For art's sake

From original canvases to water walls and sunken fountains, art in public spaces is making a real impact.
For art's sake
By Adam Dawson
Mon 13 Aug 2007 12:00 AM

Commercial building owners have never shied away from investing in good furniture, flooring and lighting for public areas as a way of presenting a positive image to the outside world. But an increasingly important way to enhance a building's internal appearance is coming from the use of decorative art and sculpture. Site-specific public sculpture, environmental art, commissioned bespoke furniture, lighting and water features all make statements about the building's style and a company's ethos, and can provide a dramatic focus in busy commercial areas.

Hetal Pawani, managing director of The Jam Jar art gallery explains: "Art in public areas has a strong impact on not only staff but visitors as well. People arriving at a building see certain areas such as receptions, lift lobbies and waiting areas. These areas provide the ideal opportunities for art to reflect and reinforce an organisation's culture."

But surely placing art in commercial public areas with high traffic flow can cause a multitude of problems? Alex Heath, managing director of International Art Consultants comments: "The location of works has to take into account traffic flow and health and safety issues, with the use of suitable materials, foundations and fixing. In addition to protecting the public, fragile works must be sited where they cannot be touched, knocked or otherwise damaged."

Interior designers often use art as a tool to pull the overall design of an interior together. London-based interior designer and art consultant Nausheen Sheikh specialises in combining traditional Islamic art and architecture with modern interior design.

She agrees that using art is extremely important in completing an overall design. She says: "Finishing touches and art pull a design together by being the links which harmonise the other elements of interior designing, such as lighting, furniture and flooring. They create an ambience and add texture and colour to the interior and enhance all the other elements."

Hotels more than any other commercial properties have a vested interest in being attractive to people. Consequently hoteliers in the region are particularly attuned to using distinctive artworks in their reception areas and many make sure they have a local flavour.

The Art Source is a Dubai-based company that provides services in the acquisition and display of art throughout the GCC. Gallery manager, Aanchal Gulati says: "Working with the hotels around the GCC, key public areas often reflect a mix of Middle Eastern culture and abstract flavour. Having huge original canvas paintings or murals commissioned with patterns, textures and elements from Middle Eastern culture is one way of doing this."

Using calligraphy is another way of imparting a regional feel through artwork according to Heath. He explains: "Islamic art has developed calligraphy over centuries to the point where it rivals representative art in its skill and beauty. It works well in more intimate settings and can be incorporated effectively into appropriate reception areas."

Fountains have played a key role throughout history in the development of Islamic gardens and cities as a representation of paradise. Sheikh believes that hotels in the region can use water features in the form of water walls made with hand-crafted Moroccan zellige tiles and sunken fountains to keep the design of public areas in keeping with their local heritage.

Heath agrees: "Many of the most successful artworks have often drawn inspiration from natural sources such as water and light. An early but successful example of this would be Danny Lane's glass installation at the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai."

But Heath stresses that these works of art should not be designed for a development merely as an afterthought: "We advise interior designers to plan the art into their designs at an early stage to ensure lighting, power supplies and where appropriate, water supplies are all incorporated into the design to avoid the need for costly last minute alterations. Enough time should also be allowed in the selection process to short-list and select artists and to complete the commission in conjunction with the building-programme."

Materials being used at the moment seem to vary greatly as Sheikh explains: "Current trends seem to be focusing on the use of mirrors, metallic wiring made of brass or copper, along with metallic surfaces corroded to create unique colours and textural surfaces. There is also a move towards the use of exotic woods like Ebony Macassa and Vavona Burr, and canvas-like surfaces with viscous paints, which create cracked eggshell textural effects."

She concludes: "Colours being used at the moment tend to be bright and vibrant, which add striking visual effects but we are also seeing a use of subtle colouring, especially singular colours in various tonal and textural effects, such as white on white."

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