Tony Cragg

Tony Cragg

Since the exhibition in Jeddah with Teresa Emanuele and the charity auction for the Yoga Centre, I have been working on several private projects that I cannot go into. If I did tell you, I’d have to kill you. Which would be such a bore.

What I can tell you about though is the preparations for ArtInternational, Istanbul’s newest art fair with whom I was working as the liason for the Middle East.

Spencer Finch

Spencer Finch

When I was first approached by Dyala Nusseibeh, the fair’s director, over a year ago to join the team I jumped at the chance. Dyala is a wonderful person with a great eye, but it was still a bit of a gamble. After all, there was nothing to it yet apart from an invitation. No galleries, no venue, no team, just the idea itself. Anyway, the gamble paid off.

The fair brought together 62 international galleries, offering artwork from the highest end like a jaw-droppingly gorgeous stainless steel Tony Cragg at Andersson Sandstrom Gallery from Sweden.

Lisson brought some outstanding works by Anish Kapoor, but my favourite piece in their booth was Spencer Finch’s Morning Star. I’ve always been a fan of neon sculpture, the way the light permeates the space around it extending its form through space.

Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic

Keith Coventry, Untitled (Junk Painting), 2012

Keith Coventry, Untitled (Junk Painting), 2012

Pace brought a work by Sugimoto whose soothing blended grey tones really do evoke a sense of calm and Keith Coventry’s Junk Paintings: abstracted portraits of discarded McDonald’s wrappers that are a contemporary nod to modern British palette and geometric forms and to Britain’s current pop-culture.

Krinzinger gallery brought one of my very favourite images by Marina Abramovic, a self-portrait in which she has been meditating for hours on end. Her brain is consciously emitting Alpha Waves, the brain wave that is produced during deep meditation and somehow the tranquility of the sitter is conveyed through the medium. Whenever I was feeling a bit tired (most of the time) I would take a moment to go and stand in front of that image.

Apart from these major works, there were also pieces by up and coming artists. Rampa had a piece by Nevin Aladag that was particularly interesting. Nevin has participated in a number of biennales and museum shows and is a keen observer of social habits, her work references cross-cultural elements challenging typical assumptions of the east by the west, and visa versa. She is an important voice in contemporary art and I am sure we will be hearing a lot more about her.

Nevin Aladag

Nevin Aladag

Basim Magdy also participated, a young Egyptian artist based in Basel. Both a poet and an artist his works often combine the two elements. In the works that Art Sumer had on display (other works from the series were included at the Istanbul Biennial held parallel to the fair) he included disparate image and text resulting in poignant and compelling works of art at a very affordable level.

I’ve spent so long waxing lyrical about the artists and their work that I shall have to continue about the parties in another blog!

Stay tuned…


Basim Magdy

Basim Magdy


Istanbul Part Deux

Being a VIP liaison isn’t just about going to lots of fabulous parties and hosting lots of fabulous parties, it’s also about doing a lot of admin.  A LOT.

Some might not find it necessary to do so much admin but I am a bit OCD, and I love a good list. So I spent several weeks prior to the fair putting together guest lists, managing the lists, responding to rsvps, chasing up my friends and then putting together a personalized programme for those attending.

No mean feat when you consider that I had a few hundred people on my list, and eventually tens of personal guests for whom to put together programmes.


With the admin (mostly) over, we started our week with the fair’s opening on the banks of the Golden Horn. The sun was shining and the water sparkling outside reflected incandescently inside the building, raising people’s spirits and lending a unique atmosphere to the interior.

My hat goes off to Fady Jameel, who I shoe horned into holding the inaugural dinner of the fair after the opening.

Fady, thank you! It was such a great party.

FADY JAMEEL HOUSEThe apartment has a spectacular 360degree view of Istanbul and is bursting with fabulous art. A Jaume Plensa sculpture dominates the downstairs entertaining area, and we showed a video by Shirazeh Houshiary on the six metre screen.

It was somewhat intimidating when I had 130 people rsvp yes to a party we had limited to 80. When 150 people walked through the doors of my friend’s private home I almost fainted.

Fady just got on with it in the most gracious way. Every time someone smashed a glass I winced, at one point five glasses smashed right next to him. Awkward. Fady himself however, didn’t even blink.

Therein is a valuable lesson: the less you care about glasses and guest lists, the better.

Lisson Gallery held a dinner party at the Sabanci Museum where we had a private tour of the Anish Kapoor exhibition there, it was a real eye opener seeing so many of his stone works, pieces that are often too expensive and logistically intimidating to exhibit.

ZILBERMAN DINNERCigdem Simavi was as ever the most gracious of hostesses, holding a lunch at the Rahmi Koc museum where we were served some deliciously light starters and a wickedly Ottoman main course of lamb wrapped in aubergine slices.

We had some amazing visits to private collections, thank you Tansa Memerci for opening your home to us. My favourite piece was the Mark Dion installation in her sitting room consisting of shelves of Roman pottery, glass and iron-ware on a bed of sand, and the Irvin Wurm standing man on the central table, with his empty hoody glowering menacingly at us as we entered the room. Brilliant.

Moiz Zilberman had a lovely cocktail party followed by a dinner at 360 that was a huge success, we ate sea bass and laughed a lot. I was also happy to see him exhibiting the work of Sukran Morale and Vale Export, two of Turkey’s most activist female artists.

Topping off the week was a wonderful party hosted by Zeineb and Ayhan Sicimoglu on behalf of Abu Dhabi Art Fair. What a fabulous night, with a buffet dinner under the light of the moon on the banks of the bosphorus. Although the moon and the Bosphorus were soon forgotten in favour of the band and the Bozouki player as they got the party going with some truly memorable jump up and boogy live music.

Maximum respect to everyone who took off their shoes and danced with me, you are all fabulous.


Tansa Memerci House duo


Du-bai or Not Du-bai?

Definitely Du-bai.

I love it.

Athier Mousawi artwork

As with all art fairs, it’s as much an opportunity for people to reconnect as it is about buying art. It was equally such an opportunity for me when I was in London as it is now I’m in Saudi Arabia, because we’re all scattered all over the world. New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong… Jeddah.

This year was even better than the other years. I wasn’t there with Sotheby’s, I was there in my own capacity as Madder Red. It was a liberating feeling. To be attending the fair as a client was an entirely different animal.

It was a pleasure to see Quadro Gallery’s space filled to bursting with people taking in Athier Mousawi and Manal al Dowayan’s new work.

I love Athier’s paintings, his connection with his cultural heritage is so vibrantly portrayed within them. I can see the richly symbolic modernist Iraqi aesthetic, and its cubist tendencies. It inspires me that this London born and raised artist is looking to his roots and celebrating them rather than denigrating them or looking to a western mode of representation to portray his third-culture opinions.

I was touched to have been invited to Sotheby’s lunch the following day. It was a great success with lots of collectors seated in the sunshine of a fountain courtyard.  A selection of artwork was temporarily on exhibition in the ballroom for their Contemporary Art Doha sale, including a work by Adil Abidin that I loved, and some gorgeous works by Mohammed Ehsai. I wanted to have a second look at the Hayv Kahraman they had exhibited in Jeddah during Jeddah Art Week but that must have been safely in Doha for the auction.

Wim Delvoye’s Truck from his Gothic works.

I was delighted to see a couple of galleries from Africa at the fair this year. Over the years Art Dubai has been tested out by the Far East and India, and those galleries don’t seem to return. Which is a strong indication that the market is much more geared to either regional or western artists. An interesting point given that Dubai is so ethnically diverse and well connected to India and the Far East.

I absolutely loved Wim Delvoye’s work at Arndt gallery. Although it’s not at all intentional: within the juxtaposition of gothic architecture and contemporary subject matter can be found a commentary on modernity in the Middle East.

European Gothic is rooted in Islamic architecture, the immensely high pointed arches and cross-ribbed vaults spread into Europe from Moorish Spain and Sicily via the Norman conquests. Today the roads of the Arab world are absolutely rammed with HGVs, to me at least they are a strong reminder of home. To see the ancient aesthetic of Islam forming the framework of something that has become synonymous with the region is quite moving.


I attended Tectonic in a warehouse space at DIFC. The selection of artists and media was diverse, and I have to say it was the first truly innovative independent art event I have seen in Dubai. Good work Aya.



Fred Eerdeken’s shadow installation




Is anyone going to come?

This is the question I was asking myself all night. And is exactly the reason I don’t like throwing my own parties. If anyone wants to organize my next birthday party, please let me know. I hate doing it. It is far too stressful. However, I can’t get out of it for my own exhibitions even though it turns me into a shivering mound of royal jelly.

We spent the day messing about with the projector, putting in the final ventilation unit, and overseeing the various frills. I have learnt some valuable lessons about where not to go for stenciling in Jeddah, and that Alaa al Shuwayer (my partner from BMG) is a remarkably resourceful person and an inspirational multi-tasker. When I have three children and a husband (so ok, 4 children) remind me not to put on anything more taxing than an apron. How she managed to help me pull of an entire exhibition I have no idea.

The day passed, the sun set, the lights went up and the show was on the road.

And here’s a little video to illustrate!

We had four hundred people walk through the exhibition, and it was a resounding success (Thank God! Tangible relief!!!). The feedback was fantastic. Everyone was so enthusiastic and encouraging and most of all excited about the art, we were all thrilled with the response.

The best part of the evening though was when the sponsorship banner fell on Teresa’s head as she delivered her speech. Fortunately she is very thin, so it just slipped over her.

Over the next few days we had the delightful and incredibly rewarding experience of working with children and teenagers in our various workshops and school visits, and never a truer word was uttered than this: ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.’ Some of their comments were just so profoundly moving, if I could have I would have tripled the number of workshops we did.

That said it is worth noting that although I have a strong maternal instinct, attempting to entertain a group of 4 year olds was probably the most difficult thing I had to do that week.

Forget the 400 worldly, well-educated adults that came through with critical eyes: 4 year olds… Argh! It was like herding cats. Problem solving is my forte, I like the challenge of it, but I had to give up and let Alaa – who has infinitely more patience than me – take over. She had the genius idea of making them count the trees in the photographs. This would never have occurred to me. I kept trying to talk to them about living in the present and being connected to the universe. Never had I been looked upon with more disdain and boredom than that handful of toddlers, shortly before they started trying to break things and hit each other.

Which is when I made my swift exit.

Basta? Basta!


n. Colloquial Arabic.

1. unleavened dough, made of wheat flour, water and sometimes eggs.

2. a prepared dish containing pasta as the main ingredient.


v. interjection. Italian.

(obsolete) (That’s) Enough! Stop!

So here we are with the second blog entry from Madder Red, and today’s menu is dishing up an Italian treat. We have sweat to start, tears for main, and applause for dessert. Which is pretty much exactly how it worked out, I think anyone who’s ever been involved in putting on an exhibition will understand…

I started with the search for the perfect artist for Saudi Arabia. It was difficult. What with all the restrictions on art, some placed upon me others I placed upon myself. Seriously: getting the right work was taxing. I needed something that pushed the boundaries just far enough, kept to Islamic traditions yet also reflected a contemporary Italian aesthetic, had a strong concept to support it and was still beautiful in the classical sense. Well, where exactly was I going to find such a thing?

Fortunately I had come across Teresa Emanuele at the Venice Biennale where she had been exhibiting her shadow box, an installation that I had noted for its simplicity, beauty and innovation. Her monochrome photographic installations of wild landscapes that incorporated light and shadow seemed just the ticket, they were conceptual, beautiful and unusual.

We spent months perfecting a new body of work. We designed a pop up white cube space accordingly, with air-conditioning and lighting and a special corridor for the video work. A gorgeous piece that invited the spectator to view the world as though through the lens of her camera, filtering the world as she saw it. We designed some incredibly chic acetate invitations and a sleek beautiful catalogue of which we are all justly proud. I researched the great Roman philosopher Seneca to death (thank you Stanford library) and was very pleased with the result of my final essay. All of this with time to spare.

But wait!! It was in time when it landed at the depot… And there it stayed. Languishing in the customs house. Day 1 passed. Day 2 passed. Day 3 passed. And yes, Day 4, it passed too (this is when the tears started). D-Day arrived. It was the day before the exhibition. Teresa and I, her assistant Matteo, the guys from XXX who were amazing and built the entire cube from scratch were all sitting on the floor despondently clasping hammers and nails. I was seriously considering cancelling the event. 1pm. 2pm. 3pm arrived, and with it the artwork. Yay!!



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