Brokering art in public spaces
Participating in the inaugural ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ event, Editor-in-Chief Brendon Bell-Roberts shares some of the highlights from the programme.
Rachel Rekkab fully conceptualised and presented ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’, Art Beyond the BRICS, to assist these regions in forging strategic partnerships – for private and public commissions, and to network creative agencies and business. ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ addresses art as an emerging asset class in today’s current economic uncertainty and examines the new forces at play in the global art market.
The ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ talks program which hosted its inaugural edition in Dubai earlier this year brought together leading professionals in the fields of art, real estate and the built environment. ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’, as a name, is inspired by the ideas conveyed in the evocative words ‘emerge’ and ‘reveal’. The ambition of the conference is to offer unprecedented access to a larger, diverse and inclusive market that draws its inspiration from fast developing areas of the world outside the hegemonic centres.
‘Emerge’ refers to five major emerging national economies expressed by the acronym BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – whereas – ‘reveal’ reflects the idea of art as a tool that allows humans to experience new ways of seeing the world, and its ability to create new synergies and enable a fruitful dialogue with other areas of human activity in an exciting manner.
Public art offers more than aesthetic enhancements to today’s built environment. It is a distinguishing part of our public history, our evolving culture and our collective memory. It reflects and reveals our society and adds meaning to our cities and uniqueness to our communities. Public art humanises the built environment and invigorates public spaces. It connects our past, present and future. The intangible benefits of public art – aesthetic beauty, cultural interpretation, education, inspiration, and the general improvement of the urban environment – are well-known. These ‘soft’ benefits, however, are often overlooked or dismissed as a low priority, especially during challenging economic times.
Places with strong public art expressions break the trend of blandness and sameness, and give communities a stronger sense of place and identity. It can also generate positive bottom-line economic impact, with material financial benefit, thus creating an unintended revenue stream for developers and the local government.
Public art in transit-oriented developments offers exceptional marketing opportunities for both public agencies and private developers. The continuous high visibility, publicity, and brand identification of iconic public art can generate increased leasing interest, perhaps more than any other element of a transit-related project.
LEFT: Sam Rauch, Director of Special projects at Public Art Fund, New York, presenting Ai Weiwei’s ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’ exhibition at ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’, 2018. RIGHT: Daniel Tobin of Urban Art Projects (UAP), Brisbane, Australia, presenting at ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’, 2018, about their work on ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’.
UNFOLD Art XChange’s four day programme kicked off with a keynote address by Theresa Sweetland, Executive Director of Forecast Public Art, and Publisher of Public Art Review Magazine. The first day’s programme included panel discussions on ‘Percent for art Progammes’, ‘Inspiring and Building Better Communities, ‘Art Meets Architecture’, and ‘Placemaking and Urban Spaces’.
Sam Rauch’s presentation on the Public Art Fund’s 40th year exhibition – ‘Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’ – presented a project of unprecedented scale and scope encompassing more than 300 unique commissioned artworks installed throughout the urban landscape of New York.
Sam Rauch is a New York-based contemporary art professional with extensive experience realising ambitious exhibitions in both the public and institutional realms, currently serving as the Director of Special Projects at Public Art Fund. A veteran of non-profit public/private partnerships, Rauch’s experience connecting the cultural, corporate and civic communities in New York City has enabled him to work successfully to advance the mission of Public Art Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 1977 to bring dynamic contemporary art to a broad audience in New York City and beyond. This is achieved by mounting ambitious, free exhibitions of international scope and impact that offer the public powerful experiences with art and the urban environment.
‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’, was inspired by a Robert Frost poem titled ‘Mending Wall’, and presented the 300 artworks by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei across all five boroughs of New York. The exhibition ran from October 12th, 2017 – February 11th, 2018 and featured multiple installations that were erected around the city – with two of the largest ‘iconic’ pieces located in Central Park and Union Square – being produced by Urban Art Projects (UAP), who participated in the ‘Placemaking and Urban Spaces’ panel discussion at ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’. The additional pieces were located at Cooper Union, the Unisphere in Queens, fences on rooftops, metal banners in 200 locations, display advertisements at bus stops, and sculptures on bus shelters.
UAP is a Brisbane based organisation that collaborates with artists, architects, designers and developers to bring ‘all scales’ of projects to fruition. Founded by twin brothers Daniel and Matthew Tobin as ‘Urban Artists’ in 1993, UAP is now a global company that does not shy away from challenging and unlikely artworks, and has slowly become one of the most experienced and skilled art fabricators in the world.
Arch, one of their two pieces for multidisciplinary artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, saw a 40-foot tall cage-like structure installed beneath New York’s iconic Washington Square Arch. Perfected in mirror polished stainless steel, the sculptural structure created a passageway in the form of two united human silhouettes. Combining the form of a passageway (which suggests movement) with that of a fence or cage (which suggests the inhibition of movement), the artwork created a paradox which provoked discussion on issues relating to borders, immigration and access, and begged us to consider the inherent dualities of the world we live in.
Ai Weiwei, Arch, 2017. Galvanised mild steel and mirror polished stainless steel. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio, Frahm & Frahm and UAP. Photographer: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY. On view as part of the citywide exhibition ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’, presented by Public Art Fund. Ai Weiwei, Gilded Cage, 2017. Mild steel, paint. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio, Frahm & Frahm and UAP. Photographer: Ai Weiwei Studio, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY. On view as part of the citywide exhibition ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’, presented by Public Art Fund, October 12, 2017 – February 11, 2018.
“New York city is an immigrant city so I decided to do a project related to the city’s history and my personal experience, which reflects the socio-political conditions of today” – Ai Weiwei
Wahat al Karama, Abu Dhabi with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the background. Courtesy Surface Photography and UAP.
For Gilded Cage, situated at the entrance to Central Park, Ai Weiwei created a giant gilded cage that simultaneously evoked the luxury of Fifth Avenue and the privations of confinement. Visitors were able to enter its central space, which was surrounded by bars and turnstiles. Functioning as a structure of both control and display, the work revealed the complex power dynamics of repressive architecture. The variations in formats presented by Ai Weiwei were inspired by the differences between immigrants – their languages, and stories – and seeing fences at refugee camps and border sites all over the world. Ai Weiwei wanted to develop a sculptural language that he could bring into the context of New York.
His experiences of living in China and his ongoing activism around freedom of speech, challenges to freedom, and oppressive systems have resulted in his incarceration, being beaten, and constant harassment – but these difficulties have made him understand that to experience freedom you need to see your way through the fight. Ai Weiwei not only creates work to comment on his own experiences – he also speaks for the many who do not have a voice.
UAP has also recently collaborated with British artist, Idris Khan, to realise ‘Wahat Al Karama’, a monument at the centrepiece of the new United Arab Emirates (UAE) Memorial Park, in Abu Dhabi. ‘Wahat Al Karama’, exemplifies the power of fusion between art and architecture in a project that conveys purpose and emotion and creates a place of reflection, serenity and significance for its nation. Commissioned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the memorial honours the members of the UAE Armed Forces and the sacrifices made in support of their country’s sovereignty, dignity and freedom.
The centrepiece of ‘Wahat Al Karama’, meaning ‘the oasis of dignity’, is a 90-metre long monument comprised of 31 leaning tablets which symbolise the support between soldiers, families and citizens in the face of adversity. Clad with over 850 cast aluminium panels, sections of the tablets are sandblasted and stamped with poems by emirs of the UAE. The ‘Pavilion of Honour’ positioned at the end of the memorial journey was designed by Khan in collaboration with bureau^proberts. The internal walls of the pavilion are clad with over 2,700 plates cast from 11 tons of recycled aluminium sourced from decommissioned armoured vehicles. The plates are embedded with names of UAE heroes whose lives have been lost in service.
CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: Katherine Gass Stowe, founder and chief curator of James Company in conversation with Steve Wilson, founder of 21c Museum Hotels at ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ 2018. Image courtesy of Filmatography. Installation view featuring a Kehinde Wiley, 21c Museum Hotel, Louiseville, Kentucky. Installation view of The Dream by Frances Goodman, 21c Museum Hotel, Louiseville, Kentucky. Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotel. The Ellerman House Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa. Courtesy of Ellerman House.
ART, REAL ESTATE & HOSPITATLITY was the theme for the second day and kicked off with a keynote address by Katherine Gass Stowe, Founder and Chief Curator of James Company. She led a conversation with Steve Wilson, Founder of 21c Museum Hotels, who discussed the evolution of Museum Art Hotels and how 21c challenges the traditional standards of hospitality. Paul Bruce-Band, General Manager of Ellerman House, ranked best hotel in Africa by Condé Nast Traveler, discusses their unique collection of turn of the century and contemporary African art. Joining the panel was Mona Hauser, owner of the renowned XVA Art Hotel in Dubai which houses one of the leading galleries in the Middle East.
The bespoke presentation of art has become one of the biggest trends in real estate and hospitality developments today. Art has become a fundamental, rather than ornamental, element of a design. It is being used by hoteliers as an integral part of their marketing strategy, to challenge guests to think more deeply about their experience at the hotel, and to attract luxury travellers. Art has developed into a critical part of a hotel’s brand and identity while art has been seen by investors and real estate developers as a way to influence real estate values and maximize property prices.
21c Museum Hotels was launched in 2006 by philanthropists, art collectors and husband-and-wife team, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, and is a Louisville-based combination of contemporary art museum and boutique hotel chain. It was voted as among the top 10 hotels in the world and top hotel in America by Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. Together with Laura Lee Brown, Steve Wilson is the creative force behind 21c Museum Hotels. He’s found success by using his passion and intuition as a guide in hospitality, philanthropy, investing and collecting contemporary art. Aiming to engage the public with art in a new way, Wilson and Brown converted vacant buildings into an interactive museum, boutique hotel and restaurant. Today, the museum hotel has expanded into seven cities, a multi-venue museum with more than 75,000 square feet of exhibition space. Much of the art exhibited draws from the couple’s personal collection of more than 3,000 works. Though their tastes in art differ, their approaches are the same: never buying for investment, but rather for the love of the work.
21c is North America’s only museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting works by contemporary artists of the 21st century including Frances Goodman, Bill Viola, Andres Serrano, Sam Taylor-Wood, Yinka Shonibare, Chuck Close, Alfredo Jaar and Kara Walker. There are now 21c museum hotels in Louisville, Cincinnati, Bentonville, Durham, Lexington, Oklahoma City and Nashville and soon to be opening in Kansas City, Miami and Des Moines.
THIS PAGE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Entrance to the Ellerman House Gallery with views over the Atlantic Ocean. Packed stone sculpture by Angus Taylor, Cape Town, South Africa. Courtesy of Ellerman House. XVA Gallery, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, the Creek, Dubai. Middle image courtesy of XVA Gallery, left & right image courtesy of Brendon Bell-Roberts.
Since the 2003 inauguration, XVA is a place where heritage and history merge to create a constantly evolving designer haven. The inspired owner, Mona Hauser, has created 15 unique and individual guest rooms which showcase architectural and cultural motifs of the region. The hotel is located in the heart of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, unique for its architectural heritage, the mystery of its traditional maze-like alleyways, and proximity to the Creek. Housing an internationally acclaimed art gallery, the hotel also boasts an award-winning restaurant. XVA Gallery is one of the leading galleries in the Middle East that specializes in contemporary art from the Arab world, Iran and the subcontinent. The gallery exhibitions focus on works by the regions foremost artists as well as those emerging onto the scene. The gallery’s artists express their different cultural identities and perspectives while challenging the viewer to drop prejudices and borders. XVA Gallery exhibits both locally and internationally; collaborating with galleries and participating in international art fairs and exhibitions. XVA founded and organized the Bastakiya Art Fair from 2007- 2010 as part of its commitment to raising the profile of contemporary art practice in Dubai and the profile of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.
From Cape Town, South Africa, Paul Bruce-Brand – the newly appointed General Manager for Ellerman House, which was voted by Condé Nast Traveler as the Number 13 best hotel in the world and the top hotel in Africa and the Middle East – presented their unique hospitality offering. Ellerman House owns an extraordinary art collection of over 1000 works, spanning original works from the turn of the last century to contemporary African art which are exhibited as an integral part of creating a unique and memorable artistic experience for their guests. Paul also works closely with the owners of Ellerman House on the Ellerman House ArtAngels Initiative which they founded in 2011 as a charity art auction to raise funds for The Click Foundation – targeted at groups of young children commencing on their reading journey through Early Childhood Developing Centers, schools and after school programmes. The proceeds of the charity event are used to buy computers and expand the reach of the Reading Eggs programme in the environments in which they operate.
LEFT TOP TO BOTTOM: Shireen Atassi (left), Director of Atassi Foundation for Art and Culture, Mr. Ahmad bin Eisa bin Nasser Alserkal (middle), Founder of the Alserkal Cultural Foundation (ACF) and the Director Annamaria Bersani (right) speak during the Culture Xchange talk at ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ conference 2018. Image courtesy of Filmatography. Nourhan Maayouf (Winner of Absa L’Atelier 2016), Did You Sleep Well? (detail), 2017. Two channel video, 4’35’’. Courtesy of the artist & Absa. RIGHT TOP TO BOTTOM: Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art. Art & Language, The Air Conditioning Show, 1966. Installation view at Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art, Montsoreau. Philippe Méaille Collection. Images courtesy Philippe Méaille. Richard John Forbes, Vortex, 2013. Painted steel. NIROX Sculpture Park, South Africa. Photographer: Brendon Bell-Roberts.
PRIVATE, CORPORATE AND MUSEUM COLLECTIONS was the theme for the fourth and final day on the agenda. As art increasingly becomes a signature for corporate identity and an alternate financial investment strategy, Dr Paul Bayliss, art and museum curator for Absa bank, discusses the Barclays Africa Group’s commitment to growing contemporary art in Africa. Also on the panel was Basel Dalloul presenting the initiatives of the Dalloul Art Foundation, alongside the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – the largest museum of contemporary African art. The programme focused on the role of privately funded institutions as an increasing necessity and where public funds and government infrastructure is sorely lacking. The importance of private museums are progressively being recognised where only two percent of privately funded museums exist in the Middle East region compared to 80 percent in Europe and Asia, it is a trend that is anticipated to continue in the region.
Today, approximately 50% of Fortune 500 companies are developing art collections and have begun to view art as both a status symbol and an asset, so that the professional development of a corporate art collection is both an extension of the corporate image and a practical financial diversification strategy. Many businesses and corporations invest in art to shape and boost brand image, as a bespoke collection lends to a company a unique personality. As an extension of its collecting activities, it may seek to contribute to the public wealth through the commissioning of significant works of art and public artworks, and generally contributing to the preservation of emerging cultural heritage.
The number of private art collectors who choose to house their collections in publically accessible museums is sharply increasing. There are now more than 300 privately funded museums world-wide, 70 percent of which were founded since 2000. While private collectors may make their collections public for any number of reasons, these private institutions often fill a gap in a country’s arts and culture scene, especially where institutional infrastructure is limited, as in many developing economies. Many private collectors view the development of a privately funded museum as a means of new philanthropy, by giving diverse audiences access to world-class works of art which would otherwise be inaccessible. Private museums are often equal to their publicly funded counterparts, offering public education programmes, high level curatorial expertise, and international exhibition programmes.
Philippe Méaille is the founder and president of the Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art and owns the world’s largest collection of works by the radical conceptualists Art & Language, who played an important role in the invention of conceptual art. The project was initiated in November 2014, and opened to the public in April 2016. Méaille is the son of two art collectors and currently studies chemistry at the René Descartes University in Paris, where he attends libraries and art galleries as often as he can and has subsequently built his first library. His meeting with important booksellers such as Marc Martin-Malburet led him to understand the importance of his collection. He began his collection with video artist’s, such as Nam June Paik, and quickly moved to minimal and conceptual art. In the mid 90s he decided to focus the collection on the works of Art & Language becoming the most important buyer of their works – in a then depressed art market. After he met the artists at the end of the 90s, he realised the importance of the collection and his obligation to make it accessible to the public. The Philippe Méaille Collection has been on long term loan to MACBA Barcelona since 2010.
Swaady Martin, trustee of the NIROX Sculpture Park, South Africa, in conversation with ART AFRICA Editor-in-Chief, Brendon Bell-Roberts discussed the challenges around public funding, both for the NIROX Sculpture Park and public art programmes alike. Set in 15 magnificent hectares that form part of an extensive nature reserve in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, north west of Johannesburg, NIROX is a former commercial trout breeding and fishing farm which was transformed into a unique platform for artists to realize and exhibit outdoor sculpture and installations; and for collectors and the public to enjoy art within nature. Several permanent artworks form part of NIROX’s slowly evolving permanent collection is available for viewing by special appointment. These currently include works by Richard Long, Willem Boshoff, Caroline Bittermann, Valerio Berruti, Rebecca Chesney, Pryanka Choudhari, Rosenclare and Thomas Mulcaire.
Also present from South Africa was Dr Paul Bayliss who has served in the role of Absa Bank Art and Museum Curator since January 2011. His role as Absa Art and Museum Curator includes the management of Absa’s art collection of approximately 18 000 artworks, coordinating the L’Atelier art competition across Africa; and, managing the Absa Gallery, The Money Museum, and Absa Archives. Dr Bayliss was responsible for the conception and design of the Money Museum that opened in Barclays Towers West, in the Johannesburg CBD, in 2011 and has written and published several, books, articles and scientific papers and has made various presentations and delivered papers at conferences internationally and across South Africa. His opinion on heritage matters is constantly sought after both locally and abroad and he is regarded as one of South Africa’s leading numismatic specialists. The Absa L’Atelier is one of South Africa’s most prestigious art competitions. It rewards young visual artists aged 21 to 35 with the opportunity to develop their talents abroad. A look through the list of previous winners will testify to this. Building on the platform created over the past two years, the competition is continuing to expand across Africa, opening in a number of countries, where Barclays Africa has a presence. Artists who are permanent residents of and residing in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Namibia, Mozambique, Mauritius or Seychelles are invited to enter.
The UAE art scene on the other hand is arguably one of the most exciting places to find yourself when it comes to innovation and development in the contemporary art and design industries. Their vision and master plan are revolutionary and unparalleled when considering the support of the region’s governments, public, and private sectors. The UAE is one of the few countries in the world where the state has both deep coffers and a strong commitment to supporting arts and culture. The UAE contemporary art scene is quickly growing as a site for the public display and consumption of art. Private foundations and organisations in the UAE provides both an avenue for the Emirates’ art ambitions and a voice for the different populations that live there.
Zeitz MOCAA at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa. Photographer: Mark Williams.
Since 2007 the launch of Art Dubai and unveiling of Alserkal Avenue, the regions foremost arts hub, and more recently, the newly completed Louvre Abu Dhabi – the UAE has fast staked its claim as a major player in the global art world. Alongside their major art fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi – the culturally important Sharjah Biennale, upcoming launch of the Jameel Arts Centre, and partnerships with organisations like the MISK Art Institute – have bolstered the UAE’s ambitions and committment to becoming leaders in the global arts and culture community. The growing presence of international galleries, collectors, and museums is testament to the growing importance of the region.
Helping lead arts development from an education stand point is Lisa Ball-Lechgar, the deputy director of Tashkeel, a leading contemporary art and design organisation based in Dubai. The organisation is committed to facilitating art and design practise, creative experimentation and cross-cultural dialogue. Lisa has been working in the MENA cultural sector for almost 20 years, spanning art and design, theatre and festivals. She previously served in senior positions at Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, Mixed Media Publishing and Al Hilal Publishing.
Another important figure working in the region and creating positive change is Deborah Najar, the Director of the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation (JPNF), a museum for contemporary art located in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue. Prior to this, she was the Middle East representative for Bonhams, and before the General Manager of De Beers Middle East. Deborah sits on the board of the Gstaad New Year’s Music Festival and heads up the Global Private Museum Network.
Information Technology maverick Basel Dalloul founded The Dalloul Art Foundation in 2017 to manage and promote his father’s – Lebanese-Palestinian art patron Dr. Ramzi Dalloul’s – vast collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. At over 4000 pieces it is the largest collection of its kind in private hands. The collection includes a wide range of art genres including paintings, photography, sculpture, video and mixed media art. It includes artists such as Marc Guiragossian, Tagreed Darghouth and Nazar Yehia. Basel has had a passion for art since he was very young, inspired by both his mother and father’s passion for collecting. Based in Cairo, Basel is the chairman and chief executive of Noor Group, a telecoms and computer technology firm operating in 135 countries across the globe.
Dr Ramzi’s collection is about giving back to the Middle East region which will be realised through the creation of a museum. The museum will be located in Beirut and will exhibit painting, sculpture, installation, multimedia art, film and also music and dance performances. Moreover, it will be free of charge. The museum will pose an educational focus surrounding important cultural themes they have identified as problems in Arab society, “Democracy, freedom and women.” Dr. Ramzi stresses the importance of art as a tool to initiate social and political change.
As a whole, ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ presented a comprehensive take on the current status of public art across the globe, and positioned art as an emerging asset class in today’s economic uncertainty. Drawing its inspiration from fast developing areas of the world, ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ Art Beyond the BRICS offered unprecedented access to a larger, diverse, and more inclusive art market.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Theresa Sweetland, Executive Director of Forecast Public Art and Publisher of Public Art Review Magazine. Dr. Paul Bayliss, Absa Art & Museum Curator.Lisa Ball-Lechgar, Deputy Director at Tashkeel, Dubai, UAE. Phillippe Méaille, founder and president of Chateau de Montsoreau Museum of Contemporary Art, Montsoreau, in conversation with Corinne Timsit, president of CT2A Group. Basel Dalloul, Charmain and CEO of NOOR Group & Founder of the Dalloul Art Foundation speaking during the Museum of Tomorrow discussion at ‘UNFOLD Art XChange’ 2018. Deborah Najar, Co Founder Jean-Paul Najar Foundation & Director of the Global Private Museum Network. All images courtesy of Filmatography, unless otherwise stated. BOTTOM: Installation view, level 2, 2018. Ramzi & Sadea Dalloul Art Foundation. Courtesy of the Dalloul Art Foundation.
For more information on UNFOLD Art Beyond the BRICS, click here.