Sunday, November 25, 2012

An account of my first experience at an exclusive art exhibit.

“If it is one thing I’m not good at, it’s drawing,” I overheard the lady say to her friend. I was standing behind them waiting my turn to get a closer look at the Raoul Dufy painting titled ‘La Fanfare’. Was she simply stating her lack of talent or was she actually comparing herself to this notable artist? Maybe it was the simplicity of the painting that led to this remark. It was hard to say.

The Swiss Art Gate foundation along with ProArt Gallery, both based in the UAE, is hosting a classical art exhibition. The exhibition features works of fourteen prominent artists from the 20th century such as Picasso, Matisse and Dali, to name a few. Open to all, the exhibition will run up to the 19th of January, 2013.

             Raoul DUFY (French, 1877 – 1953) La Fanfare

The launch, however, was an exclusive event that took place on the 21st of November, 2012, to which a few classmates and I were attended. Held at the prestigious Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, the exhibit is confined to the Italian restaurant, Mezzaluna, on the lower ground floor of the hotel.

We were four girls, who had travelled a two hour journey by bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. The taxi, which my companions and I took from the bus station to the hotel, was welcomed through the gates of the hotel as though it were a nothing less than a Rolls Royce. When the doors were held open for us by hotel ushers, the four of us stepped out flustered rather than flattered.

Having spent the night before and the following morning stressing over what to wear, what to say and how to behave, excitement and nervousness had tangled up into a messy knot inside us. Despite our professor’s casual regard of the event, there was no ignoring that this was the first time we were attending a very exclusive, very “artsy”, invite only event at such a plush 7 star hotel.

We walked into the hotel and immediately found ourselves blanketed by a golden shadow. From the marble walls and floors to the upholstery and decor, everything reflected a dull shade of gold. As we reached the centre of the hotel, all eyes automatically shifted to the domical ceiling where the geometrical designs looked down upon us majestically.

We spent a few minutes oohing and aahing at our surroundings, following which our professor, whom we had bumped into just then, directed us to head downstairs to the restaurant. Walking down the carpeted stairway, we almost expected to see a crowd awaiting our entrance, whom imagination said we would acknowledge with a royal wave. If a hotel could make a couple of 22 year old students feel this way, it certainly deserved every bit of its 7-star accreditation.

On entering the restaurant, we were greeted by two waitresses holding out trays of fresh juice and wine, both of which we shyly declined. When we came into view of the actual restaurant, it took us a few minutes to realise that the paintings were right in front of us.

Mezzaluna is constructed in such a way that it is sectioned into five dining areas including the bar, all of which are separated by either a step or large glass doors that are kept open. The paintings are hung along the walls of the restaurant, but the minimal vacant floor space along with the imposing dining furniture made it difficult for visitors to move around comfortably and view the paintings in close proximity.

I am no expert on art but I was, like my fellow mates, looking forward to this as a learning experience. Sadly, my visit was more concentrated on making sure I did not bump into anyone rather than on socialising and getting to know the art. Apart from the lack of navigability, the lighting failed to do any justice to the displays too.

The crowd was largely European, French-speaking if I overheard right. Light finger food or should I say hors d’oeuvres were served on trays being carried by gloved waiters clothed in rich orange and gold, paisley printed long coats. All the training undergone to become the fine waiters they are today was wasted upon us timid students, who continued to decline anything that came towards us on a tray.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I was still able to appreciate the art. In the course of our evening, there was one painting that all of us instantly connected with. Claude Weisbuch’s Les Amateurs d’Art. The amateurs of art. We were four girls looking up at a painting that portrayed five men (also) looking at a painting and both groups wore similar expressions of awe and curiosity. That’s us, my friend rightly said.

Claude Weisbuch (French, born 1927)  Les Amateurs d’ArtOil on canvas, Signed lower right

Art events are always made to look so pretentious, with people dressed in eccentric clothing, sipping expensive wine, making their presence felt with (so called) intellectual observations and when they think nobody is looking, maybe pass a scandalous comment or two. From the face of it, this event was nothing like that. Yet, to me as an outsider to the world of art, I could not help but feel unwelcome.

The restaurant is bordered by ceiling high wooden doors that provide an escape to the hotel grounds at the back of the hotel. I stepped out and joined my friends, already sitting by the cool fountains, their shoes kicked off, gabbing like school girls.

Under that sapphire sky, with the magnificent hotel looming over us on one side and the vast Arabian Sea on the other, we sat there as the soft sea breeze assuringly told us, there was no expertise required to indulge God’s work of art.

By Prathima Ananth Narayan

The writer is second year MA Media and Communications student specializing in Journalism.