Sotheby’s Dubai’sfirst exhibition to herald in the city’s art season, Contemporary Art and Luxury, is an eclectic mix of outstanding contemporary art, sparkling jewels and cutting-edge timepieces.
The travelling exhibition is first being unveiled in Dubai before pieces move on to New York, Geneva and Milan.
While varied in their themes, time and influences, the link across the exhibition is each of the works’ duality. Each piece tells a story of its time while informing us of something about the present.
Impossible to ignore is Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa (1989-91) from his fascinating series on maps.
The Italian conceptual artist was a member of the Arte Povera movement, in which artists took a stand against the conventions of government and culture during the late 1960s and ’70s.
As we see with Boetti’s work, a map can be a very political statement. It depicts each country’s flag embroidered within its borders, creating a patchwork of primary colours in nationalistic shapes and patterns against an ivory background.
The six-metre-wide embroidered work doesn’t correlate to our contemporary understanding of geopolitics. Mappa depicts East and West Germany, Sudan and South Sudan as one country, and Russia as one large red mass.
“This is a really a masterpiece,” Mai Eldib, Sotheby’s Dubai head of sales, tells The National.
“It’s a moment in history that no longer exists. There are a lot of things that have changed since the creation of this map. And it illustrates that time is not permanent.”
Boetti’s map series was created between 1971 to 1994, a period when political power within geographic spaces changed drastically.
“If you look at his first maps and then his later maps, the sizes of the continents change and shift,” says Eldib.
“You see here [in Mappa] a bigger focus on Africa. It’s a discussion on colonialism, on what is happening. He rejected forms of colonialism so he wouldn’t change the map when a country was conquered.”
Boetti was deeply moved by non-western cultures. His practice was greatly influenced by them during his numerous travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1970s and ’80s.
During one of these trips, he commissioned women at an embroidery school in Kabul to embroider his first map.
Boetti went on to commission about 150 of them in his lifetime, with Mappa being one of the largest.
Another artist whose dualism is archival yet contemporary is Andy Warhol. His name is synonymous to the pop art movement he helped to establish, yet he also transcends it.
Sotheby’s Dubai’s exhibition contains three sets of Warhol’s work, each exemplifying a different facet of the ideas and themes that occupied the influential artist’s practice.
Timely with Queen Elizabeth II’s passing are Warhol’s set of four coloured portraits, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1985), which along with another four set of boxer Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali (1978), are also on show at Sotheby’s Dubai.
Warhol’s obsession with fame and the people who embodied it was legendary. Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Ingrid Bergman, Elvis, Che Guevara, Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few — anyone who exemplified the now became his subject.
Warhol duplicated their faces until their images were emblazoned in our collective consciousness.
He transforms Ali and the queen into iconographies of themselves, seen more like logos and vessels of glamour than real people.
Much like his set of 10 screen prints Ads (1985), also in the exhibition, Warhol’s understanding of the language of contemporary culture and consumerism was not only ahead of its time, but still very much influences many aspects of culture today.
“Warhol was the creator of contemporary culture,” says Eldib. “Everything we do now has a Warhol element to it, whether it be advertising, marketing or branded content, or this obsession with celebrity and creating the instant perfect image.”
The idea of transcending oneself to live eternally through imagery and objects, was also prevalent in ancient Egyptian culture and philosophy.
Sotheby’s New York’s sale of Magnificent Jewels on December 7 will display a selection of Egyptian-themed stones to celebrate 100 years since the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.
The pieces are now in Sotheby’s Dubai and include rare jewels by legendary Italian jewellery house Castellani and the celebrated designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany for Tiffany & Co.
Presented in between two sets of Warhol screen prints and across from Boetti’s Mappa, the pieces explore timelessness and the reinterpretation of imagery in a much more dazzling fashion.
“Egyptomania has come up in several waves,” says Sophie Stevens, Sotheby’s Dubai jewellery specialist.
“We’ve always been obsessed throughout history with the ancient Egyptians’ love of jewellery, and the love of Egyptian motifs within jewellery and the decorative arts.”
Whether through Castellani’s use of micro-mosaic art on the Egyptian revival gold and faience necklace, or the double-strand beaded Louis Comfort Tiffany for Tiffany & Co’s Egyptian revival gold and coloured stone necklace, the influence of ancient Egypt is renewed and reinterpreted through different artistic styles and movements.
“With the Egyptians, it’s their sense of externalism. They were always so focused on the idea of eternal life,” Stevens says when asked why ancient Egyptian culture was a great source of influence for designers.
“It was also that everything was very well preserved in their wonderful tombs. We were able to see exactly what they look like and how they were in that time.
“That sense of preservation really helped us understand them and their work to endure.”