Saturday, March 31, 2007


TRAVELING by subway in Los Angeles involves a kind of magical thinking. To get the most out of the city's Metro Rail system, you need an open mind but also blind optimism. It's not simply that Angeleno life has been literally mapped out around cars and that commuting by subway in these parts is viewed as an alternative lifestyle decision even more radical than driving a Prius. It's that to travel beneath a city regularly wracked by earthquakes — even in an era when gas prices have soared above $3 a gallon — demands considerable faith that the Big One isn't going to hit. Then there's the art. Since 1989, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has earmarked one-half of 1% of all rail construction costs toward the creation of original, site-specific artwork. So now, from Pasadena to the South Bay, Watts to North Hollywood, the MTA displays a trove of museum-worthy modern art pieces and installations at its Metro Rail stops. In the daily hustle and flow of millions of straphangers, however, much of it remains hidden in plain sight. Which is a shame, because as public arts initiatives go, Metro Rail's is world class. Put another way, the transit system — as opposed to the places the trains take you — has evolved into a cultural destination in and of itself. "Most of the folks who take our tours have never been in our system before," says MTA public art officer Jeffrey Mohr. "After that they're surprised that there's art work in there. And from there, they can't believe the scope of it." Much MTA-sanctioned artwork reflects the Southland's ethnic diversity; stylized images of Mexican American pachucos, Gold Rush-era Chinese laborers and black civil rights demonstrators are linked via underground (and aboveground) railroad. Moreover, the art often provides a meta-narrative commentary about aboveground goings-on. To wit: Daniel Martinez's "For Your Intellectual Entertainment," a sculpture at the Green Line's El Segundo/Nash station, features a 30-foot-tall wire-mesh hand rising between the tracks, poised to launch a massive "paper airplane" made out of metal — a metaphorical nod to defense and aerospace plants located nearby. The only thing left to do is ride the rails. For a $3 all-day fare, art appreciators can have an enriching cultural experience that is at once totally L.A. and totally unique in a city where public life and public transportation have never been particularly cherished. A glimpse of what awaits you. CIVIC CENTER

They float silently, swayed by gusts of wind from passing trains near the ceiling of this Red Line station — six life-size fiberglass figures that constitute Jonathan Borofsky's installation sculpture "I Dreamed I Could Fly." Arms and legs splayed outward in cowabunga posture, the statues — all of them male, barefoot and clad in jeans and T-shirts — were inspired by the artist's recurring dreams of flight. They also recall suicide jumpers, however, creating a somewhat jarring juxtaposition viewed alongside the subway. 7TH STREET / METRO

Descending by escalator from the Hope Street entrance, a ceramic triptych calls attention to the passenger's allegorical journey underground. Titled "Heaven to Earth," by Roberto Gil de Montes, it transposes figurative images that are, by turns, heavenly, earthly and womb-like: a morning glory vine wrapped around a cane, a bird silhouetted by sunset, a lush garden. Deeper down, a set of seven light boxes created by artist Sam Erenberg line the wall on the westbound platform. Each box features someone holding or contemplating a book — hence the piece's title, "The Complete Works of Roland Barthes." Again, the meta-narrative thing comes into play: It's part of an ongoing temporary installation series in which artist commissions reconsider subway commuters' cherished pastime. No, not the iPod — reading. CHINATOWN

Both Chavez Ravine and Chung King Road's pagoda roofs and fluttering paper lanterns are clearly visible from the open-air 33-foot-high platform of the Gold Line's Chinatown station. But then, the red, gold and green station is no slouch in the pagoda department, boasting its own curving pagoda-style roof on the passenger platform — a tribute to the Chinese workers who helped build America's railroads in the 1800s. At the station, artist Chusien Chang created four benches meant to reflect the changing face of Chinatown's community. But the station's must-see holding is the artist's granite "I Ching" dial. Sixteen feet in diameter, the piece (titled "The Wheels of Change") contains a magnetic compass radiating 64 hexagrams, detailing what the "I Ching" (a 3,000-year-old Chinese philosophical text) puts forth as the 64 states of the human condition. HOLLYWOOD / VINE

An altogether more lighthearted, mash-up take on local culture prevails here on the Red Line (Hollywood / Vine boasts the most elaborate installations and highest concentration of art). Above ground, an elevator entrance resembling a movie theater facade has a marquee that reads, in part, "Gas prices too high? Travel smart … take Metro." And surrounding the subway entrance, concrete bus shelters have been designed to recall various Hollywood cultural touchstones: a brown derby in honor of the yesteryear Tinseltown watering hole of the same name, a stretch lowrider limo and yet another Chinese pagoda — this time in honor of the landmark Grauman's Chinese Theatre nearby on Hollywood Boulevard. Inside the station, the pachuco-centric work of artist Gilbert "Magu" Lujan evokes a vision of the city that simultaneously celebrates immigrant culture and Hollywood glamour. Hundreds of movie projector reels cover the vaulted ceiling. And 240 hand-painted ceramic tiles line the walls leading from the street to the platform, depicting fedora-wearing Latino characters driving '40s Chevys, eating at a "Comida Chicana" restaurant and wearing sunglasses at night while contemplating the Hollywood sign. Lujan also designed five platform benches resembling lowriders. Perhaps not coincidentally, each has been heavily tagged with graffiti. ROSA PARKS/



Cropping up throughout two levels of the station where the Blue and Green lines intersect, artist Joesam.'s large-scale installation piece "Hide-N-Seek" functions more like a figural game than a work of art. More than two dozen large-scale technicolor metal cutouts of African American schoolchildren crop up near the top of freeway supporting columns and on the train platform itself. Some of the figures seem to shy away from view, others bound outward in ecstatic action poses. A kind of massive community self-portrait, the piece was created over three years with the help of 1,000 youngsters from the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club. The station's namesake, meanwhile, is honored with an artwork titled "Pathways to Freedom" by Michael Massenburg and Robin Strayhorn that comprises five intricately decorated bus benches — an appropriate tribute for an anti-segregation pioneer who refused to relinquish her seat. Viewed from afar, they are just a place to sit. Up close, the point becomes clear. The benches' hand-set fragments of concrete and ceramic tile are intermingled with black and white images and headlines taken from the civil rights struggle: "Segregation Hurts Children" and "Negro Owned & Operated: We Shall Overcome" among them. UNION STATION

The connecting point for the Gold and Red lines is what a military strategist might call a "target rich environment." There are installations galore in addition to the terminal's textbook-worthy Art Deco architecture. "Atrain" by Bill Bell provides a sensory assault for Metro Rail passengers taking the down escalator. A conceptual piece featuring 12 vertical light-sticks capable of producing an array of colors and patterns, escalator riders are inevitably taken aback by the piece's sound component: a blast of locomotive engine noise. Nearby is "City of Dreams / River of History," by May Sun, Richard Wyatt and Paul Diez, a bench and fountain fashioned out of bottles, rocks and other detritus excavated during the station's construction. And in the airy, blond stone lobby, beneath the East Portal's semicircular glass atrium, hangs Richard Wyatt's "Los Angeles City of Dreams" — a humongous mural that comprises portraits of a multi-generational, multicultural cross-section of proud Angelenos. In a larger sense, the painting is emblematic of the MTA's thinking on its public art offerings. "The artwork can take on different layers," said Jorge Pardo, art and design manager for Metro Creative Services. "We don't just place a painting here and a mural there. It's about having the wherewithal to have a metaphor. We see it as a level of care for our customer. It's about identity."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Great leap forward, The Guardian

Ten years ago, Xu Zhen was the archetypal garret-dwelling artist, scraping a living in a Shanghai apartment with barely room to swing a cat. To prove the point, he found a cat and swung it. The artist claims that the animal was already dead when he made the 45-minute performance video, which shows feline entrails being spattered across the walls. But the piece established Zhen as the rising star of the new generation of Chinese artists whose work now features in The Real Thing, an exhibition at Tate Liverpool that is the most comprehensive show of contemporary Chinese art ever staged in this country. The Liverpool show opens at the same time that a group of Young British Artists make their first appearance in China. Aftershock: Contemporary British Art 1990-2006 brings items such as Tracey Emin's bed and the Chapman Brothers' Stephen Hawking statue to the Capital Museum in Beijing. But while these pieces have a retrospective feel, China arguably has the most vital, imaginative and uncontainable art scene in the world today.

Xu Zhen and his peers represent a new wave of firebrands set to make the Tate Liverpool show go off, quite literally, with a bang. Tomorrow evening, the exhibition launches with an explosive piece by the Yangjiang Group entitled If I Knew the Danger Ahead I'd Have Stayed Well Clear. The work takes the form of a massive firework battle worth £50,000.

If the YBAs are set to be supplanted by YCAs in terms of talent and notoriety, Xu Zhen is arguably the Chinese Damien Hirst. In June 2006 he organised a warehouse show of 30 young artists in Shanghai, of which the centrepiece was a video of a panda being masturbated for artificial insemination. The show was forced to close on its opening night.

It is, however, now quite difficult to provoke the authorities into closing an exhibition, as the Chinese government seeks to co-opt contemporary art to advertise the productivity and tolerance of the new China. In 2006, the Shanghai Biennale became the first major state-sponsored exhibition of contemporary art - even the fringe show, entitled Fuck Off, was left to run unimpeded. The Beijing exhibition of Young British Artists is another example of this eagerness to embrace international influences.

The U-turn in the official attitude can be gauged by the fate of Beijing's avant-garde in the wake of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, when Beijing's radical artists relocated to an area beyond the city's third ring road, known as the East Village. With no money or conventional outlets for their work, the artists began to conduct increasingly extreme experiments on themselves. One, Zang Huan, covered himself in fish paste and honey and sat for several hours in a public toilet in 100-degree heat. The piece - a comment on the fate of the poet Ai Qing, who was forced to clean toilets during the Cultural Revolution - provoked the police to raid the East Village and evict its inhabitants. In 2001, the area was bulldozed to make way for a public park.

A new artistic community sprang up in the north-east of the city at Dashanzi, centred on a former machine tool plant known as Factory 798. This time, the government sanctioned the area as a cultural quarter, opening up a flood of international investment. Today, Dashanzi is a hub of international galleries, plush apartments and restaurants, with few practising artists left.

The official acceptance of the avant garde is a paradox for Chinese artists. Beijing-based critic and curator Pi Li identifies the emergence of "a kind of official, harmless contemporary art" which leaves artists in danger of losing their identity. "Their position had been the underground. Now they are widely shown and can sell their work very successfully. This has not brought about a good situation for Chinese art; on the contrary, it made the art lose its energy."

Works by Chinese artists have recently changed hands for as much as $1.5m - the amount paid recently by Charles Saatchi for a painting by Zhang Xiaogang - but The Real Thing's curator, Simon Groom, hopes the exhibition will re-establish Chinese art's radical edge. He has taken the bold, possibly even foolhardy, step of inviting Xu Zhen to collaborate in the selection process. "Some of his initial suggestions were a little unworkable," Groom says. "He proposed that we kidnap a drunk, lock him in the gallery and witness his reactions when he wakes up." Zhen also suggested handing out knives to exhibition visitors. One piece that did make the display is the tip of Mount Everest, lopped off by the artist during an expedition to the mountain and mounted in a glass case.

The Liverpool show also features a mammoth engineering project by Ai Weiwei, now China's best-known artist. Ai Weiwei recently collaborated with architects Herzog and de Meuron on the innovative "bird's nest" design of Beijing's Olympic Stadium. For Liverpool, he has created a soaring, illuminated spiral floating outside the Tate in the Albert Dock. "It's the kind of piece that could only be realised in China, where material and labour costs are low," says Groom. "But you cannot underestimate the speed of change in China. Young Chinese artists are less interested in politics than their own dreams and desires. That has never happened in China before, where art had always been a response to the state."

Groom still doesn't know if Zhen plans to attend. "In some ways, I'm rather hoping he doesn't. He's more likely to show up in disguise, or try to sabotage the show in some way. He might even try to close it down." That could be seen as the ultimate irony - once, the Chinese authorities used to shut down exhibitions. These days, the artists do it themselves.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

They Are Artists Who Are Women; Hear Them Roar, NYTimes

The combination of the “Global Feminisms” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, whose inauguration this show celebrates, is like a false idea wrapped in confusion.

The false idea is that there really is such a thing as feminist art, as opposed to art that intentionally or by osmosis reflects or is influenced by feminist thought, of which there is plenty. Feminist art is a shorthand phrase that everyone uses, but institutionalizing such an amorphous, subjective qualifier should make us all reconsider.

The center seems to have been created mostly for its publicity value. It isn’t necessary in order to showcase the only jewel in its crown, Judy Chicago’s unruly, inspiring installation “The Dinner Party,” a landmark in feminist history that occupies around 5,000 of the center’s 8,300 square feet. Made by Ms. Chicago and scores of volunteers from 1974 to 1979, this immense piece is in many ways the perfect storm of second-wave feminism and modernism: it is lashed together by pride, fury, radiating labial forms and numerous female-identified crafts, most prominently painted ceramic plates and needlework. Whatever you think about it as a work of art, it amounts to one-stop consciousness-raising and historical immersion: an activist, body-centered tribute to 39 important women. Study “The Dinner Party” close enough and your bra, if you’re wearing one, may spontaneously combust.

What is confused is the exhibition, a sprawling, sometimes energetic assembly of recent work by nearly 90 women from nearly 50 countries that has been organized by Maura Reilly, the founding director of the Sackler Center, and the veteran art historian Linda Nochlin. It seems worth noting that the show’s organizers don’t use the phrase “feminist art” in its title. The same goes for what might be called its sister exhibition, “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” which has just opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and will travel to the P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center in Long Island City, Queens, next February.

While “Wack” examines art made by about 120 women in the late 1960s and 1970s, “Global Feminisms” concentrates on the present and, by implication, the future. It is restricted to artists born since 1960 and works made since 1990, although most date from 2000 or later. It is energetic, illuminating and irksome, and in all ways worthy of careful study. But it should have been much better.

In her catalog essay Ms. Reilly emphasizes the second “s” in the word feminisms. To whit, there is more than one way to be a feminist these days; feminist goals and issues are different in different places, as is the rate with which they are realized. Still, the show itself feels narrow. Nearly devoid of significant painting and scultpure and thoroughly dominated by photography and video, with a documentary slant to many of its better works, it is more about information, politics and the struggle for equality than it is about art in any very concentrated or satisfying sense.

The curators have treated New York like just another spot on the globe, which is healthy. Nonetheless, “Global Feminisms” jumps cannily back and forth not so much between mainstream and margins as between the two not completely separate success platforms of the marketplace and the institutional stage. To one side are those who sell like hotcakes, among them Tracey Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sarah Lucas, Pipilotti Rist and Kara Walker. To the other are those known mostly from the international biennial circuit, like Tracy Rose, Arahmaiani and Katarzyna Kozyra.

The show begins in the Sackler Center in the space around Ms. Chicago’s opus and then advances through an adjacent wing of galleries. But in many ways it never gets too far beyond the world according to “The Dinner Party.”

Most of the work here is essentialist, body-oriented and familiar to the point of old-fashioned. Again and again and again women fall back on making art from the thing nearest at hand that separates them from men: their bodies — and often echo their predecessors rather literally. One example will suffice: Ana Mendieta’s charged earthwork/performance art is absent from the exhibition because the artist was born before 1960. Instead we have younger artists doing work similar to hers. Some, like Bernie Searle, take possession; others, like Iskra Dimitrova, offer tame indoor versions of Mendieta’s.

To some extent, this is the nature of pioneering. Just because land has been cleared and houses built in one part of the world does not mean the same techniques can be avoided when trailblazing elsewhere. Nor does this rule out originality, as exhibitions devoted to the international repercussions of Cubism and Constructivism have proved.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Art collector wins £350,000 over 'binned' sculpture, The Guardian

A firm of fine art storage experts was today facing a £350,000 legal bill over the accidental "binning" of an important work by the Turner prize-winning sculptor Anish Kapoor.

The money, plus costs, will go to the Swiss-based art collector Ofir Scheps, who put Hole And Vessel II into the safekeeping of Fine Art Logistics, in south-west London, in June 2004.

A high court judge said that, on the evidence he had heard, the sculpture, which was made of polystyrene, cement, earth, acrylic and pigment, was probably placed in a skip by mistake during building works at the company's packing shop and destroyed at a waste transfer station.

Mr Scheps called expert evidence that the work would have fetched a current auction hammer price of £580,000, including the buyer's premium. The defendant's expert put its value at £250,000.

Mr Justice Teare arrived at a figure of £351,375, consisting of £132,000 as the value of the piece when it was lost and £219,375 to reflect the increase in the value of Kapoor's works since then.

The judge said the sculpture was created in 1984 and measured 95cm x 162cm x 109cm. "It is not possible for me to describe it," he added. "One expert described it as sensuous and sexy, the other as clumsy and somewhat absurd."

There was, however, agreement that it was made during Kapoor's transitional phase when he was "moving away from an exploration of the male/female dichotomy towards an exploration of the void".

In later works by the 52-year-old Indian-born artist, "the void" became an important element.

He won the Turner prize in 1991 and, in recent years, the value of his sculptures has increased very substantially, the judge said.

Mr Scheps sued for damages or the return of the missing piece, which he bought for around £20,000 - considerably less than its real value - in June 2004. It was put in storage pending its intended removal to Kapoor's London studio for restoration work.

Fine Art Logistics said it could not return the piece because it had probably been placed in a skip for disposal as waste, and that its liability for the loss was limited to £587.13 pursuant to its standard terms and conditions.

The judge held that those terms and conditions were not included in the firm's agreement with Mr Scheps and that, in any event, its liability limit was not fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the case.

The judge said it was reasonable for such a company to limit its liability to a fixed sum per weight or volume because the goods entrusted to it could vary so much in value and the owner of the property could insure it for its true value.

However, in this case the company had not taken steps to bring the limit to the customer's attention, and there was no evidence that it had offered to arrange insurance.

Kapoor has spoken of his "deep regret" over the sculpture's disappearance. "It's an important work in terms of what I was up to then," he said. "I only made seven or eight works that year, and it's a shame to lose one of them."

Friday, March 16, 2007

The importance of spotting a genuine Banksy, The Guardian

Ignorance can be costly in the Banksy exploitation business. Only yesterday it was reported that "bungling workmen painted over a mural by famed street artist Banksy worth £100,000". Last week, 60-year-old Sam Khan, purveyor of luggage and football scarves to the denizens of Tottenham Court Road, London, was inconsolable after flogging a Banksy that had been painted on his stall for £1,000 and discovering that it could be worth £500,000. Poor love. These stories pose a number of questions. Were the workmen really bunglers, given they were employed to remove graffiti? Does a transient daubing suddenly become art if it is worth a lot of money? Is Banksy's work really worth half a million and, if so, should we pity stallholder Sam for failing to maximise his accidental revenue? Finally, and most importantly, how do we spot a Banksy?

The sad fact is that most original Banksys have now been removed from the streets. Steve Lazarides, his agent (yes, our anonymous-situationist-anarchist-street artist has come a long way), says: "Ninety per cent of Banksys don't exist any more."

There are obvious signs to look out for. The signature - a blocky, stencilled Banksy. (The trouble is, after a while he stopped signing them.) Then there is the subject matter - smiley faces, snogging coppers, little girls embracing bombs etc. (Another problem is that Banksy spawned a generation of copyists, so it's hard to know if a Banksy is really a Banksy.) Lazarides says there are a few genuine ones around - down the road from the Guardian, in Farringdon, is a faux hole-in-the-wall cash dispenser; there's an Apache attack helicopter in Old Street, London; a naked lover hanging out of a window outside a sexual health clinic in his hometown of Bristol; and coppers kissing in Brighton.

Finally, having spotted a Banksy, how do you claim it as your own? Tricky one. Lazarides doesn't have much sympathy with Sam. The thing is, he says, Banksy intended the work for all of us, not just to line the pockets of a fortunate few. "If you really want to claim it as your own, it would often mean nicking a whole building or at least a wall."

For the truly ambitious, once you've spotted a Banksy, you can try spotting Banksy himself. Take note, from the one journalist to have knowingly met him (allegedly): if you see a scruffy bloke who looks like a cross between Jimmy Nail and Mike Skinner, with a silver tooth and a fag in his mouth, a pint of Guinness in one hand and a stencil in his other, it's likely to be the genuine Banksy.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A little bit of Hoxton in Dubai, The Times

What sold at the first Gulf Art Fair? Gavin Turk’s prized rubbish bags or a gun-wielding terrorist Snoopy? David Rose reports

Wealthy Emiratis in flowing robes, homesick expatriates and even visiting Premiership footballers were in buying mood at the inaugural Gulf Art Fair in Dubai. But despite a strong presence from international galleries, the heaviest spending was not on Western art but on Asian and Middle Eastern pieces.

Soaring oil prices and a construction boom mean that potential art investors (whether local sheikhs or hedge-fund managers) are plentiful in the Gulf, and at the beach-side fair 38 galleries from Delhi to New York were all eager to cash in, presenting works worth a total of $1 billion (£517 million) for sale in the first event of its kind in the Middle East.

The dollar sign was a conspicuous emblem throughout, whether embossed on a lurid silkscreen by Andy Warhol, contorted into a sculpture by Keith Haring or, more resonantly, forming a mould filled with crude oil by the Russian artist Andrei Molodkin.

Yet the fair’s organisers predict that Dubai’s wealth and location is well suited for culture as well as profits. They claim that the desert back-water-turned-commercial hub — although now best known for its hotels, golf courses and low taxes — could become “the most important centre for contemporary art in Asia, likely to rival London and New York within a decade”.

The boast befits a city with the audacity and wealth to build what is soon to be the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai tower, already 110 storeys and rising. But for all the Emirate’s aspirations to form a bridge between East and West, cultural tensions were apparent even before the fair’s opening.

Restrictions imposed on the exhibitors, including the White Cube and Albion galleries from London, meant that only art deemed suitable for exhibition in an Islamic state would be accepted. “We asked all galleries to make careful provision — that is, chiefly concerning nudity and religious imagery,” says John Martin, the fair’s director, who has established the project from nothing more than a beachside dream in less than two years. “Selling is the name of the game here, and in our first year there is a bit of a pioneer spirit, but already we hope next year to double in size.” The financial clout of the commercial art galleries causes a trickle-down effect to improving public institutions, Martin argues, and recent multimillion-pound sales of contemporary art by Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Dubai and its neighbour, Abu Dhabi, have been followed by plans for new showcases for the Louvre and Guggenheim collections in the region.

Buyers included Sol Campbell, the former England defender, who spent $60,000 (£31,000) on a photographic print of a forest by the Korean artist Bien-U-Bae while visiting the fair between training sessions at Portsmouth Football Club’s nearby camp.

Works such as Horse Mountain by Tim Flach, a close-up photograph of a stallion’s neck, were also particularly popular thanks to local interest in horse racing. But with only a handful of local galleries represented in the region and many visitors with no previous experience of negotiating such an event, experienced British, German and American dealers were bemoaning a lack of buzz.

Unlike in the current Moscow biennale, where the star billing of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and others has somewhat eclipsed local artists, the word in Dubai was that even those works by fashionable Westerners that were passed fit by the censor remained on the shelves, while those by their Arab peers, and Indian and Chinese artists, sold strongly among the Emirate’s 80 per cent expatriate population.

Graham Steele, sales executive at White Cube, said he had watched puzzled visitors carefully stepping over a sculpture of painted bronze rubbish bags by Gavin Turk, only to be confronted by a medicine cabinet by Hirst with a price tag of £825,000.

“Some visitors have become quite frustrated when trying to understand how such a thing can be worth thousands of pounds,” he said. “It has been quite an exciting challenge for us to have to explain the work and its context of art history.”

The Hoxton gallery was not alone in finding it hard to eke out a sale, highlighting a lack of understanding of modern Western art. Sotheby’s even ran an “education programme”, a series of talks at the fair aimed at introducing Arab buyers to the market. Whether this patronised local sheikhs was open to question.

But having secured a visit from Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and his ministers, Martin says: “It was disappointing to see the Culture Minister, who was fantastic in supporting the fair and is a great collector of Arabic calligraphy, only buying art of that kind, with many local buyers following suit.

“It’s like only supporting your own team in what could be a more interesting international competition.”

Indifference to Western culture verged into antipathy elsewhere in the fair, however. A solid gold knuckle-duster, designed by the London-based Pakistani artist Shezad Dawood, was encrusted with diamonds arranged to spell out “Nation of Islam” in Arabic. “Yes, it’s a bit edgy,” said Claudia Cellini, director of the Third Line gallery in Dubai. The work, she said, was bought by a local sheikh for nearly £9,000.

“He’s one of our fundamentalist clients,” her assistant joked, while standing next to another of Dawood’s works, a 6in high Snoopy doll dressed as a terrorist. Cellini corrects her: “He is, shall we say, conservative.” As a group of Emirati women in black burkas strolled past, eyeing with suspicion a nearby car decorated with Hirst’s trademark coloured spots, it was difficult to feel that the clash of civilisations had yet been overcome.