At the crossroads of the world: London gallery director reveals why Art Dubai is so special

At the crossroads of the world: London gallery director reveals why Art Dubai is so special
Installation view of Alex Hartley’s “After You Left” (2016). (Photo courtesy: The artist and Victoria Miro, London)
Updated 23 March 2018

At the crossroads of the world: London gallery director reveals why Art Dubai is so special

At the crossroads of the world: London gallery director reveals why Art Dubai is so special

LONDON: He attends art fairs all over the world but Glenn Scott Wright, co-director of the prestigious Victoria Miro Gallery, London, says Art Dubai is an event that he and gallery founder Victoria Miro look forward to with particular pleasure.
“Art Dubai is a real favorite. The UAE is a part of the world I am less familiar with so being here is fascinating. People are incredibly warm and hospitable — Victoria and I always have a great time. We have always had a really excellent experience at this fair,” he said.

 Do Ho Suh’s “Boiler Room: London Studio” (2015).
(Photo courtesy: The artist and Victoria Miro, London)

This year the gallery has three artists exhibiting at the fair, he told Arab News. Regular patrons will be happy to see the return of Idris Khan and Alex Hartley, showing alongside the South Korean installation artist Do Hoh Suh, in his first appearance at the event.
Suh’s stunning fabric sculpture provides an eye-catching welcome to the gallery’s exhibition booth (A4 ). The artist is known for his meticulous replicas of the architecture of places in which he has lived and worked, including his childhood home in Korea. He invites the onlooker to reflect on migration, transience and shifting identities. Such themes are bound to resonate with many of the visitors to Art Dubai who live expatriate lives and experience the joys and challenges of adapting to other cultures.
The work of Alex Hartley was a big hit when it was first shown at Art Dubai last year. “It was immensely popular and we sold everything,” said Scott Wright.
Hartley’s work addresses complicated, and sometimes contradictory, attitudes toward the built and natural environments. His practice is wide-ranging, comprising wall-based sculptural photographic compositions, room-sized architectural installations and, more recently, unique photographic works with sculptural elements inserted as low-relief into the surfaces of large-scale color prints. What unites the works is an investigation of modern architecture and the ways in which it is conceived and presented. Often destabilising ideas of ‘iconic’ architecture, Hartley allows room for multiple perceptions of and uses for the built form.

It’s always very exciting when you find yourself looking at something exceptional. The word ‘look’ is absolutely key as this is at the core of what gallerists do

Scott Wright of Art Dubai

Also returning is an Art Dubai favorite, the distinguished artist Idris Khan. Khan is well known in the UAE for his impressive work at the heart of the memorial at the Wahat Al Karama Park in Abu Dhabi. The complex structure is composed of 31 aluminum vertical tablets, the largest 23 meters high. The tablets appear to gently rest on each other, symbolizing the united strength of the UAE’s seven nations.
Khan, who draws inspiration from the history of art and music, as well as key philosophical and theological texts, was awarded an OBE for services to art in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list last year.
Speaking of Khan, Scott Wright said: “He has a good following. Showing him consistently has been helpful in promoting his practice in the region.”
Scott Wright brings his 30 years of experience of running art galleries to his role as a member of the international selection committee for Art Dubai. He explains: “My remit is to help the directors of the fair to bring in galleries and work of the highest calibre. Many people apply to take part in Art Dubai and we evaluate each application and make sure that the people who are showing here are the best we can present. I have a fairly broad experience and reasonably good sense of what works and adds value and what doesn’t.
“The selection committee members sit down with the fair organizers in October — six months before the fair — to look at all the applications. Each committee member brings a different perspective, which is very helpful. We have a really useful exchange of knowledge and information as we can share our respective country and regional expertise.”

Idris Khan, “Absorbing Light” (2017).
(Photo courtesy: The artist and Victoria Miro, London)

He has found his participation in Art Dubai enriching. “For myself and the Victoria Miro team participating, Art Dubai has been very rewarding because I have learnt a lot about art from the region — not just the Middle East but also East Africa and India. That’s been fantastic,” he said.
He has a keen eye for new talent and stresses the importance of keeping an open and curious mind.
“It’s always very exciting when you find yourself looking at something exceptional. The word ‘look’ is absolutely key as this is at the core of what gallerists do,” he said.
Asked to describe a recent ‘find’ that he found especially inspiring, he cited his introduction to the Nigerian artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
“This was particularly rewarding for me personally — especially as it came a little bit out of left field. In 2012 I was in Miami and a curator called Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator of Nova Southeastern University’s Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, introduced me to a young artist called Njideka Akunyili Crosby. I looked at her work online and thought it looked interesting. The next time I visited New York, a few months later, I got in touch and she invited me to visit her studio. On the basis of that meeting I invited her to participate in an exhibition I curated in 2013. On the back of that show we decided to represent her, and she is now doing extremely well,” he said.

 Idris Khan’s “Numbers” (2015). (Photo courtesy: The artist and Victoria Miro, London)

He reflected: “It’s so important to keep your eyes open, to be receptive and to see what is out there in the world. Occasionally, you can be led to something of real brilliance where you can feel really excited and get behind the work and engage with it at a deeper level.”
Over the years of attending Art Dubai, Scott Wright has observed that visitor numbers visibly swell when there are simultaneous cultural events in the region.
“There is a good international mix at Art Dubai, but that this is even more so when there is a cluster of events taking place. This gives people an additional impetus to travel to the region. When countries support their neighbors’ cultural initiatives it boosts visitor numbers. For example, when the Sharjah Biennial takes place at the same time as Art Dubai.
“Strategically it is interesting if there is regional collaboration on significant cultural events and openings,” he said.
Victoria Miro has many clients in Saudi Arabia and Scott Wright said he looks forward to visiting the country when the right opportunity comes up. For him, art is a universal language.
“I love the way art creates dialogue between people from different parts of the world,” he concluded.

Idris Khan’s “The Pain of Others (No.2)” (2017). (Photo courtesy: The artist and Victoria Miro, London)