Athr Gallery is without a doubt the most prominent gallery in Saudi Arabia; even by international standards it is a big, well-run and active gallery. Situated on the fifth floor of the office block above the Serafi Mega Mall it can be a challenge to find the first time; but once inside one is rewarded by a beautiful exhibition space and a warm and personal welcome.
Athr was set up by Mohammed Hafiz and Hamza Serafi in 2009. Mohammed Hafiz is a collector passionate about developing Saudi art; he also curates most of the exhibitions and was notably curator of the successful Edge of Arabia exhibition in Jeddah “We Need to Talk” (January 2012). Hamza Serafi, the scion of a prosperous trading family from Mecca, trained as an artist in the Riyadh Institute of Art in the 1970s; he still produces new work such as the much commented ‘World Carpet’ (2012). He provided the space in his family’s mall – not only for the Athr Gallery, but also a large exhibition hall on the first floor of the mall for young artists and other cultural activities.
The gallery is professionally managed by Maya El Khalil and a competent staff, who keep up a high level of activities, both within the gallery and outside. With about 10-12 major exhibitions a year, all kinds of events such as presentations, book launches and discussions with collectors, exhibitions of Saudi artists abroad, publishing, participation in fairs, there is always something happening at Athr. Unfortunately the website does not reflect this, although purportedly it is being renewed. The gallery has moreover been a staunch supporter of Edge of Arabia, often functioning as its main platform in Saudi Arabia.
A visit to the gallery is also rewarding because of the excellent own collection of art, distributed throughout the place’s numerous offices and corridors.
The main goal of Athr is to discover and launch new Saudi artists, trying to help them navigate the complexities of the international art market, while at the same time educating the Saudi public about contemporary art. This personal endeavor of both founders lends Athr its youthful, risk-taking nature. The prime commercial location reserved for younger artists on the first floor of the mall is evidence of this adventurous attitude.
Athr is eager to attract the kind of expertise lacking in Saudi Arabia: curators to work with their artists and gallery staff, art critics/writers and foreign artists. The gallery is definitely open to interesting collaboration proposals and can go to considerable lengths to help establish the name of Saudi art abroad.