Photography by Andy Crawford. Image courtesy the Poppy Sebire Gallery Ltd, the artist and the Burger Collection, Hong Kong.

Larry’s List Art Collectors Report 2014, report cover: Boo Ritson, ‘Monique’, 2009, archival digital print on Somerset paper, 101.6 x 78.05 cm, unframed. Photography by Andy Crawford. Image courtesy the Poppy Sebire Gallery Ltd, the artist and the Burger Collection, Hong Kong.

8. Art Collector Report – Larry’s List

Recently reviewed by Art Radar, the Art Collector Report by Larry’s List focuses on the art collector scene, providing an in-depth analysis of data collected since 2012. The report breaks down the private art collector scene via region, art collection particulars and the collector’s individual characteristics. A regional approach is also taken, with comprehensive investigations into continental, country and city case studies. Co-publisher Magnus Resch explains in the press release:

The report gives insights into the world’s art collector scene for the first time. [...] It underpins the belief in the importance of the private art collector cohort and sets a starting point for providing some transparency on one of the most powerful driving forces in the art market today.

Books

9. Fine Art and High Finance: Expert Advice on the Economics of Ownership - Clare McAndrew (ed.)

Albeit a little dated (published in 2010), Fine Art and High Finance: Expert Advice on the Economics of Ownership is a valuable starting point and continuing desk reference for serious art lovers looking to gain solid knowledge of finance and investment. Key topics in the volume include appraisal and valuation, art as loan collateral, securitisation and taxation, art funds and insurance. The book is edited by Dr Clare McAndrew, a leading expert on art economics, who also compiles the annual TEFAF report.

10. Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century – Georgina Adam

Published only last year, Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century is a well-researched yet highly readable book dissecting the 21st century modern and contemporary art market. Author and veteran art journalist Georgina Adam draws on her own personal experiences and narrates with an engaging, insightful voice the many facets of the mysterious industry, including the development of auction houses into cutthroat business firms, the emergence of mega dealers, Internet sales, ‘branded’ artists and the explosion of art fairs.

11. Art as an Investment? A Survey of Comparative Assets - Melanie Gerlis

Also published in 2014, Art as an Investment? A Survey of Comparative Assets questions whether art could be seen as an investment at all. Extensively researched and written by Melanie Gerlis, The Art Newspaper‘s Art Market Editor, the volume presents a detailed analysis of a list of other assets as compared to art, including gold, wine, property, private equity, public equity and luxury goods. Gerlis paints a grim picture; ultimately the book reads as a solemn caution to the ill-advised and ill-informed art investor who might be susceptible to much hyped but skewed rates of returns.

12. Art as Investment: A Research Anthology From the Past 100 Years - Robert Lewis (ed.)

Not for the fainthearted, Art as Investment: A Research Anthology From the Past 100 Years is a dense collection of rigorous academic research papers from various sources over the past 100 years. The anthology aims to deliver a historic research background via primary research material. Albeit a bit heavy on the mathematics and statistics at times, the volume proves extremely illuminating for both the layman and the professional – assisting in the navigation of “the treacherous waters of art valuation”, according to an Amazon review. The stories and anecdotes of sales stretching back 100 years make for an intriguing and helpful guide.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: art and investment, art collecting, market watch, market transparency, business of art, auctions, funds, books, market reports, resourcesresource alerts

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Art Basel Hong Kong 2015: new calendar and format successful – fair round up



With rich regional flavours and concerted programming, Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 offered a significant boost to the Asian art scene.

The third edition of Art Basel Hong Kong drew to a close on 17 March 2015 with strong sales and a star-studded turn-out. Art Radar brings you key trends and first-hand perspectives from Asia’s largest blockbuster art show.

Yang Maoyuan (Platform China) at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Yang Maoyuan (Platform China) at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Surge of Chinese collectors

The usual Art Basel Hong Kong fair statistics were satisfying on all counts:

  • Over 3000 artists showcased their works, which were worth altogether USD2.5 to 3 billion as estimated by insurer AXA Art;
  • 233 galleries hailing from 37 countries and territories took part in the fair, with the customary fifty/fifty split between Asian and Western exhibitors;
  • There was a re-application rate of 92.6 percent from last year’s edition, with a 7 percent rise in applications for the main Galleries Sector;
  • 29 galleries were first-time participants, with twenty coming from Europe, representing heightened global dealer interest in the Asian collector scene;
  • Around 60,000 visitors roamed the halls of the fair, slightly down from the 65,000 last year, but well-accounted by the fact that the fair was open one day less this year;
  • The star-studded attendance list included Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and Dita Von Teese, among many others.

Despite the slight drop in actual footfall – primarily due to the decreased duration of the fair – almost all galleries interviewed by Art Radar perceived a larger number of visitors compared to last year. Many observed that the difference was especially noticeable at the invite-only previews, with this year’s edition attracting an extremely robust VIP attendance.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Notable institutional and private collectors included Britain’s Tate galleries director Nicholas Serota, M+ Director Lars NittveUli Sigg, Adrian Cheng, Richard Chang and Budi Tek, among others.

A shared perception was that there was a surge in numbers of young mainland Chinese collectors. Alibaba founder Jack Ma, worth USD22 billion, was counted among their number. Mauro Ribero, Director of Rossi & Rossi London, told our Art Radar correspondent that

although the visitors are diverse, there are more Chinese (mainland) collectors and visitors than ever before.

Strong sales, rise of new media and video

The new March dates, which distanced the Hong Kong edition from Art Basel‘s flagship fair in June, ensured not only a better turnout but also the presence of prime quality works – while previously dealers tended to save A-grade works for the Basel fair. Energy was sky-high and sales were brisk – a new thing for the Hong Kong fair, as Asian collectors tended to take their time in the past.

Splashy transactions occurred right from the get-go, the most hyped being David Zwirner‘s high-profile sale of Chris Ofili‘s Dead Monkey – Sex, Money and Drugs (2000) for USD2 million – a transaction that happened immediately after the fair opened its doors at 6pm on 13 March. Meanwhile, eight paintings by Zhang Enli were sold by Hauser & Wirth within the first two hours of the fair, priced at USD250,000-350,000 apiece.

Skarstedt Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Skarstedt Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

As expected, paintings were the medium of choice, “both figurative and abstract, by a wide range of artists – so long as the canvases were supersized”, observes BLOUIN ArtInfo. Some of the most high profile sales include two abstract paintings by Atsuko Tanaka sold by Hauser & Wirth for prices between USD400,000 and USD600,000, a vintage Sean Scully sold by ShanghART for USD850,000 and a pair of large Neo Rauch paintings, each for about USD1 million, sold by David Zwirner to Chinese clients.

Sales were not limited to paintings, however; this year’s fair witnessed a rise of new media not only in attendance but in the books as well. Photography works did well, as did digital art: Nam June Paik‘s three-TV installation Internet Dweller (1994) sold to a foundation for USD500,000, Tracey Emin‘s neon work sold at USD67,250-74,350 and Tony Oursler‘s LCD aluminium screen at USD70,000-90,000.

Video works were also snapped up by institutions and private collectors – a rare occurrence in previous years. Joanne Huang Chi-Wen of Chi-Wen Gallery told Art Radar that new media and video works were a rising trend:

We have sold four works so far, including two video works to collectors from the United States. Video works were hard to sell in the past. It’s improving though!

Gagosian Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Gagosian Gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Huang also credited the fair’s Film sector, curated by Beijing- and Zurich-based curator, multimedia artist and producer Li Zhenhua, in raising interest and awareness in film and video.

Check out Art Radar‘s rolling media round up on Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 for more sales reports.

Sophisticated programme tickles developing Asian tastes

Sales aside, Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 distinguished itself by the increased presence of quieter, subtler works. Modest yet high quality pieces held their ground alongside blue-chip and Instagram-friendly ‘art fair art’ – think Australian artist Sam Jinks‘ hyper-realistic silicon crouching nude, which drew crowds “like hyenas swarmed around a dead gazelle”, according to art critic John McDonald, or Nam June Paik’s Golden Buddha (2005) at Gagosian, one of the most photographed works at the fairARTnews observes:

[...] More dealers are eschewing flashy, shiny, hyper-colorful, attention-grabbing “art fair art” for subtler pieces. [...] During previous editions ["art fair art"] seemed [...] calculated to appeal to [...] local taste. This year, there were smaller, quieter works like paintings by the young artist Helene Appel at Cohan, trompe-l’oeil depictions of scattered rice, and a modestly-sized Kai Althoff painting being shown by Gladstone.

Kalfayan Galleries at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Kalfayan Galleries at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Many commented that Asian – especially mainland Chinese – collectors were displaying increasingly sophisticated tastes, harbouring unprecedented interest in non-Western and less-established names. Yuli Karatsiki, Gallery Manager of Kalfayan Galleries, told Art Radar that they witnessed “a remarkable growth in the confidence of the collectors [from mainland China]“, and Bloomberg writes:

While in previous years mainland buyers focused on acquiring works by highly collected artists like Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, they are now showing increasingly broadened tastes.

Catering to this maturing audience, rich regional flavours infused the fair’s halls. Up-and-coming talents from around the world made impressions on the newly discerning collector-base in the themed Insights and Discoveries Sectors. In particular, Cambodian artist Leang Seckon at the Rossi & Rossi booth attracted strong international sales with his “blend of surrealism, personal confession and social commentary”; his works were priced from USD4,000 for a small collage to USD24,000 for a large-scale painting.

For more coverage on Asian contemporary art at Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, check out Art Radar’s pick of top 10 thematic booths in Art Basel Hong Kong 2015.

Nezaket Ekici performing at Insights Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Nezaket Ekici performing at Insights Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

In addition to collectibles, eager Asian audiences were treated to a dose of live art by veteran performance artist Nezaket Ekici. Drawing wide-eyed crowds to the Pi Artworks booth, the Turkish-born artist’s re-enactment of her 2002 Emotion in Motion saw her repeatedly applying red lipstick and kissing blank canvases in nothing but a lacy white nightgown. Art Radar‘s correspondent spoke with Ekici on one of her breaks; the artist commented on her enraptured Hong Kong audience:

Their faces were so full… There were so many expressions on their faces. I could see their hunger – it is so obvious that they want to see more [of these kinds of works]. They want to see something different, something fresh. There is so little performance art in the fair – I think galleries could be more open-minded in their choice of works.

First-class international stage for Asian art

Drawing A-list buyers from the East and the West, Art Basel Hong Kong is the largest, most impactful international stage for Asian art, which constitute 50 percent of the works in the fair. Most notably, this year’s much-lauded Encounters Sector showcased twenty large-scale, show-stopping sculptural and installation pieces, all created by Asian artists.

Xu Longsen at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Xu Longsen at Encounters Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Expertly curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor, Executive Director of Artspace in Sydney, the ambitious, concerted presentations enlivened the fair and made a powerful statement about the current strengths of Asian contemporary art.

Meanwhile, Asian galleries seized the chance to introduce their best works to an expectant Western audience, whose interest is steadily growing. Taiwan’s Chi-Wen Gallery reported sales to US collectors, and Japanese dealer Elisa Uetmatsu at Taka Ishii Gallery observed a marked increase in interest in Japanese contemporary art by US museums.

Johnson Chang, Director of Hong Kong-based Hanart TZ Gallery, which had sold more than half their works at the time of interview, revealed to our Art Radar correspondent:

We are patronised a lot by mainland China and Taiwanese visitors – naturally, given the subject [of Chinese landscapes]. But international collectors are also beginning to engage with this field, which is very encouraging.

Samson Young at Discoveries Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Samson Young at Discoveries Sector, Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Local Hong Kong artists gained a significant share of the spotlight. Photographer Trevor Yeung and artist Samson Young were shortlisted for the BMW Art Journey award for emerging artists along with New York-based Mika Tajima. The three young artists will submit proposals and compete for the final award. Mimi Chun of Blindspot Gallery, who represents Yeung, told the South China Morning Post:

Hong Kong artists are beginning to enjoy a harvest this year with more international recognition, which they deserve.

Connecting Asia to itself and its histories

A subtler yet no less important impact of Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 is its effect of connecting Asia to itself. “[T]he different art scenes in Asia are historically so disconnected from one another”, commented Marc Spiegler, Director of Art Basel, to The New York Times. By bringing together diverse narratives and cultures and situating them side by side, the fair fosters curiosity, cultural dialogue and cross-regional collecting.

The result is increased cohesion and depth in the Asian art scene. Mumbai-based Chemould Prescott Road Gallery, which sold a stunning Atul Dodiya painting to Hong Kong’s M+ Museum, revealed to Art Radar that they had a fair amount of traction from Korean and Taiwanese groups this year – more than before. The Drawing Room, based in the Philippines, reported serious interest from museums and art advisors in Asia.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Art Basel in Hong Kong 2015. Image courtesy Art Basel.

Adeline Ooi, new Director of Art Basel Hong Kong, said in an interview:

[There are a] multitude of art scenes in the Asia region, which are so diverse and different, yet have touch points. If we can not only show this when looking at contemporary art but place it in the context of history, these differences and similarities become even more remarkable. [...] This is something we are trying to offer our visitors: putting regional art into context.

Escorting Asian art into the mainstream

When asked about some of the challenges facing gallerists today, Mauro Ribero of Rossi & Rossi replied to our Art Radar correspondent:

Promoting Asian art is sometimes still challenging, especially in London where ‘Asian-ness’ is sometimes still seen as something ‘exotic’ and its art appreciated through an Orientalist point of view. The challenge lies in changing that perspective and helping audiences understand otherwise.

From what we have seen at Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, it is safe to say that perspectives are already changing, what with Asian contemporary masterpieces ascending the world stage, an increasingly sophisticated Asian collector-base as well as international buyers developing keener tastes for Asian art. It might be said that the Hong Kong edition of the behemoth fair is the first truly international fair that foreshadows a future globalised art world.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: art fairsmarket watchbusiness of artcollectors, connecting Asia to itself, globalisation of artevents in Hong Kong

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Iraqi contemporary art’s ‘invisible beauty’ at the Venice Biennale 2015



The Ruya Foundation announced details of the Iraqi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as well as a collaboration with Ai Weiwei.

The recent announcement of the National Pavilion of Iraq at the 56th Venice Biennale reveals the country’s representative artists as well as an exclusive collaboration with Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei.

Akam Shex Hadi, Untitled, 2014-2015, black-and-white digital print on Innova-Baryth Smoothgloss paper, 30 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Akam Shex Hadi, ‘Untitled’, 2014-2015, black-and-white digital print on Innova-Baryth Smoothgloss paper, 30 x 45 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

On 13 March 2015, the non-profit Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq announced the details for the country’s national pavilion presentation at this year’s edition of the Venice Biennale.

Curated by Philippe Van Cauteren, Artistic Director of S.M.A.K. (Museum for Contemporary Art) in Ghent and co-curator of the Belgium Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013, the Iraqi Pavilion entitled “Invisible Beauty” will feature five contemporary artists from across Iraq and the diaspora.

The exhibition will include a diverse range of media, with both newly commissioned and rediscovered past works. Accompanying the main show, a collection of 500 drawings made by refugees in Northern Iraq will also be on display. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has selected a number of these drawings for a publication that will be launched at the Biennale.

Invisible Beauty

The title of the exhibition refers to both unusual or unexpected subjects encountered in the works of the artists, as well as to their invisibility on the international stage. Among the variety of themes explored are survival, record-keeping, therapy and beauty.

The title’s infinite possibilities of interpretation reference the many ways in which art – generated in a country subjected to war, genocide, violations of human rights and the rise of Isis – can be approached. This is an important time, as the press release highlights, to bring out the voices of those who continue to create art in Iraq, where Isis has been conducting systematic demolition of the country’s cultural heritage in Hatra, Nimrud, Nineveh and the Mosul Museum.

Quoted in the press release (PDF download), the pavilion’s curator says:

Invisible Beauty is like a fragile membrane that registers the oscillations of an artistic practice permeated by the current condition of the country and the state of the arts.

Salam Atta Sabri, 'Letters From Baghdad', 2010-2012, pencil on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Salam Atta Sabri, ‘Letters From Baghdad’, 2010-2012, pencil on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

The artists

The artists in the pavilion represent a break – both in terms of media and of wider social concerns – from the constraints of a classical education that informs the orthodox aesthetic tradition of the majority of Iraqi artists’ work. The five artists on show are:

  • Latif Al Ani – photographer (Baghdad)
  • Akam Shex Hadi – photographer (Kurdistan)
  • Rabab Ghazoul – performance artist (Wales)
  • Salam Atta Sabri – ceramicist and sculptor (Baghdad)
  • Haider Jabbar – painter (Turkey)

Considered the founding father of Iraqi photography, Latif Al Ani (b. 1932) explores both modernising trends and the retention of ancient traditions. On show will be works from the earlier period of his career.

Akam Shex Hadi’s (b. 1985) photography engages with the rise of Isis and the refugee crisis. His new series of 28 photographs for the pavilion incorporates a recurrent motif resembling a snake, which references the Isis flag and serves as a reminder of its ensnaring qualities.

Haider Jabbar (b. 1986) will display a series of watercolour portraits – brutal renditions reflecting on the Isis crisis and the fate of its numerous victims.

Rabab Ghazoul (b. 1970) takes the Chilcot Enquiry as her point of departure. Investigating our relationship with political and social structures, part of her work will include an inventory of new official testimonies about the Iraq war, spoken by anonymous British citizens.

Salam Atta Sabri (b.1953), who has worked in art administration for a long time, will exhibit more than 100 drawings that he has never shown publicly before, which are symptomatic of crumbling infrastructure.

Latif Al Ani, 'Mirjan Mosque', 1960, black-and-white digital print on Hahnemühle Baryta fine art paper, 25 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist and the Arab Image Foundation (AIF).

Latif Al Ani, ‘Mirjan Mosque’, 1960, black-and-white digital print on Hahnemühle Baryta fine art paper, 25 x 25 cm. Image courtesy the artist and the Arab Image Foundation (AIF).

Traces of survival in Iraq

A display of more than 500 drawings made by refugees in Northern Iraq – collected by Ruya in Camp Shariya, Camp Baharka and Mar Elia Camp – will accompany the exhibition. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has selected a number of these works to include in a publication, TRACES OF SURVIVAL: Drawings by Refugees in Iraq selected by Ai Weiwei, which will be launched at the Biennale. The proceeds from the book will be given to those who provided the content.

Click here to read more Art Radar coverage of the 56th Venice Biennale. And don’t forget to check back with us for reviews and interviews once the Biennale has kicked off in 1 month and 14 days!

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Iraqi artists, art from Iraq, photography, painting, performance, drawing, books, Venice Biennale, 56th Venice Biennale, events in Venice

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