High-profile Dubai Gallery Has Palm Beach Connection

Daily News Arts Editor

Thursday, February 05, 2009

(Click photo to enlarge)
'Burj Al Arab,' by former Palm Beach resident Curtis Kelly, 2008, an oil on canvas, 40 by 30 inches, is on view in a gallery show at Cuadro Fine Art Gallery at the Dubai International Financial Centre. Bruce Helander curated the inaugural exhibition, which features art by 22 artists, including his own work and contributions by local friends.
(Gallery - events/Inaugural exhibition/page 6 center) 
If you were to climb into a taxi in Dubai and say "Take me to the big ants," chances are the driver would know exactly where to go.

The painted bronze ants, crafted by Palm Beach resident Susan Phipps Cochran, tramp across the roundabout in front of the Dubai International Financial Centre, one of the most-traveled sites in the United Arab Emirates.

"No matter when you go, there are tourists taking their pictures," said Bruce Helander, who curated the exhibition of which the ants are a part. "They've become the most famous public sculpture in Dubai."

The seven ants, the biggest of which weighs 8,500 pounds and stands almost 10 feet tall, were included in the inaugural exhibition of the Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, which opened in November in the financial complex.

The arts are being noticed by more than tourists.

"Anyone of any importance has to come to the Dubai International Financial Center," Helander said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was spotted pointing at the ants, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani paused to admire them, he said.

Dubai, already a booming financial hub, is fast becoming a cultural center as well. Cuadro was one of three art galleries that opened in the same week in the financial center, according to The Gulf Today.

The Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, headed by the son of Dubai's ruler, has a lavish public art budget. Corporate honchos are establishing residences in Dubai and decorating them with art, while well-heeled natives are beginning to take an interest in contemporary art from around the world.

Cuadro, which sprawls over 13,000 square feet, contains seven gallery spaces. Helander became involved with the gallery about a year and a half ago during a visit to Dubai to explore opportunities for another gallery.

He selected 120 works by 22 artists for Cuadro's first show. The exhibition features works by Dale Chihuly, Hunt Slonem and John Torreano, as well Middle Eastern artists. Helander also included his own work and art by local friends such as Palm Beacher Ralfonso Gschwend and former Palm Beach resident Curtis Kelly.

The opening attracted the glitterati of Dubai.

"They had television and print media there the whole nine yards," said Kelly, who attended the event. "All the Arab sheiks were parading around, and the TV crews were following them. It was fun."

Kelly's contribution to the exhibition were abstract paintings based on architecture, including one inspired by Burj Al Arab, an iconic hotel in Dubai designed in the shape of a sail.

In selecting the art, Helander avoided representation and works based on the figure so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities.

"They were works celebrating color, harmony and texture things that people without a great command of contemporary art could relate to and enjoy for what they were," he said.

Cochran's ants were included in the show at the request of Bashar Al Shroogi, whose family owns Cuadro. He noticed them at the Palm Beach International Airport, where they were on loan from the artist.

Business at the gallery is good, Al Shroogi said.

"We have managed to place a large number of works into significant collections," he said. "Other works have acted as the foundations to new collections."

Demand is strongest for collage and assemblage, he said.

The gallery will continue to exhibit works by the artists featured in the inaugural show, he said.

There's been considerable interest in Cochran's ants, although no deal has been finalized. It would be great if they sold, but even if they don't, "they're in Dubai, and millions of people are seeing them," Cochran said. "It's wonderful."

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