Stella Sevastopoulos of ‘Art Scene Athens’, talks to acclaimed Greek artist Chryssa Verghi and gallery director Natalia Markou on their art escapades in the Middle East:
WITH the Greek crisis still crippling the population, it’s no wonder that many have looked towards the Middle East for a better economic future, including some Greek artists. One such example is acclaimed artist Chryssa Verghi, who recently had a solo show at Bahrain’s fair ArtBAB, sponsored by Ioanna Bailan and her company Volpe P.C. Bailan is a great supporter of contemporary Greek art, but realizes the need for its better promotion abroad, hence her mission’s aim. Verghi will also be exhibiting her work together with Greek artists Simoni Symeonidou and Nikoletta Antonopoulou, plus Cypriot artist Katerina Stavrou at the upcoming World Art Dubai (April 18-21). They will be represented by The Art Cocoon – an online gallery based in Dubai. Its director, Natalia Markou, is another pioneering spirit who for the past three years has been educating the Middle East (and beyond), in the aesthetics of contemporary Greek and Cypriot art.
Middle East’s growing art scene
Business is booming in certain major business hubs of the Middle East, and this has also helped the art scene of these centres to develop. It has even been reported in recent years that these centres, such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, have affected the global art market, with their taste in more traditional genres and practices. With new galleries and state-of-the-art museums cropping up (eg the Louvre Abu Dhabi, inaugurated last year, while the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is still under construction), plus auction houses (Christie’s Dubai has been auctioning there since 2006, joined by Sotheby’s Dubai last year), plus art fairs, it’s no wonder that this region of the world is enjoying its new artistic ‘interests’; And they are growing all the more contemporary, as its community of art lovers and collectors blossoms and becomes all the more educated in the ways of Western art history and the art market.
The growing Bahraini artphil crowd
Bahrain’s ArtBAB fair (Art Bahrain Across Borders, which ran March 14-18), is the country’s foremost international art fair with a mission to attract leading international galleries in order to expand their art market but also to enable the development of local Bahraini artists. In this sense, ArtBAB acts as a bridge between Bahrain and the world. This art fair is under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the wife Of His Majesty The King Of Bahrain (she is also President of The Supreme Council For Women). It is also supported by Tamkeen (a governmental organization in charge of Bahrain’s economic development).
Bahrain’s population of over 1.2 million includes many Bahraini collectors, plus Bahraini and non-national art-lovers who have high disposable income and are keen to engage with local and international contemporary art.
According to the fair’s website, by 2014 Bahraini artists were selling over USD $8.7 million – contributing to the growth of the market eager to explore and collect Bahraini art. Now in its 3rd edition, ArtBAB 2018 saw strong attendance and a 40% increase in sales from lasts year, hosting participants from Bahrain, UAE, Bulgaria, France, Ukraine, UK, India, Italy, Belgium and others. Seventeen galleries from around the world took part, among them Italy’s Giorgio Persano gallery, Great Britain’s Alon Zakaim Fine Art Gallery, France’s Gallerie Bruno Massa gallery. Also, 16 artists from 11 countries exhibited independently.
Verghi’s Bahraini experience
With the support and funding of Ioanna Bailan and her company Volpe P.C., Verghi was able to realise a solo show, comprising 6 of her works at ArtBAB 2018. “People were coming to the booth having already seen the works on instagram. The press referred to me as a ‘photorealist’”, stated Verghi, who was impressed with the positive reception of her show in the press and media (among them ‘Dubai Forum’). Entitled ‘Waterflow’, and comprising of her large-scale seascapes (from 2015-18), many were fascinated with her breathtaking realism, when viewing them from a distance, although at a closer look, one realises that Verghi’s paintings also explore abstraction. The sea is also a much-loved component of Bahraini life, and in this case brought the Greek and Bahraini cultures together, via Verghi’s immaculate renderings of its watery ways.
“The Bahraini culture is very different to that of the West, with a penchant for naïf art in particular and abstract art. They also have great street artists” explains Verghi about the local art scene. But she also noticed at the fair, how efforts were made to promote local Bahraini art even outside of its borders, even on merchandise such as textiles, clothes and a plethora of other art objects that are exported. “In this way, people from around the world get to know about their artists”, Verghi stated. Of course local collectors also had their eye on the works presented at the international galleries, by artists such as Damien Hirst, David Breuer-Weil, Mauro Perruchetti and Patrick Hughes.
Next stop, Dubai
Art Dubai, has been running in March for ten years now, very successfully. In recent years, it has been joined by another fair, World Art Dubai, now in its 4th edition, which will run April 18-21 this year. Catering to Dubai’s continuous demand for contemporary art, the upcoming fair targets a bigger attendance and awareness from around the region, with a unique selection of more than 430 international exhibitors.
The online gallery The Art Cocoon (www.theartcocoon.com), brainchild of Natalia Markou, will be presenting the work of four Greek artists at the upcoming World Art Dubai: Simoni Symeonidou, Katerina Stavrou, Nikoletta Antonopoulou and Chryssa Verghi. Based in Dubai, this is the only art gallery in the Middle East and Asia, dedicated to promoting Greek and Cypriot contemporary artists. Through participations at international art fairs, art exhibitions, and online activity, the gallery exposes its artists’ work to new international audiences. This is the gallery’s third consecutive year that it has participated at World Art Dubai.
Natalia Markou, Director of The Art Cocoon, explains how the situation is in Dubai at the moment, artwise: “Dubai is a melting pot of over 100 different nationalities. All the people living here, have their own cultural background and aesthetics. The Art Cocoon offers fine art of different genres and styles, addressing the need of high quality art to the market.” And how about Greek art? Markou prefers not to put such ‘labels’ on art, because “The visual language of art is universal and it can only talk to the heart of its viewers, as such the origin or ‘nationality’ of art doesn’t play any significant role to the buyer’s buying decision. We have clients from all around the world, Asia, Europe and Middle East.”
Markou came up with the idea of creating The Art Cocoon in 2015, “during a time when Dubai’s art scene was at its early stages, with only a few galleries offering international and regional art. The choice to work exclusively with Greek and Cypriot artists, is a genuine one to support great artists from my home country, giving them the opportunity to show their work to a new market, expanding their collectors network, and awareness of their work”, she states.
And how has the Middle East affected the international art market? “As the local population is exposed more and more to art and design, their taste has evolved and has become more refined, with a better understanding of art and its different forms.
It’s a slow process, which will continue to be more evident in the future art market reports which analyze the purchasing power and trends of the region.” Concludes Markou.
Chryssa Verghi (b.1959), is considered one of the most influential Greek contemporary artists. An international artist who exhibited in USA, UK, Ireland, France, Korea, China, Belgium, Turkey, Bahrain, Cyprus and now for the first time in Dubai, UAE. Her works are acquired by Museums, and Art Institutions, as well as private and corporate collectors around the world. Nature inspires her oil paintings compositions, which float between abstraction and representational art. Her fascination with the element of water is evident in her work, by choosing big scale canvases to capture the texture and the infinite essence of the water, making it her personal mission to bring us closer to the source of life, water. Chryssa will be showcasing a large size painting with title ‘Reflection in Green Mood’ at the World Art Dubai fair, from her art series ‘Reflections’.
Nikoletta Antonopoulou (b.1955) who will be present during the art fair, is recognized for her colorful and dynamic expressionistic sports themed oil paintings. Her unique style of fast writing like gestures and free dynamic brush strokes best captures the full of action, and athletic pulse of her subjects retrieved from cycling, horse riding, sailing, and running competitions. With more than 15 solo exhibitions in Europe and representations in Asia, Nikoletta’s work earned international acclaim and awards, as well recognition from notable critics and art historians.
The Art Cocoon gallery will present for the first time in Dubai works from her series ‘Sailing’ and ‘Hippeis’.
Katerina Stavrou (b.1989) a young upcoming artist with already more than 20 exhibitions in USA, Greece, UK, and her home country Cyprus, will be showcasing her latest work for the first time in UAE. Katerina Stavrou, is an abstract expressionist painter, who creates intriguing visual compositions full of movement and color, through the application of ‘Action Painting’ and ‘Automatism’ techniques. Figurative elements, and conceptualism are introduced in her art, while experimentation is central to her art practice.
Katerina will be exhibiting 8 new works from her series ‘Fight or Flight’ at the World Art Dubai for the first time. Through this series she brings awareness to the psychosomatic state of the human body, and the repercussions on the heart, when it feels threatened.
Simoni Symeonidou (b.1983) is a multidisciplinary artist best known for her unique imaginative shadow sculptures. Simoni will be present at the World Art Dubai art fair showcasing her work for the first time in the region, at the gallery’s booth as well as at a special dedicated space by the fair at booth E11. The nature of her art, restricts her to create no more than 20 art pieces per year. A bachelor and master graduate of Bristol School of Creative Arts, Fine Art, Simoni presented her work at group and solo exhibitions in UK, Germany, Cyprus, and Greece. Her work revolves around the human figure, exploring the emotional, and existential concerns of the individual, within our society. Simoni’s artworks, bring a sense of optimism, urging their viewers to see beyond the physical appearances, and give a second look and chance literally and metaphorically to their everyday personal encounters and situations. Her artworks ‘Four Moons’ and ‘Anemone’ will be presented at the gallery’s booth B25-2, with art installation ‘Alone’ being set at a special featured booth E11.