Art Dubai is the biggest art fair of the Middle East / North Africa region. Established in 2007, the fair immediately became the most significant event on the regional art calendar, driving the development of the Gulf’s visual arts scene. This sets the fair apart from other art fairs, which often seem to monetize or commodify existing art scenes: Art Dubai proceeds in a reverse manner, spawning non-commercial artistic activities in its wake. It takes place every year around the 21st of March.
The Dubai Art Week (set up by Art Dubai) is evidence of this catalyzing power. It lists all the other manifestations of art planned in this period by private and public organizations throughout the UAE, hoping to capitalize on the sudden influx of visitors from around the globe. Programmes taking place within the framework of Art Dubai include commissioned works from artists, terrace talks, performances, screenings, art education for grown ups and children and of course the Global Art Forum.
As an organization, Art Dubai participates in Dubai’s Artist in Residence Program alongside Taskheel, the Delfina Foundation and Dubai Culture (details about this residency can be found under Dubai Culture). In 2013 Art Dubai launched Campus Art Dubai, a training program for about 40 artists and curators that runs from January through June.
This continuous expansion of activities matches the profile of the current fair director, Antonia Carver. Her background is rather intellectual (Bidoun Magazine) than commercial, and it is clear she takes pride in all the high-level experimental artistic projects spawned within and by the fair. A nice example was Ahmet Ögut’s 2013 installation, a VIP lounge only accessible for the fair’s interns, with presentations given by Hans Ulrich Obrist and others. Or the visit by more than 70 museum groups in 2013, indicating a growing institutional interest in the art produced in the region.
In terms of turnover Art Dubai still finds itself in the second tier of the art market, way behind fairs such as Art Basel, Frieze and Art Hong Kong. It is of course difficult to compete with the Western art market, or the Chinese one; but as the amount of non-commercial side events proves, Art Dubai sees its mission as somewhat different: it focuses on developing the regional art market. The selection of galleries in 2013 is clear evidence of this. The focus was on upcoming galleries from throughout the world, with a focus on West Africa in the ‘Marker’ section of the fair, curated by Bisi Silva from CCA Lagos. Abu Dhabi Art, in contrast, does do its best to attract the ‘blue-chip’ galleries from the West and become a player at the international level. In that sense, though competing, both art fairs address different audiences.
Art Dubai always takes place in the exhibition halls of the luxury Madinat Jumeirah resort next to the beach (but you can only swim there if you’re a guest of the resort). There is space for about 75 gallery booths, spread over two giant halls, flanked by the Abraaj Capital Art Prize exhibition, a bookstore, a lounge, eating & drinking facilities etc. Most side events take place outside – on the terrace or the ‘fort island’. The atmosphere at Art Dubai is more festive than it is at most other art fairs, and the parties at night – for which one needs to obtain invitations – are legendary.
- The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – Open Calls as of March 2015
- Some of the first favourites at Art Dubai.
- Sheikha Hoor Al-Qasimi to be the curator of the UAE Venice Biennale 2015 pavillion
- First edition of the Gulf Music Festival at the Archive, Dubai
- And an interesting question mark from Isabelle van den Eynde