My Top 15 Exhibitions of 2014

Chris Marker - La Jetée

Chris Marker - La Jetée

I recently shared my top 10 exhibitions and films that left a lasting impression on me this year on Art Dubai's blog. Here's a more comprehesive list of my top 15 exhibitions of the year, it inculdes exhibitions in Dubai and abroad. I will post my top films of the year in a separate post. 

1. Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat at Whitechapel Gallery, London

A Grin Without a Cat

 is my favourite exhibition of the year. I had seen some of Chris Marker’s work in different exhibitions over the past few years, but this one captured the all the different aspects of his work which included film, photography, writing, digital art, multi media installations – focusing on themes of travel, film, political struggle and the museum. The exhibition also included a screening of a rare edition of La Jetée, which I was thrilled to see.

Here's a short video about the exhibition. 

There has been a huge shift in how we consume news and information in the past few years and this topical exhibition explored how "visual media has been transformed by a digital revolution, and the creation of  'citizen journalism'". The extensive exhibition catalogue included works from the exhibition and essays making it a valuable resource for reference material. Unfortunately, the exhibition didn't stay open for long in Dubai, you can read about it here

3. Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr at the Science Museum, London

I loved the British eccentricism captured in Tony Ray-Jones’ work. The exhibition included lots of his personal notes, which were a great insight into his work and his methods. "Don't take boring pictures" is one of them. Here’s another extract from his notes which I found amusing:

US characteristics

  • Vision (as opposed to British experience)

  • Idealism (as opposed to British compromise)

  • Challenges (as opposed to precedents)

  • Innovation and Experimentation (as opposed to tradition and well trodden path)

  • Lack of Individuality

  • Naivety and Innocence (always surprised when people attack or produce new weapons or land a man on the moon)

  • Lack of knowledge of anything outside themselves 

British characteristics and qualities

  • Love of tradition

  • Love of stability

  • Art of compromise and muddling through

  • Privacy

  • Uneventful

  • Apathy and indolence (from the security of the welfare state)

  • A country lacking in drama yet the people have a fine sense of drama

 You can read more about the exhibition here

4. Close Surrounding by JH Engström at Foam, Amsterdam

I was drawn to JH Engström's photographs of himself and his surroundings, which felt very raw and personal. There’s loneliness, sadness, but also absurdity and humour.

JH Engström's oeuvre is multi-faceted. He documents the ambience of the places he photographs, but at the same time his work can also be interpreted as a personal, visual 'stream of consciousness', a continuous flow of images that portray feelings, observations and memories of the photographer.

Furthermore he 'plays' with one of the traditional characteristic of photography: depicting reality. In his photographs he emphasizes the fact that they are visual interpretations of that reality, by experimenting with technical imperfections such as overexposure, motion and dust. The edges of the negatives are sometimes visible in the printed photograph. The results vary from raw images to appealing photographs in pastel tints. Above all, the work of JH Engstrom can be interpreted as a restless and never-ending quest for answers to the question of what it is to be human. 

via Foam

5. Sky over the East, Emirates Palace Gallery, Abu Dhabi

Baya, Algeria, 1931–1998

Baya, Algeria, 1931–1998

This exhibition featured works from the collection of Barjeel Art Foundation, a collaboration with Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation. The exhibition featured a fantastic collection of work by 48 Arab artists from the past 80 years. It aimed to “contextualize key milestones from the region’s modern history while testifying to the artist’s role as a vital contributor to the intellectual development of society." I wrote about the exhibition here.


6. Marlene Dumas:  The Image as Burden at Stedelijk, Amsterdam

Marlene Dumas, The Kiss, 2003

A retrospective of over 100 works by Marlene Dumas from the late 1970s to the present day, work inspired by photography, paintings, cinema, news, politics and pop culture. An exhibition that is melancholic, contemplative and beautiful. I posted more images from the exhibition here, including a video with Marlene Dumas discussing her work and Leontine Coelewij (curator of the exhibition) talking about the exhibition.  


7. Harry Callahan - Photographs at Tate Modern, London

Harry Callahan described the three themes of his work as ‘Nature, Buildings and People’. I was quite drawn to his work, which I had not seen before and enjoyed spending time looking at them, especially the nature themed photographs. This video features curator Simon Baker discussing his work. 


8. Darkened Cities by Thierry Cohen at East Wing, Dubai

This exhibition captured my imagination and made me long to look up at the sky full of stars, which in reality is something I can only experience if I drive away from the city, far away fom light pollution. Thierry Cohen's photos look exquisite and must be seen in person to truly appreciate them. Beautiful images of what could be. 


9. The Lost Empire by Fouad Elkhoury at The Third Line, Dubai

© Fouad Elkoury, Balaton Airport, 2010, Chromogenic Print Diasec, 50 x 75 cm

I found this exhibition of abandoned soviet military bases in Poland, Hungary, Estonia and East Germany photographed between 2010 and 2011 by Fouad Elkhoury peaceful and contemplative. I had the opportunity to meet Elkhoury, we talked about his career, photography and Dubai. You can read all about it here


10. The Resurrection by Jaber Al Azmeh at Green Art Gallery, Dubai

Another topical exhibition in Dubai, this one included a diverse network of Syrians (journalists, poets, artists and actors) an dat the request of the artist Jaber Al Azmeh to "voice their opinions on the current situation in Syria, and what they hope to be the Syria they believe in". 

The series began in 2011, when Al Azmeh started to photograph people individually in both public and private areas, in Damascus and abroad, holding a copy of the Al Baath Newspaper, an important yet flawed symbol of the Syrian government. Each copy of the newspaper adorns a message written by the individual, such as, “Nothing will stop us. We are coming back home”, “Happiness is coming to our streets and homes,” or simply, “Freedom.” The result is a group of 51 portrait of ordinary Syrians and their hope for a country ravaged by war. 

Through this series, Al Azmeh documents the passionate spirit of the Syrian Revolution since its onset and demonstrates that, “All Syrians, no matter where they come from, what religion they have, and what they do, are working together to help this revolution, and help Syria reach its freedom.” 

11. So long, and thanks for all the fish at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai

Best titled exhibition in Dubai this year, this group show included work by four artists that had elements of the absurd, the surreal and hint at possible futures.

Inspired by the fourth book in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, the title is a message left by dolphins when they left Planet Earth just before it was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Preoccupations with Sci-Fi, fantasy, transformations and magic permeate the show, which combines animation, painting, photography and video. Elements of nostalgia for an ordinary life are cajoled by bizarre forces into a strange new world, where ritual, violence and technology complete to be catch of the day. The little things that justify our existence are questioned as we seek to find a way out on a new wave.

I was drawn by Basim Magdy's work in this exhibition (pictured above), an ongoing photographic series titled Every Subtle Gesture, "Snapshots seemingly from an archive, whose relevance and purpose remains unknown, are paired with phrases invented by the artist, coming together to create an indecipherable narrative."

12. Anthony McCall: Solid Light Films and Other Works (1971-2014) at EYE, Amsterdam

Seeing Anthony McCall's "light sculptures" was quite an experience. Read all about it here.

13. Works on Paper - Hikayat at Green Art Gallery, Dubai

Khaldoun Shishakly, Shops and Vendors of the Past, Ink on paper, set of 100 works, each 26 x 21 cm

This exhibition had over 50 works on paper by Modern Arab artists including Khouzayma Alwani, Mahmoud Hammad, Adham Ismail, Jamil Molaeb, Fateh Moudarres, Aref El Rayess, Khaldoun Shishakly, Seif Wanly and Elias Zayat. 

My favourite work from this exhibition was a one of a kind piece by Khaldoun Sheishakly, titled Shops and Vendors of the Past, a collection of 500 works on paper. Due to its delicate condition, we weren't allowed to browse through each sheet, but the few pages that were laid out had such amazing details drawn with an ink pen, each one telling stories visually and with words. Read more about the exhibition here

14. Rui Chafes & Ralf Ziervogel – Black Rainbow at Carbon 12, Dubai


I never had a chance to write about this exhibition before, but I really liked the work by Ralf Ziervogel, which looked very different depending on close you were to the work. And by close, I'm talking about using a magnifying glass to get deeper into the work. 

...Ziervogel uses his pen on gesturally gesso-coated canvases to create visually perfected geometrics. However, the intensity of the straight-edged forms increases upon a closer, often magnetized look: the “lines” of the forms that explode haphazardly across the canvas are miniaturized words expressing in even, capitalized form, deeply expletive and violent prose in German and English. The juxtaposition of visual fragility and hardened, repetitive poetry gives the Tourettes-like mania of Ziervogel’s chromatically pale creations a dark romanticism.

Read more about this exhibition here.  

15. Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals and Encounter: Listening to the City at Maraya Centre and Maraya Art Park, Sharjah

Raed Yassin - With Imad Hamdi and his twin brother - from the series Dancing, Smoking, Kissing (2013)

Encounter: Listening to the City (image courtesy of Maraya Art Centre)

Maraya Art Centre hosted Customs Made: Quotidian Practices and Everyday Rituals and Encounter: Listening to the City, the first one was inside their gallery space, the latter, a sound and video exhibition was held outdoors in a public park.

Customs Made looked at everyday rituals in private and public spaces, and Encounter looked at how "sound, music and the spoken voice can create spaces of nostalgia, belonging and reflection". (I was one of the artists in the second exhibition). You can read about the two exhibitions here and here