Now in its seventh year, Art Dubai is one of the most globalised fairs in the world with more than 30 countries taking part. There are international names such as Pace and Victoria Miro from London and local ventures, The Third Line from Dubai and Grey Noise, a Pakistani gallery that opened a space in Dubai last year. Antonia Carver, the director, says the success is representative of the growth of the art market.
“There have long been pockets of art investors in this region such as families that have collected works over several generations but, previously, they would have scouted capitals such as London, Paris and New York. In the past decade Dubai has become an art hub.”
With two dynamic art districts – DIFC Gate Village and Al Quoz’s Alserkal Avenue – housing scores of carefully curated and powerful shows, there is no doubt art aficionados will be spoilt for choice, perhaps even finding that the consecutive booths in the conference space at the Madinat Jumeirah a little flat, but no one ever said this was an exhibition.
With art worth more than US$40 million (Dh147m) from 75 international galleries, it is first and foremost a commercial venture and to stay alive, sales must be its focus.
“Art has always been a viable financial investment and the Dubai art scene actually expanded during the 2008 financial crisis, underscoring art’s increasing value,” says Carver. “I am seeing more and more first-time or emerging collectors gaining confidence as the art market becomes further established and diverse.”
However, it is not sales over substance. The participating galleries have to pass through the watchful eyes of the selection committee and this year, Art Dubai has the largest non-profit section to date with 13 commissioned artists and more than 40 artists and curators involved in Art Dubai projects.
This means that visitors wandering out of the conference space for some refreshments will be met by 12 life-size clay donkeys – Ehsan Ul Haq’s History Lessons. Ul Haq is a Pakistani artist represented by Grey Noise, whose created creatures, identical and arranged in military formation, are a playful poke in the ribs at what he describes as the “historic display of power through masculinity”. While his work is not geographically site-specific, it was commissioned for the fair and Ul Haq says the work is relevant in Dubai because politics and power play a huge role. “Dubai is a place where people come from all around the world to display their power and the political atmosphere is also very active. In some ways this is a reflection of the viewer back at themselves.”
Out on the Water Terrace is Dina Danish’s An Audience in Hiding, a video piece of footage from last year’s fair spliced with sports commentary. In a humorous way, the artist is forcing the audience to focus on themselves.
“The audience is observing the audience and it has the structure of a game,” she says. Danish, an Egyptian, is also one of the three international artists-in-residence, who have been working for three months with Emirati artists under a joint programme between Art Dubai, Delfina Foundation, Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and Tashkeel. She has a second piece – Now: Premièring a Large Area of Sea in 3D – a real-time projection of the sea that comments on the architecture of the Madinat Jumeirah, on the beach.
Also by the water’s edge is a new section called Sculpture on the Beach, where 11 artists, curated by Chus Martinez, the chief curator of El Museo del Barrio and the former head of department at Documenta, display their work. The pieces include the Moroccan Mounir Fatmi’s I Like America, a collection of equestrian poles and jumping equipment covered in the colours of the American flag and Hassan Sharif’s Weave 2 comprises detritus collected from the streets of Dubai.