Sculpture is on the rise as at this year’s edition of Abu Dhabi Art, with examples ranging from Subodh Gupta’s Et tu Duchamp?, which represents a playful gender-bending twist on the Mona Lisa by giving the fair lady a goatee, to Emirati contemporary artist Hassan Sharif’s textile sculptures formed of balled and twisted textiles discovered in Dubai’s local souks. The shipping and logistics involved for a gallery from outside the UAE to include sculpture (or other large scale works) in a booth at the fair is extremely costly, and demands great confidence in the sophistication and buying power of collectors, museums, or cultural institutions attending Abu Dhabi Art and looking to make acquisitions.
Visitors less focused on collecting can be observed with selfie sticks in hand, eagerly posing with the sculptures in the background. Perhaps the three-dimensional aspect of the work adds to viewers’ ability to easily engage with the art as they circle it, whereas a painting must be studied and often requires some reflection to find an entry point.
Sculpture as an artistic medium has its Eastern roots in ancient Egypt and its Western groundings in ancient Greece, with both environments focusing mainly on sweeping odes to the gods. While classical sculpture was typically carved from great slabs of marble stone, or later forged in bronze, contemporary sculpture can be formed from any material— plastic, light, textiles, and even sound. It’s easy to confuse sculpture with installation, and occasionally there is a fuzzy area between the two mediums. In general, an installation is an immersive (often interactive) work of art that you can step into, under, over, or even onto.
Standout examples of sculpture at the fair include the American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s playful metallic brushstroke head, complete with iconic polka dots at Edward Tyler Gallery. The late Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light ode to Virginia Dwan (imagine having a sculpture named in your honour!), at David Zwimer creates a sultry mood of electric blues and soft pinks, proving that minimalist sculpture can still offer warmth. Finally, an alabaster piece by Anish Kapoor perhaps referencing an oyster in a gritty shell, is installed at The Lisson Gallery booth.