A view of some of the Palmyra snapshots that were for sale. (all images courtesy Yasmin Atassi)

A view of some of the Palmyra snapshots that were for sale. (photos courtesy an anonymous tipster in Dubai)

It seems so easy these days to break into the art world. In Dubai, for example, at the Alserkal district that is home to most of the city’s art spaces, you can open a gallery, spend a lot of money participating in art fairs and years selecting artists. Or you can do what Portfolio “gallery” did, and open a show that coincides with the district’s biannual gallery night event and exploit a current event to promote your work.

The entrance to the galley (click to enlarge)

The exhibition Once Upon a Time Palmyra: The Pearl of the Desert, with photography by Emmanuel Catteau, owner of the space, does precisely that as the owner decided to capitalize on the recent Palmyra-related headlines to mount an exhibition of his own 2006 snapshots from the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The exhibition is accompanied by a text entitled “Palmyra stood for everything that Daesh hates,” which outlines the Islamic State’s (often called the derogatory Daesh by critics) recent destruction of Palmyra’s heritage. But it turns out the text is actually an article from Gulf News, handed out in lieu of a press release. Could a respectable gallery showcase works by its owner and use news material as a press release? Certainly not, but Portfolio is not a gallery. Without even a website, they are better known as http://printz.ae, a company specialized in customized t-shirts and mugs, with themes as serious as One Direction or inspirational quotes.

The Gulf News article on display in the gallery. (click to enlarge)

According to an interview from 2009, Catteau, whose website features travel photography from all around in the world, in the form of a pseudo-Orientalist catalogue, wants to democratize the art scene a little bit, since galleries in Dubai are quite ‘elitist.’ That is perhaps the reason why he decided to profit from the crowds attending gallery night.

The unfortunate reality is that at the same time that Portfolio has opened its silly tourist trap of a show, its neighbor in Alserkal, Green Art Gallery, debuted a large exhibition After the Deluge, by Elias Zayat, featuring one of Syria’s leading modernists. Ironically, Zayat’s exhibition touches upon the artist’s return to the theme of ancient Palmyra and its long history.

While many art galleries in Dubai are working hard to cultivate a global appreciation for art and culture in this difficult region, others find opportunities to capitalize on it.

Portfolio did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

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Ari Akkermans

Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a freelance writer and art critic based in Beirut, his research focuses on visual culture in the Middle East, politics of memory, and architecture.