A London-based Artworld Salon reader forwarded me this brief article from yesterday’s Guardian: “Dubai art fair says no to nudes,” in reference to the Gulf Art Fair, which opens precisely as I’m writing these words. Apparently,
things got a bit sticky when all participating galleries - whose clients[sic] include Tracey Emin and Jeff Koons - were asked to only show art that was appropriate to display in an Islamic state. John Martin, the Gulf Art Fair director, said: “We have asked all galleries to make careful provision - that is, chiefly concerning nudity and religious imagery.”
This is the same Martin who a few months back told the Artnewspaper: “We aim to be among the top five art fairs in the world.” I’m not sure who Martin ranks as the top five fairs now, but GAF will be hard-pressed to displace, say, FIAC or ARCO while telling dealers to censor their stands.
The broader issue at play here is how well the Western artworld can adapt to Islamic rules and Arab mores while seeking the Middle East’s money. I’m expecting this to be a major point of contention for all projects such GAF and the Louvre/Guggenheim museum complex in Abu Dhabi. Not so much with curators, who tend to be able diplomats, but rather with artists, who often pride themselves on provocation, pushing societal boundaries and seeking out controversy.
Then again, the above is all based on my entirely second-hand knowledge of how the Middle East actually functions. In some places, I’ve read, any representation of the human figure is forbidden, which eliminates a lot of material. But I’m not clear on how widespread that prohibition is. So I’d appreciate some insight from someone who has actually spent time there, including a quick breakdown of how the countries differ on these points.