Hang on, did you say exhibitions? In the summer? Doesn't the UAE close down in July? Not any more, it seems. While in the past just a few stalwart galleries have kept the flag flying in the hot months, this year, recession notwithstanding, the art scene doggedly continues to be active and most of the spaces in Dubai and the UAE have some sort of exhibition during the summer, whether it's a solo or group show.
The term "summer exhibition", though, tends to connote a particular type of exhibition, usually showing the works of several artists already connected to the gallery. Perhaps this derives from the ultimate group exhibition, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, to which, for the past 241 years, any artist, professional or amateur, has been able to submit work. It's a sprawling, unfocused but fascinating presentation of 1,200 works, chosen from around 10,000 pieces.
The UAE's crop of summer group exhibitions is certainly less ambitious, but all the more manageable for that: a wander around the RA in July is an arduous feat, which can take hours and result in glazed-over eyes and a desperate thirst for coffee. Here, instead, a number of private galleries have pulled together some of their favourite artists for small group exhibitions that, in fact, can be a more rewarding experience for the gallery-goer than the solo exhibitions that have so much more credibility. Indeed, while the well-established galleries have their regular visitors, who go to almost every show and may find this sort of thing a tad dull, for the newcomer it is an opportunity to suss out the inclinations of each gallery. Equally, rather than simply using the summer exhibition as a sort of convenient holding room during the quiet season, curators are starting to see it as a chance to set out their stalls, indicating the direction future exhibitions might take. The XVA gallery in Bastakiya, which annually presents a summer show, is doing just that with its current outing, displaying the works of eight international artists, some of whom live in Dubai, and three of whom are newcomers whose works will be displayed in the coming season.
"It can be quite intimidating to go to a solo exhibition, and you might not take to the artists, whereas here the chances of there being something appealing is that much higher. It's vitality by variety," explains Rosie Hayes, the director of the XVA gallery. "It's a mixed bag of new talent and it's about seeing art in a new way rather than as a single or double exhibition. It's quite a fun mixture, and that's the point really: there are all types of art, some of which is very modern, some Warhol-esque, some mixed media conceptual art - there's just a real combination of different themes and ideas, some more traditional than others." Here are some of the highlights of the summer.
As one of Dubai's best-known galleries, the XVA in Bastakiya is a pioneer of the Summer Collection here, but this time it has taken a different approach to previous years by including the work of three artists new to the gallery's roster, Colleen Quigley, Mélanie Sarrasin and Jakob Roepke. Quigley's brightly coloured Pop-style installations are quite a leap from some of her previous painted works - she is interested, in her words, in "developing a visual language using ready made (prefabricated) materials that challenge our perceptions of art in a post modern landscape."
That translates into the work Do whatever you do intensely, a vivid word-based wall sculpture made from a mosaic of brightly coloured pieces of plastic. Sarrasin, meanwhile, is a Canadian painter, whose abstract oil canvases are in a more conventional style, but seem to be informed by her concurrent architectural practice in Montreal. Finally, Roepke is an artist from Berlin, who has made more than 900 of his small, painterly collages since the mid-1990s. With an easy-on-the-eye approach and a humorous, naive style, this could be one of the XVA's more commercially savvy decisions. Besides the newcomers are the American painter Julia Townsend, the Saudi expressionist Hussein Almohasen, the Syrian abstract painter Thaer Khazem, the Lebanese graphic artist Laudi Abilama and the British artist Jonathan Gent. Until July 30, then Sept 1-23 2009. www.xvagallery.com.
The ever-stylish Boutique 1 Gallery at The Walk in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Residence is a reliable source of desirable art, curated by Fadi Mogabgab, whose own establishment in Beirut is highly rated. This summer, the first since the gallery opened in November, there are works from the extremely eminent artists already featured at Boutique 1, including the likes of Alexander Calder and Joán Miro, and living artists including the Lebanese photographer Joanna Andraos and the spectacular iris paintings of Georgi Andonov. And if you don't buy a work of art in the gallery, you can always take a look at those on the racks of the boutique on your way out. Until July 30, www.boutique1.com.
Taking the classic approach of a summer round-up, Ayyam's exhibition, Levant Summer, includes work by each of its regular artists, all of whom, unsurprisingly, hail from the Levant region. Luckily the extensive roster at the gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai, is already fairly diverse in terms of style, so the result is a lively and varied collection of works in a well-planned space - though the emphasis remains on large-scale oil paintings. Particularly appealing are the works of three Syrian painters, Mouteea Murad, Nihad al Turk and Kais Salman. The huge, colourful grids by Murad, whose transformation from an adherent of monochrome to a master of technicolour has been a spectacular success. Al Turk, meanwhile, also an excellent colourist, specialises in angst-ridden still life paintings. I s it possible to have an anguished bowl of fruit? Al Turk certainly seems to think so. Finally, Salman's semi-abstract figurative paintings are somehow reminiscent of 1960s interpretations of stylised tribal figures, simultaneously ugly, frightening and rather endearing. Until Aug 15, www.ayyamgallery.com.
Going one step further than the XVA in a quest for newness, Carbon 12's summer group show, Seven Positions, features the work of seven emerging artists sought out over the last two years by the Dubai Marina gallery's curators. In an attempt to mark a shift in the art world as it moves from postmodernism to a new kind of practice prompted by the 21st century's technology-based social changes, Carbon 12 has picked out artists who engage intellectually with these issues, but who are still young enough to retain some of that energy and idealism that is easily lost in the cynicism of the art world. Among the highlights are the works of Florian Hafele, whose surrealist sculptures are like high-energy, optimistic versions of the mutilated figures of Jake and Dinos Chapman; and the youthful Philip Mueller, a painter whose strangely compelling compositions feature startling but humorous juxtapositions of subject and a pleasingly streetwise technique. Until October, www.carbon12dubai.com.
Through the summer, the works of the Ghaf's owners, Jalal Luqman and Mohammed Kanoo, both artists in their own rights, and the digital artist Sumayyah al Suwaidi will be on show in Abu Dhabi. Both Al Suwaidi and Luqman take a deeply emotional, fantastical approach to their works, which involve digital image manipulation, Luqman's often including some sculptural aspect as well. Kanoo, meanwhile, has a more minimalist approach, applying his distinctly Pop sensibilities to Emirati icons such as the ghutra. Until Aug 17, www.ghafgallery.com.