Arab Today, arab today abu dhabi art fair\s emergence
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Abu Dhabi Art Fair\'s emergence

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Abu Dhabi Art Fair\'s emergence

Abu Dhabi - Arabstoday

Her blue eyes are instantly recognisable, the languorous pose and coquettish tilt of the head reminiscent of her role as Cleopatra in the 1963 film of the same name. When the late Elizabeth Taylor was invited to Iran in 1976, she was already an established Hollywood icon, but in the streets of Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz, she became an anonymous tourist, dressing in the chadur to enter a mosque or playfully posing as an odalisque in a portrait session at the Tehran Hilton. Her two-week tour of the country as the companion of Ardeshir Zahedi, the Iranian ambassador in the US, was captured by his cousin Firooz, then a budding art student and a keen amateur photographer. Firooz Zahedi, who went on to shoot magazine covers for Vanity Fair and Esquire, and later created the poster image of Uma Thurman for the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, credited Taylor with giving him the impetus to pursue a career in photography. For her part, Taylor was grateful for the chance to be invisible and see \"a country blessed with rich and colourful culture\" for the first and last time. But that trip, preserved in a set of prints on sale and on show at last weekend\'s Abu Dhabi Art, says much more than mere Hollywood-celebrity-meets-Persian-culture. It speaks to that odd and fascinating relationship between East and West. Thirty-five years on, that connection is being played out on a different stage - at the art fair that aims to sow the seeds of Abu Dhabi\'s ambitions to become a world-class cultural hub. And once more it was the West flocking East, including such renowned galleries as White Cube, Gagosian and Xerxes, all eager for a slice of the action in what is still a relatively new and emerging market. It is two days before the art fair opens to the public, and the imposing, undulating silhouette of the UAE Pavilion looms on the Saadiyat Island horizon. A frenzy of activity surrounds what is very much a construction site: workmen are busy welding the last of the building\'s roof panels, more men are perched atop diggers frantically scrubbing the pavilion\'s glass front. Inside, a form of chaos reigns: booth dividers are being given a lick of white paint, some oddly shaped hexagonal chairs - which may or may not be an exhibit - are propped against a wall. In short, there is work to do, a deadline to be met. This, of course, is the first time the fair has been held on Saadiyat, taking its place on the island of enlightenment where Abu Dhabi\'s ambitious plans for a cultural district will eventually emerge. The change of location from Emirates Palace, and the hype surrounding the new venue, shipped from Shanghai where it showcased the UAE\'s entry in the 2010 World Expo, has given a much-needed boost to both the art fair and the galleries taking part, following the recent announcement of delays to the construction of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, one of Saadiyat\'s flagship projects. A Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) spokeswoman last week confirmed that \"all the museums are continuing. When you see the scale of [these projects], it is only natural to take the time to build world-class establishments. Now that the fair has moved to its cultural home, the market will keep growing.\" Most of the 50 galleries taking part had already shipped their artworks before the news broke and for many, it was too late to rethink the collections they will present at the fair. And strategy it is, for while the eclectic gathering - from galleries to artists and collectors - all have a passion for art, there is no mistaking the main reasons they have come to the Emirates: to show and, of course, to sell. \"In the beginning I just wanted to sell but now I want to have more of a presence,\" says Salwa Zeidan, whose eponymous gallery in Abu Dhabi has participated since the inaugural art fair in 2009. Her focus has always been to promote and encourage Emirati artists.

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