Top Middle Eastern art commentator breaks down Western clichés – The National


Journalist and art commentator Anthony Haden-Guest has been following the Middle Eastern contemporary art world’s development for decades. He recently sat down with The National to reveal some of his insights into what makes the region’s cultural scene so unique.

Middle Eastern art commentator Anthony Haden-Guest.

Click here to read the original article published by The National 30 April 2012

In the article, British-American writer Anthony Haden-Guest stated that Middle Eastern artists and cultural institutions have already developed far beyond what the average Western art professional might know. He pushed back at the clichéd view of Arab art as “white and gold and ornamental”. As Haden-Guest told The National,

In reality, it is far more complex than that. For instance, identity plays a strong role, whether an artist is Egyptian or Lebanese, whether they have spent their working career in London or Paris and how those European influences factor into the work, how different cultures complicate it.

Globalisation and cultural integration, however, are in direct opposition to maintaining this local identity, especially when it comes to the art market and artists cultivating a diverse collector base for their works. Haden-Guest was unconcerned, though, that these issues will significantly co-opt the practice of Middle Eastern artists.

There will always be pressures on artists, but real artists produce art. They respond to their own culture and what they know in the art world. Middle Eastern artists don’t need to produce work for western markets. Their markets are very healthy, so they don’t need to be reliant on appeasing London or New York collectors. I think if they continue to be true to themselves and develop as such, they will find plenty of collectors in their own cultures, which will translate globally.

Most crucial to the development of a regional contemporary art and cultural identity is the support of art institutions, which Haden-Guest believes have already staked out their own unique position in the global art world.

At Art Dubai, I saw no Damien Hirsts on the stands, no Richard Princes, no Murakamis and just one Warhol. Art Dubai is a regional fair, and it is all the more interesting for that. It is stronger on Arab art, with some very good Iranian art. It’s not just another cookie-cutter fair selling blue-chip art. They are seriously showing what is being made out there in the region.

Haden-Guest goes on to say that the influx of Western art professionals and collector interest into the Middle East is a healthy phenomenon, and will be a boon to a region trying to develop its local identity into a global presence.


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Related Topics: Asia expands, art critics, art in the Middle East

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