Mona Ayyash, Trucks, 2009, Digital, mounted on Forex, 42x59cm, Ed. 2 of 10.

Meditations on the Nature of Value: Abbas Akhavan, Value Added

Mona Ayyash, Bicycle, 2009, Digital, mounted on Forex, 42 x 59cm, Ed.2 of 10.

Raja'a Khalid, Water Fountain, 2008, Digital Print, 59 x 48cm, Ed 1 of 5.

Sara Naim, Untitled 7, Haze Series, 2008, C-print, 30 x 35cm, Ed 1 of 5.

Raja'a Khalid, Lights, 2009, Digital primt, 59 x 48cm, Ed 1 of 5.

Abbas Akhavan, Fisher, 2010, 22 Carat gold on Xerox copy, 29.7 x 21cm.

Abbas Akhavan, Palm, 2010, 22 Carat gold on Xerox copy, 29.7 x 21cm.



How much did it cost? What’s it worth?

Ah, the familiar prods we proffer and are asked everyday about the value of things. True, this is just one measure of value — the monetary one, the one we write with numbers not letters, in a myriad of currencies convertible on By adding a single “s” to “value” you enter a different regime, a more abstract one, where you can find virtue, family, hard work, and decency. Value and values, money and morality.

Most of us want to believe art is important because it embodies and elicits values. We’d rather not think too much of the fact that art — good, important, immodest art — comprises of significant monetary value and its value can often be one of the big reasons it’s being bandied about by Someone Important.

Soon after the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, Jacques Alain Miller wrote1 that “the financial universe is an architecture made of fictions.” The circuitry of financial value within our late capitalist system is arbitrary to say the least. It was as though the world's fate had been determined by a small coterie of the initiated able to communicate in Klingon, backwards, using a defunct version of the Hopi script and secret jerky elbow gestures. And yet, hasn’t a similar tricksterism been at the heart of the art-world ever since Duchamp tried — unsuccessfully — to pass a urinal as a work of original genius back in 1917?2 Eighty-two years later, and a replica sold at Sotheby’s for $1.7 million.3

One notable way artists have negated the conventions of ascribing value to material artefacts is by subtracting and negating the physical properties of an object or space. Value is added when the artist subtracts. Michael Asher’s interventions in gallery spaces in the early 70s consisted of sandblasting, removing, incising extant walls — which were never really there to “be seen.” Asher would make visible a non-visible “value” in a kind of non-space that was always there but repressed by convention or commerce.

Abbas Akhavan’s new work at The Third Line also destroys the gallery to make the art visible. Oh, there’s an old fashioned index of financial value too: gold4. Laid out in the fantastical form of Dubai seen from the sky, a Dubai put on hold since the financial crisis derailed its flamboyant destiny. Akhavan then cuts-up the gold tattooed wall, like sectioning a city into parts. Collectors become landowners! His value, its value, changes as more parts of the wall will be sold — just as the prices of real estate increase when there is less on offer. The idea that the work is unique and only possessable by a single individual — this is the old foundation of financial and auratic value in an artwork. It’s in keeping with much of Akhavan’s work — reduce, do away with, near the non-visible. But what happens to the values of a work of art as its value rises and falls? The shock and awe of supply and demand.

Shumon Basar is a writer working on a novel set in the Gulf entitled World World World!

1 “The financial crisis” at
2 The story goes that a cleaner threw it out assuming it was literally rubbish, a fate that has befallen artists such as Gustav Metzger and Damien Hirst many years later.
3 One could so easily rephrase Alain Miller’s pronouncement thus: “the contemporary art market is an architecture made of fictions.”
4 Throughout the financial crisis, the demand and price of gold has strengthened.

Projects at The Third Line
Al Quoz 3
+ 9714 341 1367
Dubai Episode
May 5-June 17, 2010

The inaugural exhibition at Projects at The Third Line is a group photography show, Dubai Episode. Personal insights of the changing city is seen through the eyes of three female photographers who have lived or are currently residing in Dubai, each project portraying a unique interpretation of what they see.

Unveiling an addition to its programming, The Third Line opens a new exhibition space, entitled Projects. This year’s program is committed to showcasing works by locally based artists.

The Third Line introduces a new initiative to its programming with the introduction of a projects space. This new viewing section is in addition to the existing main space of the gallery, is for its first year, dedicated to exhibiting works by upcoming and locally based artists. Projects — named so based on the principal usage and reason for the area, will hold separate exhibitions and smaller individual artist based ventures on the upper level of the gallery. Projects at The Third Line opens in May 2010, coinciding with Abbas Akhavan’s first solo exhibition, Islands in the main gallery space.

Continuing with its aim to promote Middle Eastern contemporary art and artists in and from the region, The Third Line recognized the growth of local talent within the United Arab Emirates and identified the need for an outlet; to increase awareness and visibility for, from and to the growing art audience. Artists selected to exhibit their work in Projects at The Third Line require solely a connection with the city and country; whether having lived, worked or studied here.

For almost everyone who lives in this city, Dubai is an episode. The constant pace and change of the city, landscape, infrastructure and faces, it is an urban jungle that grows so fast even a hypermodern landscape is hard to locate.

With a large expatriate population, life in Dubai whatever the length is encapsulated in visual fragments that make up a day, month or year. This exhibition presents contemporary photography which is a result only as a reaction to this city and nothing more. Each of the three artists here has endeavoured to capture the surface of the city, its textures, its form and its shadows, all of which are in a state of perpetual transition. Each project employs a unique approach and in doing so, brings to us a different vision altogether, an inimitable combination of time and space, light and dark, person and object. These photographs reach deep into the corners of this place and unveils an exciting mix of the unnoticed, poetic and epic.

Raja’a Khalid’s ongoing series Still Life, sees the artist focus on the unspectacular in a city obsessed with the dramatic, revealing the fractured nature of beauty in a cityscape such as Dubai. These are objects, places of transit and non-spaces, and despite their peculiarity they remain identifiable for anyone who has spent a little time here. So even though they are part of a series, the images stand alone, as individual pieces of still life from our contemporary age. Khalid has lived in Dubai for 18 years.

Mirror Men by Mona Ayyash presents — for the sake of comfort, sofas and plush armchairs — quite a vantage point for observing this city for what it actually is. The view as seen through the gaze of another, in this sense quite literally, creates a voyeuristic portal away from the glamour and sleekness, to the reality and everyday hardships faced by the working class. The mirrors provide an insight into what is real as opposed to what is reality. Ayyash currently lives and works in Dubai.

In Haze Sara Naim captures the transient nature of the city in her poetic and romanticized photographic series of homes nearing demolition. Due to constant cycles of demolition and construction, a haze lifts into the sky and mixed with the sea air and humidity, lingers uninterrupted. This series has been influenced by Gerald Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, the Taoist belief of Yin Yang, as well as the people that once lived in this area. Naim lives between Dubai and London.

Abbas Akhavan, Fishers, 2010, 22 Carat gold on Xerox copy, 29.7 x 21cm.

Abbas Akhavan, Ships, 2010, 22 Carat gold on Xerox copy, 29.7 x 21cm.


Abbas Akhavan, Map Study, 2010, Acrylic on plastic.