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Dubious in Dubai March 18, 2013

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes, Politics, Schmolitics, Uncategorized.
1909 Stag at Sharkey's oil on canvas 92.1 x 122.6 cm

An early Bellows’ work of an illegal NYC boxing bout

Before I get into my brief, gob-smacking trip to Dubai, there’s some unfinished business following the catalogue of cultural recommendations which I unilaterally chose to excrete into the ether last week. Misgivings abound about this, but is it any worse than zillions of my peers’ FarceBerk postings concerning the cute antics of kittens, kids and inebriated colleagues ? Erm, probably.

Anyroad up, there was no room to mention a few exhibitions that have thrilled and delighted recently, and even if you live miles away and/or are ambivalent about art, if you go to only one show this year, make it George Bellows at the Royal Academy. Hitherto unknown to me, in his short life Bellows produced a vast body of work in ever-changing styles (think Lowry, Hopper, Rocker, Nicholson etc) including visceral depictions of illegal boxing bouts in his native turn of the century New York to seascapes to rather formal society portraits but with twists that mirrored his hero Manet at that painter’s maverick best. It’s only a small exhibition in the Sackler Wing but there are some hugely moving works there, including some WW1 reflections that are equaled only by Picasso’s Guernica in their stark, powerful anger.

And talking of Manet, the RA currently has a bigger exhibition of his work, although the numerous deliberately unfinished paintings rather reduced my admiration for him even though his observational eye and subtle use of colour cannot be undervalued. And talking of Picasso, there’s another smallish show of his early work at the Courtauld Gallery which of you’re a Picasso completest (which I am) shouldn’t be missed. Finally in more modern vein the Light Show at the Hayward is worth seeing if only for Anthony McCall’s misty, atmospheric projections and a few pieces by Dan Flavin (who had a literally dazzling solus show there in 2006).  I haven’t yet seen the Lichtenstein at Tate Modern but as someone who sparked my enthusiasm for modern art back in the ‘60s, I’m slavering in anticipation.

And as a postscript to my list of recently consumed literature, I forgot to mention Susie Boyt’s compelling, beautifully wrought new-ish novel, The Small Hours about a plucky, if troubled idealist who in setting up a private school is obliged to confront many of her personal demons.

2013-03-07 05.31.56

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower – the world’s tallest, obviously

Now Dubai. I’ve been telling everyone that this obscenely rich Emerati state evoked for me the Blade Runner cityscape, but transposed to the desert. The place is awash with skyscrapers, many of which line six lane highways behind which there’s little but desert scrub. Weird. However from the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, even these towering edifices look like bungalows. Unfettered by planning requirements, although some of the architecture is aesthetically questionable, some of it is breathtakingly impressive, especially the buildings incongruously lining the Dubai Creek where traditional dhows load cargoes traded along the Gulf and beyond.

And just in front of the Khalifa there was a huge display of classic cars, all restored within an inch of their lives – mainly big fuck-off Bentleys, Caddies and of course the obligatory Ferraris – because thanks to the talented artisans who’ve emigrated from India and further east, Dubai is a centre for cheap, high-quality restoration work.

This of course raises the ugly issue of immigrant labour without which Dubai couldn’t exist. Living in cramped and inhospitable dormitory suburbs, legions of building and menial service workers spend 50 weeks of their year creating the superstructures and maintaining the lifestyles of the copious ex-pats (some 80% of the 2million population) who’ve made their homes there due to the lack of income tax and a shamelessly retail-driven culture.

Visiting the (in)famous ‘Palm Jumeirah’ estate artificially stretching out into the Gulf felt rather like being in The Truman Show, and then rising surreally out of the shimmering desert, there’s the world’s largest shopping mall, and its largest indoor ski slope… All this said, Dubai’s ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is an apparently canny fellow who seeks to undermine any risk of Islamic (or other) revolution by ensuring all his native subjects are well looked after and regularly turns up unannounced, often driving his own Mercedes G-Wagen, to cultural and other events, such as the poetry evening I attended in a desert encampment where he stayed for a good, er, 20 minutes.

2013-03-07 06.18.34

And the view from the Burj Khalifa

I gather that the Sheik and his family, a/k/a ‘the government’, are tolerant of the many Taliban big-wigs, international criminals and other despots who’ve put their money into Dubai just as long as they cause no trouble or incur debt, in which case they’re out on their ears. Another consequence of his financial strictures was the horde of expensive cars left at the airport, gloveboxes full of maxed-out credit cards, after 2008’s financial crash when their suddenly debt-ridden owners had to flee. And the cars, now covered in sand, are still there…

I spent my final evening with a lively group of young lawyers, digital entrepreneurs  and media-types from China, the Antipodes and Europe who’d made the place their home and who provided sharp insights into Dubai’s still escalating prosperity despite  its lack of oil: it’s become the financial hub of the Arab world, even more so now its troubled neighbours needs somewhere secure to store their capital. But not one of them expected to live there beyond a few more years, and hot, hospitable and intriguingly bizarre though it was, I doubt I could’ve stayed there even a few more weeks.

One final, bleakly instructive thought on where we’re heading economically is prompted by this link (for which I must thank Dick Pountain). How sustainable, I wonder, is a world where such financial inequality continues to exist and indeed, grows?


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1. WTK - March 18, 2013

I remember flying into Dubai in 1980, a one square mile city of sand with stacks belching whatever wherever. It did have a huge new Duty Free, tho, which you were mandated to visit as they physically escorted you from the plane and toured you about the facility. Humble beginnings, heh? Just as Arabia has its Spiritual Mecca Dubai has its Retail Mecca, but beyond the shopping, why in God’s name would anyone spend more than a long weekend there? The lovely and lush scenery?

markswill - March 18, 2013

Yeah, you gottit. Mind you, cunning landscape gardeners are making a fortune there. And irrigation outfits… probably all owned by the Mafia. Or the Taliban.

2. WTK - March 18, 2013

Oh. Mark, I love George Bellows and that very picture you posted I have had a print hanging in the loft for decades now. The faces in the crouwd remind me of the Sistine Chapel wall or H. Bosch…spooky.

markswill - March 18, 2013

Finally I made you happy, Mr T. My work here is over, then.

Neville Durward - March 19, 2013

The same George Bellows who wrote I Heard a Rumour for Bananarama. He became partner to Bruno Tonioli who popularised cycling shorts and was a dancer for them at the time. All long before Dancing with the Stars.

markswill - March 20, 2013

You’re right Neville, or should I refer to you as ‘Barry’ ? Ol’ George indeed had a long and diverse career, the acme of which for my money was running a traveling theatrical group for gender-challenged teenagers around the North African coast, which is I believe where you first came across him? Or vice versa?

3. David harrop - March 19, 2013

Good stuff Mark .. but Sheeesh!! Trainspotting is set in Edinburgh

markswill - March 19, 2013

I know, I know… oh the shame of it.

4. Melinda Clayton Bell - March 19, 2013

You have definitely sold out – or sold your soul – Reportage on Dubai where money is the only God and the malls and hotels are temples to excess.Then the mention of a print hanging in the loft – I hope this refers to a picture of Dubai and not some Dorianesque image in an attempt to escape from ageing, growing up and the signs of excess that will surely appear on your visage if too much time is spent in Dubai!

markswill - March 19, 2013

Hmmmn, I thought I was rather hard on Dubai – and I certainly don’t wish to return there. As for the print in the loft Melinda, where did THAT come from?!

5. Melinda Clayton Bell - March 19, 2013

Sorry, misread post by WTK thought it was by you and print and loft were yours – teach me to read other peoples posts and not pay due diligence to the article. Am always suspicious of people with paintings in the loft Art should be on display to be appreciated. By the way does WTK look younger than their years?

markswill - March 19, 2013

Now you come to mention it, Terry DOES look about 23, even though he’s now in his late 70s… testimony indeed to decades of clean living, monkey gland injections and regular cosmetic surgery. Mind you, as far as the art in the loft goes, I should’ve perhaps read his own comments, instead of following protocol and getting one of my many overpaid secretaries to respond to it.

Melinda Clayton Bell - March 21, 2013

Secretaries, excursions to exotic locations!!!!! Life must be good.

markswill - March 21, 2013

I was of course joking. I have only ONE highly overpaid secretary. Cutbacks obliged me to sack the other two, along with my footman, butler and one of the two housekeepers.

6. julesbollocks - March 19, 2013

Dubai- as a keen ancient historian I look in wonder at fallen civilisations-
IN Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Dubai will in a short few years will be dead, the water has run out, the oil is depleting and if peak oil is upon us [evident from the longest global depression] then growth has pretty well ended. Consumerism, wealth and consumption in a desert is the ultimate oxymoron.

It will be a fascinating place to visit in a few decades and possibly even beautiful as it returns to nature.

markswill - March 19, 2013

You’re right of course Jules… but the oil’s already run out there – it’s water they have to worry about.

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