The contemporary art fair is an easy target. I could go on about how they are taking over as the dominant form of art exhibition; spreading around the world showing wares wherever an ‘emerging market’ or ‘young collector’ can be found; poisoning any remaining shred of self-respect contemporary art could have. Instead, I won’t. (And, by the way, the World Expositions did a similarly exploitative job over 100 years ago.) I’ll just mention that the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC), held in Paris this October, was an extravaganza; but it was also the chance to see some great art works, hear great talks, watch great films, meet great people, and generally do some good social, behavioural and sartorial observation.
To me it seemed the most interesting booths at FIAC were ones that pretended not to be luxury goods stalls. This was most evident when the booth had been given over to one artist to create a total installation, as with that of Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler [http://aktnz.com/], rather than trying to jam five in at once. Not only did it give a more generous insight into that particular practice, but it was also a massive relief after the endless white walls, white light and white white.
The young German gallery showed GCC, a collective ‘founded in the VIP lounge of Art Dubai in 2013’ (a perfect choice for the Parisian art fair in 2014 – fresh and fair-ready!), which consists of a ‘delegation’ of nine artists (Nanu Al-Hamad, Khalid al Gharaballi, Abdullah Al-Mutairi, Fatima Al Qadiri, Monira Al Qadiri, Aziz Al Qatami, Barrak Alzaid, Amal Khalaf). The name GCC makes reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council, ‘an economic and political consortium of Arabian Gulf nations’ (see artist CV: http://aktnz.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/GCC-CV4.pdf).
In a booth with red carpet over the usual concrete floor, GCC’s installation for FIAC included the HD video Co-Op (2014), which ironically promotes a society based solely on luxury. This work plays on a flat screen that is installed within Royal Mirage (2014), floor to ceiling wallpaper depicting the luxurious interior of a multi-billion dollar hotel in the Gulf. This serves as the background to eight painted portraits, hung in an even line. GCC commissioned a Thai painter in Kuwait to create these oil paintings of members of the collective in the same style he paints sheikhs. Depicted in thawb and in a typical soft-focus manner, signs of age or gender become indiscernible, and all eight artists fall under the category of ‘Arab’.
Simultaneously a witty comment on the kinds of portraiture Western collectors might hang on their walls, the rising power of the Middle East, and the role of the artist as self-promoting brand, the ‘mirage’ was pretty tangible. I liked to think about the process a collector might go through to choose which artist-sheikh face he or she wanted over the mantelpiece.