The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Saatchi discovers Middle East art

I've been meaning to write about the new exhibition of Middle Eastern artists at the extremely fashionable London Saatchi gallery for some time..

Saatchi is an advertising mogul turned art collector and he's famous for discovering and promoting the artists featured in his very influential Young British Artists shows in the 90s. More recently, Saatchi has turned his attention to foreign art. I visited the gallery's exhibition of Chinese art in December and was very impressed. 

But reviews of Saatchi's Middle Eastern show--which is about 50% Iranian, with some Iraqi and Syrian, and several artists who now live in the West--have been mixed. Here's a review or two. I can't help being a little surprised by the British coverage, in which reviewers often talks about this show as the "first" time they've experienced modern Middle Eastern art, and make free use of stereotypes. 

But there has been some criticism of the show's curatorial shallowness. In the Review at the National Kaelen Wilson-Goldie writes that: 
Geography makes for a miserable curatorial conceit. All of these exhibitions start from maps rather than artworks. They propose to introduce regions rather than explore the nuances of an individual artist’s practice. They shoehorn artists into a format that is set in advance (pick the region first, the talent second) rather than letting their works give rise to ideas that could, if given the time and consideration they deserve, structure exhibitions from the inside out. Inevitably, regional shows end up playing at representation, with the artists put in the position not of expressing themselves but of interpreting, packaging and reducing for easy consumption their culture or their country. This elevates biographical over critical interpretations. It flattens complexities and panders to those in search of the exotic, the foreign and the monolithic other. It’s all rather patronising, as if the artists from a given region aren’t good enough, interesting enough, accomplished enough or successful enough to stand on their own. And when it comes to the Middle East, a part of the world that houses so many countries, languages, dialects, religions, sects, socioeconomic classes, educational systems, social customs, traditions, cultures, histories and contemporary political situations, it simply makes no sense. 

(You can read the rest of that review here.)

 And really, couldn't they think of any better title than the trite "Unveiled"?