(FAQ) IN ART – WHAT IS ART?

Marwan Kassab-Bachi, The Three Palestinian Boys, 1970. Oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm. “Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation, photographed by Capital D” Artwork chosen by Omar Kholeif

IT’S A EMOTIONAL EXPLORATION OF THE ART WORLD: WHICH ARE THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS WHEN IT COMES TO ART? ARTISTS, CURATORS, GALLERISTS, MUSEUM DIRECTORS, ART COLLECTORS AND MORE GIVE THOUGHTFUL AND DEEPLY PERSONAL ANSWERS TO OUR QUERIES, WHILE SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE – AND OFFERING A GLIMPSE INTO ITS FUTURE.

WHAT IS ART?

Aaron Cezar: A way of thinking and approaching the world, often represented as objects but could also incorporate actions.

Adel Abidin: Art always represents a new way of seeing and perceiving the world around us aiming to create new arguments that would challenge the existing realities. Through this puzzling challenge we manage to notice the different surfaces of the actual realities that are wrapping us, that which enables us to break through with totally new perceptions.

Ashkan Baghestani: Art is that which moves you, which has the power to make you tense or happy. At its core, art is something that forces you to think outside your comfort zone, making you question your environment, whether past or present.

Basel Dalloul: Well, the dictionary definition of art is as follows: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Art is the creative expression of an individual or group of individuals. Art takes many forms, some visual, some literary, some musical or even performative. Mother nature is the most divine of all artists. I’ve even seen real feces used in a work of “shit art.”

Hormoz Hematian: Art is an intellectual production that has a physical manifestation.

Mahmoud Obaidi: I’m not sure yet, but it’s an act of doing or making something. It’s a reaction and documentation of an event.

Manuel Rabaté: It takes time to give the full philosophical explanation but as the director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, my definition would be: all manifestations of creativity and beauty in mankind. That would be a way to encompass many formats being painting, sculpture but also writing, performing arts, beyond what we exhibit in the galleries.

Michael Jeha: Art is a visual expression of the imagination that is primarily non-functional. It’s a form of communication that produces an emotional and subjective reaction. Art can have many facets and over time its scope has broadened to encompass not only flat art and sculpture, but also video, conceptual and performance arts, amongst others.

Mounira Al Solh: Art can be any practice you designate as art.

Nadim Karam: Mmmm; what is art?

Nayla Tamraz: It’s not easy to give an absolute definition of art, especially when this definition has been repeatedly questioned through history. If there should be an absolute definition of art, well, I would say that art is about creativity, in the sense that it’s an operation within which one invests a certain energy called creativity. And since this energy seems to be vital to some people, I would say that art is necessary to those who practice it. Art is then creativity and necessity. A necessity to the artist, and a necessity to human societies also, but that’s another debate. Other definitions, more contingent ones, could be added to this constant, because they are more historical. In the philosophical tradition, art is defined by its aesthetic dimension: art is beauty. But we also know that it is difficult to uphold such a statement since Duchamp transformed a urinal into a fountain, that is, into a work of art. If the Fountain is a work of art, it is because it was considered, and maybe acknowledged, that art defines more or less itself as such (the famous “Art as art” by Joseph Kosuth), and that it doesn’t necessarily lie in the work of art itself anymore but in the idea. That is the conceptual shift. Nevertheless, it has to be said that these definitions that seem to be simple are far from being simple, and that the human psyche, being the heir to an old tradition and a strong discourse with long-lasting effects, resists to give up the idea of beauty. Let’s then keep in mind that art is a space that is permanently open to new meaning donations, and that it is in a continuously questioning of what it is. Art, in sum, is asking the question of art. That is where, probably, the essence of art lies.

Omar Kholeif: For me, art is anything that critically asks questions of the world around us.

Samia Halaby: In painting, it is the exploration of the language of form.

Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil: Art is able to express all those things, that cannot be put into words.

Venetia Porter: Something that moves you, provokes a response, that makes you want to keep looking and go deeper.

 

Marwan Kassab-Bachi, The Three Palestinian Boys, 1970. Oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm. “Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation, photographed by Capital D” Artwork chosen by Omar Kholeif
Marwan Kassab-Bachi, The Three Palestinian Boys, 1970. Oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm. “Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation, photographed by Capital D” Artwork chosen by Omar Kholeif

Biographies

Aaron Cezar
Aaron Cezar is the founding director of Delfina Foundation, where he both curates and develops its interrelated programme of residencies, exhibitions and public events. He has overseen the physical expansion of Delfina Foundation into London’s largest host of international residencies. He is also Advisor-at-Large at Art Jameel, one of Delfina Foundation’s Strategic Partners. Independently and through Delfina Foundation, Cezar sits on numerous boards, committees and advisory groups.

Adel Abidin
Adel Abidin was born in Baghdad in 1973. He moved to Helsinki, Finland, in 2001 and has lived there since. Abidin joined the Finnish Art Academy in 2003 to pursue a Master’s degree in art. During that time, he switched his practice from full-time painter to multimedia artist, and since 2004 he’s pursued a career as a video and installation artist.

Abidin’s art uses various media, such as videos, video installations, multimedia sculptures, sound-based installations, photography and paintings, to explore contemporary issues. His main point of departure is always linked to the intention to explore the complex relationship between visual art and politics and identity. Using a sharp palette of irony and humour, he creates works that explore different social situations while dealing with elusive experiences and cultural alienation.

The artist uses his cross-cultural background, as an Iraqi artist living in Helsinki, to create a distinct visual language often laced with sarcasm and paradox, while maintaining an ultimately humanistic approach. This sarcasm used is nothing but a medium of provocation to serve the purpose of extending the mental borders of the artwork beyond the limits of the exhibition space. Abidin is particularly interested in creating opportunities to prolong the discussions beyond artwork by enabling the audience to convey mental elements from the work into their daily life. He always finds the words “politics” and “identity” to be more than a terminology or a path that we travel in, as they unfold to other concepts like discrimination and mass media manipulation.

Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby’s Head of Sale and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art Specialist
Ashkan Baghestani joined Sotheby’s Middle East Department in 2012 focusing on the Contemporary Doha auctions and developing this increasingly important art platform, including the April 2013 Contemporary Art Doha sale which realised $15.2 million and established the highest price for an auction in the Middle East region, with records set for nine artists, including the record price for a living Arab artist, Chant Avedissian. His in-depth knowledge of the market for Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern and Iranian works, his fluency in Persian, French and English, and his contacts in the region have been invaluable in cultivating this important collecting field at Sotheby’s. He constantly travels across the Middle East region, participating in Sotheby’s numerous travelling exhibitions across the region such as Jeddah Art Week, Saudi Arabia and Dubai Art Week Travelling Exhibition, UAE.

Mr. Baghestani grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and has travelled extensively to study and work in Paris, New York and London. Before joining Sotheby’s in the summer of 2012, he studied Design and Management at Parson’s, the New School for Design, in the United States in 2009, earning a BBA Degree and followed later with a diploma in Middle Eastern Art from Sotheby’s Institute in 2011. He actively worked for the Jameel Prize at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Basel Dalloul
Basel Dalloul Founded the Dalloul Art Foundation in 2017 to manage and promote his father’s (Dr. Ramzi Dalloul) vast collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. At over 4000 pieces it is the largest collection of it’s kind in private hands. The collection includes but is not limited to paintings, photography, sculpture, video and mixed media art. Basel has had a passion for art since he was very young, inspired by both his mother and father, both of whom are also passionate about art in all its forms.

Hormoz Hematian
Hormoz Hematian founded Dastan’s Basement in 2012 to showcase emerging and experimental Iranian art then followed with Dastan+2, dedicated to established artists and Dastan:Outside, a program of curated pop-up exhibitions throughout town. Together, the three initiatives cover the full spectrum of Iranian contemporary and modern art practices. In addition to an extensive local program of shows, pop-ups and eclectic collaborations, the Dastan group of galleries can be regularly sighted at established international venues such as Frieze New York, Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Dubai and Contemporary Istanbul.

Mahmoud Obaidi
Mahmoud Obaidi (b. 1966, Baghdad) is an Iraqi-Canadian artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. After leaving Iraq in 1991, he obtained his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph in Canada, and completed diplomas in new media and film from Toronto and Los Angeles, respectively. His work has been exhibited extensively, including British museum, London-Qatar Museums, Doha; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Saatchi Gallery, London; the National Museum of Bahrain; the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; the National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman; Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Texas; and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec, NABU museum,Lebanon. others. His work is part of the permanent collection of a number of significant museums, foundations, and private collections.

Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi
Manuel Rabaté is a graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po, 1998), and of HEC Business School (2001). He began his career as a Deputy Director at the auditorium of the Musée du Louvre from 2002 until 2005.He participated in the creation of new programmes on Islamic Arts in the context of the first performance contract between the French government and the museum for its modernisation. He joined the Musée du quai Branlyas Deputy Director of Cultural Development a year before its opening in 2006, then led the launching of the first exhibitions abroad. Rabaté joined Agence France-Muséums in 2008, a year after the signing of the intergovernmental agreement between France and Abu Dhabi. He has followed the Louvre Abu Dhabi project from its conceptual phase until its operational implementation as a Secretary General and acting CEO since 2010. He was appointed CEO of Agence France-Museums in 2013 to set up in Abu Dhabi a multidisciplinary team of museum professionals and follow through the phases of the project realisation in collaboration with the major French museums and their UAE partners. In September 2016, Manuel Rabaté was appointed Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi by the Department of Culture and Tourism –Abu Dhabi. Aside from his duties in the service of museums, Rabaté has also chaired the reflection group-Culture & Management, in which he had created the museum department. He has also taught Arts and Cultural Management at various universities in France and Abu Dhabi.

Michael Jeha
Michael Jeha is the Managing Director and Deputy Chairman Christie’s Middle East
In his role as Managing Director of Christie’s Middle East, Michael is responsible for implementing and executing the firm’s strategic and commercial vision for the region. Christie’s was the first international auction house to open an office in Dubai in 2005 and began holding bi-annual sales the following year.
Under his management, Dubai has become a regular and important selling centre on the international auction calendar with the two annual auctions of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art, achieving sales of over $250 million.
Michael Jeha joined Christie’s in January 1999, exactly 20 years ago. Originally Lebanese, Michael was born in London and studied at the City University Business School.

Mounira El Solh
Born 1978 in Beirut, Lebanon, Mounira El Solh lives and works between Beirut and Amsterdam. She studied painting at the Lebanese University, Beirut, from 1997 to 2001, and fine arts at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, from 2003 to 2006. She was also research resident at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam in 2007 and 2008. She is a visual artist embracing inter alia video and video installations, painting and drawing, embroidery, and performative gestures. Irony and self-reflectivity are central strategies for her work, which explores feminist issues, tracks patterns of microhistory, is socially engaged, and can be political and escapist all at once. In 2008, Al Solh started a NOA Magazine, a performative gesture co-edited with collaborators such as Fadi El Tofeili and Mona Abu Rayyan, and Jacques Aswad (NOA III). She has had solo exhibitions at the Art Institute Chicago (2018); ALT, Istanbul (2016); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2014); Center for Contemporary Art, Glasgow (2013); Art in General, New York (2012); and Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam (2011). As well as group exhibitions at C’arré d’Art Musée d’Art Contemporain de Nîmes (2018); documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017); 56th Venice Biennial (2015); New Museum, New York (2014); Homeworks, Beirut (2013); House of Art, Munich (2010); and the 11th International Istanbul Biennial (2009).

Nadim Karam
Nadim Karam – an artist and architect working from Beirut- initially trained in architecture at the American University of Beirut then earned a doctorate in architecture from the University of Tokyo, Japan. He has recently finished building his own workshop, A.MUSE.UM in the Lebanese mountains, which will be also used as a platform for art, research and exhibitions.
With Atelier Hapsitus, the pluri-disciplinary group he founded in 1996, he has realized temporary and permanent urban interventions in cities worldwide such as Prague, Beirut, Melbourne, Tokyo, London, Kuwait and Yerevan, using public art as an instrument for urban stimulation. Based on a cross-fertilization of disciplines and nationalities, the twenty-year-old practice has a multidisciplinary composition, which feeds into the experimental nature of its work. He has held academic positions in Tokyo and Beirut, gives lectures internationally and has published several books.

Nayla Tamraz
Nayla Tamraz is a Lebanese writer, curator, researcher and professor of Literature and Art History at Saint Joseph University of Beirut where she has also been, from 2008 to 2017, the Chair of the French Literature Department and where she created, in 2010, the MA program in Art Criticism and Curatorial Studies that she currently heads. She also organized several events including the symposium ′Littérature, Art et Monde Contemporain: Récits, Histoire, Mémoire′ (2014, USJ, Beirut). In parallel, she leads a career as an art critic and a curator. In this context, she co-curated the exhibition ′Le Secret′ (Espace Ygreg, Les bons voisins, 2017) in Paris and curated the exhibition ′Poetics, Politics, Places′ that took place in the Museum of Fine Arts of Tucumán in Argentina, in the frame of the International Biennale of Contemporary Art of South America (BienalSur, 2017). Her research is about the issues related to the comparative theory and aesthetics of literature and art in their historical context, which brings her to the topics of history, memory and narratives in literature and art in post-war Lebanon. Her current research explores the relationship between poetics and politics as well as the representations associated to the notion of territory.

Omar Kholeif
Omar Kholeif is an Egyptian-born, British writer and curator. He is co-curator of Leaving the Echo Chamber, the 14th Sharjah Biennial and Time, Forward! The V-A-C Foundation Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. He is also a Guest Curator for Abu Dhabi Art and the Manchester International Festival, as well as a Visiting Tutor at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Kholeif has held curatorial positions including, Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at MCA Chicago; Curator at Whitechapel Gallery, London; Senior Curator at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester; Curator at FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool; Founding Artistic Director of the UK’s Arab Film Festival and Senior Editor at Ibraaz Publishing. He has curated or co-curated major international projects including the Cyprus Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale; FOCUS: Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean at the Armory Show, New York; and the 2012 Liverpool Biennial. The author and or editor of over twenty books and catalogues on art, Kholeif’s recent books include Goodbye, World! Looking at Art in the Digital Age (Sternberg Press) and The Artists Who Will Change the World (Thames and Hudson, both 2018).

Samia A. Halaby
Samia A. Halaby was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1936. She is a visual artist, writer, scholar, and activist. Now, rounding out her sixth decade as an active painter, she continues to explore abstraction and its relationship to reality. She has exhibited in galleries, museums, and art fairs throughout the US, Europe, Asia, and South America. Her work is housed in private and public collections around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum (New York and Abu Dhabi) and the Institut Du Monde Arabe. Halaby has authored and contributed to a number of books, notably: “Liberation Art of Palestine” (2001), “Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre” (2016), and “Growing Shapes: Aesthetic Insights of an Abstract Painter” (2018). She is the subject of two monographs and numerous reviews.

Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath are Founders of the multidisciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented in Munich and New York, Chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation in Hamburg, and Affiliate Curators at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Bardaouil and Fellrath have jointly curated numerous critically acclaimed exhibitions at renowned museums and institutions worldwide, and have held teaching positions at universities including the London School of Economics and New York University. They are award-winning authors with contributions to academic journals, books, newspapers and art magazines. They are currently preparing their international thematic exhibition Walking through Walls opening in September 2019 at the Martin-Gropius Bau in Berlin. For the upcoming 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia they are curators of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates.

Venetia Porter
Venetia is a curator responsible for the collection of Islamic art, in particular of the Arab World and Turkey as well as developing the collection of the modern and contemporary art of the Middle East.
She was previously curator of Islamic coins in the Department of Coins and Medals. She gained a degree in Arabic and Persian at the University of Oxford, followed by a M.Phil in Islamic Art, obtaining her Ph.D on ‘The history and monuments of the Tahirid dynasty of the Yemen 858-923/1454-1517’ from the University of Durham. She recently curated the exhibition Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam (2012).


A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #48

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