Alserkal Avenue during one of the opening nights. Photograph by Sofia Dadourian, courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

Alserkal Avenue during one of the opening nights. Photograph by Sofia Dadourian, courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

Alserkal Avenue is the name of a compound in Al Quoz 3, an industrial suburb located to the South of Sheikh Zayed Road. It is named after the owner of the area, Abdulmonem Alserkal, who was inspired by the ‘creative cities’ concept abroad and encouraged galleries to take over the rents of warehouses that were originally occupied by mechanics and industrial servicing workshops. Nowadays about half of the warehouses are still in industrial use, and their presence gives the premises a raw character which the art world appears to relish.

Early 2012 an important expansion took place, with five new galleries establishing themselves in time to open for the Dubai Art Week. But the true surprise came when Abdulmonem Alserkal, who had cherished a background role throughout the years, stepped into the spotlights to announce the doubling of Alserkal Avenue. An old marble factory belonging to the family, adjacent to the current compound, will be transformed to make Alserkal a true cultural district. The new spaces will vary in size to suit different purposes, there will be two restaurants and an events hall that can accommodate up to 1000 people. Abdulmonem Alserkal is also considering opening a private museum with his own collection there. The expansion is slowly advancing but by the end of 2014 a considerable part of the plans should have become concrete. The plans imply opening up the are on the backside of the complex, thus opening up in the direction of the Third Line and the Courtyard, which are located on the other street that runs along the back (perhaps then turned into the front) of the whole complex.

Model of the planned expansion of Alserkal Avenue. The existing part is in blue, the expansion in white. Image courtesy of Alserkal Avenue

 

The galleries and other art spaces of Alserkal Avenue have already teamed up to synchronize their openings, there being two major ‘art nights’ every year: the art week and the kick-off of the cultural season in September (for news see here or Alserkal’s Facebook page). A community is thus forming, and will further grow with the planned expansion. The objective of Alserkal is to create a sort of cultural free state with more freedom than in other areas of Dubai: rock concerts, philosophical debates and seminars are planned, as well as cutting edge design events. This is already starting to happen, with concerts, screenings and talks increasingly taking place in the various locations.

The following private art spaces have established a presence in Alserkal Avenue:

Non-commercial:

Contemporary Art Galleries:

  • Ayyam Art Center used to be a gallery, but since Ayyam opened a gallery in DIFC in 2011, transferring its main commercial activities there, this enormous warehouse space is used for other activities, such as non-selling exhibitions (for example of Ayyam’s founder Khaled Samawi’s personal collection), the Young Collectors’ Auctions, talent-development workshops and publishing activities. Ayyam Gallery was founded in Damascus in 2006; its first regional expansion was to Dubai in 2008, then Beirut in 2009, and it opened a short-lived branch in Cairo in 2010. At the end of 2012 Ayyam opened a gallery in London, and in January 2013 one in Jeddah. Its headquarters are in Dubai, where Khaled runs the business together with his cousin Hisham Samawi. Although Ayyam focuses on Syrian art (its first great hit were the paintings of Safwan Dahloul) it also works with other Arab artists. Ayyam has a scheme to support young artists, including art education and residency opportunities, and it has published many high-quality books about the artists it represents.
  • Carbon 12 was established in 2008 by Koroush Nouri and Nadine Knotzer. It has an international vocation and it works with quite a number of established Western artists (including Erwin Olaf), but it runs a parallel effort to help emerging artists. Over the past years it has tirelessly promoted the work of the Iranian artist Sarah Rahbar.
  • Green Art Gallery: one of Dubai’s oldest galleries, it was founded in 1995 by Mayla Atassi – the sister of Mouna, who ran the Damascus-based Atassi gallery. Both originally specialized in the work of famous Syrian modernists. The focus on Arab modern art shifted to contemporary when Mayla’s daughter Yasmin Atassi took over the gallery. Green Art’s painstaking work with a small group of international artists, including Hale Tenger, Shadi Habib Allah and Seher Shah seems to bearing its fruit as it is gaining access to some important international art fairs.
  • Grey Noise is a gallery from Lahore, directed by Umer Butt, that relocated to Dubai in 2012. It represents a small number of Pakistani artists with whom it works closely – such as Mehreen Murtaza and Ayesha Jatoi – but is more generally interested in experimental art, often with a minimalist and conceptual slant, from anywhere in the world. Its well curated exhibitions convey a sense of fragility and seeking and are provide a necessary contrast to the flashy art that Dubai sometimes seems to specialize in.
  • Isabelle van den Eynde: one of Dubai’s prime galleries, works primarily with Iranian artists. IvdE and the Green Art Gallery were the first Dubai-based galleries to be invited to Art Basel (Art Statements) in 2012. The March 2012 exhibition of the ‘frères terribles’ Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, titled ‘I Put It There You Name It’ pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable in the Middle Eastern art world, as the brothers transformed the gallery into a baroque house mingling their (often rather scandalous) art with works in their collection from other artists, furniture and every day objects from their house. Isabelle seems to have a primary interest in art from Iran, while the gallery director, the Kuwaiti Barrak Al Zaid, developed his network among experimental artists from the Middle East in his previous profession: artistic director of the New York-based ArteEast.
  • Lawrie Shabibi was established in 2011 by William Lawrie, former Director of Contemporary Middle Eastern art at Christie’s auction house, and Asmaa Al-Shabibi, former Managing Director of Art Dubai. The gallery was set up as a platform to promote artists from the broader Middle East, and works with some well-established artists such as Hamra Abbas and Driss Ouadahi, as well as younger ones. Lawrie and Shabibi seem to favor art with strong aesthetics and relevant topics.
  • The Mojo Gallery is part of the Mojo Group communications agency (which is located on the first floor, above the gallery). Its founder, Kurt Blanckenberg, has a strong interest in African arts and what one could call contemporary primitive art – about half the shows until now were of African artists, but some of the Indian and other artists exhibited also work in this style. The relation between the art shown and design/advertising sometimes is quite clear (evidence the gallery’s leitmotiv art / business / soul) and can lead to playful exhibitions exploring consumer culture.
  • The Showcase Gallery is one of Dubai’s older galleries, from the 1990s, that has relocated to Alserkal in 2012. Showcase specializes in art as solutions to interior design issues, and besides contemporary art also sells antique furniture and other ‘objets d’art’. They specialize in framing too. Sharon Harvey, the gallery’s director, is an interior designer by profession but also provides art consultancy services.

Design:

  • FN Designs. Set up by Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al Maktoum in 2009. The FN stands for Fan, ‘art’ in Arabic. Sheikha Wafa Hasher is an artist herself, having exhibited her work amongst others at the Ara Gallery. FN Designs is an exhibition space but also engages in an effort to stimulate the design community in Dubai, with screenings and events. Sheikha Wafa Hasher also is the patron of the emerging artist award.
  • La Galerie Nationale: this Paris based gallery specializing in famous 20th century furniture designers has made a forceful entry into the Dubai art scene in 2012, participating in Design Days Dubai and cooperating with other galleries in Alserkal Avenue to bring together art and design.

Other:

  • Barakat Gallery (open soon) specializes in antiques from all over the world. Established in Jerusalem over a century ago, the gallery, now belonging to Fayez Barakat (himself also an artist) now operates from London, California, Abu Dhabi (see Gulf Art Guide article here) and Dubai.
  • The Fridge is a music production and promotion company set up in 2007 by Shelley Frost. It was a logical answer to the absence of music management, and it soon branched out from organizing musical events for private clients, and scouting for talents, to organizing concerts, providing rehearsal space and even organizing dance classes and making records. It covers all kinds of music, from classical to jazz to hiphop. It is the main organization of its kind in Dubai.
  • Gulf Photo Plus and Portfolio are two agencies specialized in providing services to photographers and clients seeking photos. Gulf Photo Plus provides a wide range of services, including printing, workshops for photographers and exhibitions of international photographers, most of whom are somehow related to the agency’s activities.
  • Lammtara Art Production is a creative production company specializing in 3D and events.

The Etemad gallery, sister of the renowned Etemad gallery, was first located at the Alserkal Avenue, but moved to the area of the Courtyard in January 2014.

When finished the Alserkal Avenue will occupy an area between the 8th street (where it opens now) and the 6th street, where we find a cluster of other galleries, including the Third Line, the Ward gallery and, located inside the Courtyard, the Courtyard Gallery, run by Samia Saleh, the Khak gallery, the new location of the Etemad gallery and Total Art. So in the future the Alserkal Avenue and the galleries on the other side of the 6th street will develop into one probably organic entity.

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The construction of the extension of Alserkal Avenue. Photo: NeilvdL.

The former Shelter,  established by the twin brothers Ahmed and Rashid Bin Shabib of the Brownbook magazine, has closed its activities in Alserkal Avenue. Instead of that and instead of the Pavillion the Brownbook organization is planning to open a centre at Dubai Design District

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Written by: RobertK Last modified: 24th Mar 2016
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