As newer art fairs crowd the spring calendar one wonders when galleries from Pakistan will also feature on their rosters. Art fairs occupy a central position in today’s art world, allowing the public to discover the newest art production and trends. From the legendary ‘Armory show’ of 1913 to the recent art fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, these venues are important as educational platforms, introducing contemporary art to the public even before museums are built. Providing unparalleled networking opportunities they also offer art professionals and collectors the opportunity to meet periodically.
For artists and galleries from developing countries participation in such events is an introductory and promotional venture that enlarges the visibility, range and temperament of their states art. Lacking the essential infrastructure that facilitates such entries, the art milieu in Pakistan remains confined to its local ambit. None of the prominent Pakistani art galleries were able to participate in recent art fairs like Art Dubai and Art Hong Kong 2012. Fortunately the content, quality and application of Pakistani artworks compare favorably with other new entries of Asian art in these festivals and this is turning the tide. A few international galleries supporting South Asian art have consistently placed our art on their festival itineraries and a select batch of young Pakistani artists are now beginning to gain exposure in the global market.
In the current edition of Art Dubai held in the last week of March this year. talent from Pakistan was spotlighted in main gallery booths of the fair. Gallery Grey Noise, Dubai, exhibited a solo presentation by Mehreen Murtaza called ‘Crisis apparitions’. Artist Rashid Rana was represented by the Indian gallery, Chemould Prescott Road and art of Pakistani origin artists Ayaz Jokhio and Anwer Jalal Shemza was exhibited at the booth of Green Cardamom from London. Our mainstream artists Adeela Suleman, Abdullah Syed and Sana Arjumand were part of the exhibition put up by Aicon Gallery, New York.
ART HK, billed as the leading art fair in Asia, welcomed 266 galleries from 38 countries during its run from May17 to 20. Attracting some of the best galleries from around the globe with an even balance of those attending from Asia and those attending from elsewhere in the world, it featured works by artists from Picasso to Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. The quality of work on show demonstrated how seriously galleries are now taking Asia.
Asia One, a section dedicated to showing solo shows of Asian artists by galleries from Asia, and which debuted at last year’s fair, returned for the 2012 fair and was again well received. Art Futures, another section which debuted at last year’s fair, also returned this year to once again showcase emerging talent represented by young galleries. Art Futures galleries were established in or after 2004, and show one or two artists aged 35 years old or less at the time of application. A US$25,000 prize is awarded to the artist judged to be the best in this section. This year’s prize was awarded to local Hong Kong artist Lee Kit, for his solo presentation, a project entitled, ‘Something in my hands, 2012’.
London-based gallery Green Cardamom, showed works by contemporary Pakistani artist Ali Kazim at the Hong Kong Art Fair 2012. The collection included the premiere of his video, ‘Ghusl’ (literally translated as ablution or washing) a site specific, large-scale sculptural installation with human hair, his first series of self-portraits in a decade-long career, and delicate drawings on Japanese tissue. The artist is best known for his watercolour washes over under-drawings of human figures, creating rich, multi-layered and textured constructions. This was reflected in Kazim’s current work, which uses both sides of the surface to create a dense, layered effect.
More than just commercial or trade enterprises, today’s art fair slant towards cultural realities is bringing the festivals closer to Malraux’s ‘museum without walls’ concept. Paco Barragán, a freelance curator and author of The art fair age points out that, “For curators, art fairs have become not only places of trade, but places for cultural experiences which economists Joseph Pine and James Gilmore have called the ‘Experience economy’. This concept, developed in the late 1990s, states that businesses must constantly provide customers with fresh and new ‘experiences’. And as such, art fair directors increasingly come from an artistic rather than an entrepreneurial background, which in turn is a response to the emergence of increasingly knowledgeable art collectors.
“Whether conceiving special sections for the fair: Black Box at Arco, Art Statements at Art Basel; or curating special shows like Filip Luyckx’s ‘Ephemeral fringes’ at Art Brussels (April 2008) or Salima Hashmi’s ‘Desperately seeking paradise’ at the 2008 edition of Art Dubai; or by organising one-day thematic exhibitions using the art pieces on display at the fair as happens at ‘In the spot’ at Circa Puerto Rico, the curator can facilitate a certain narrative in a context where conception, selection, production, exhibition, inauguration and social interaction are all compressed into a period of between one and five days.”