After a hectic week, traipsing from venue to venue, being part of panel talks, exhibiting my paintings during “Art Dubai” week along with interviewing artists and chatting with galleries, I find myself at the last leg of the “Art Dubai” events. This is by far the grandest and most coveted event to date, the one that truly caters for the serious art collector and lover.
Held at the Madinat Jumeirah, the venue that epitomizes the ‘oasis in the desert’, a luxurious beachside resort, where a wealthy and elite clientele flock to dine and ‘be seen’. This venue plays host to one of the highly renowned global and innovative art fairs in the region, an essential gathering of museum directors, curators, art collectors, artistes and art professionals.
Art Dubai, in its 8th year, has continued to develop, this year offering visitors access to three gallery programs: Contemporary, Marker and new in 2014, Modern. This new section to Art Dubai included 11 galleries, led by well-known curators and historians Savita Apte, Catherine David, Kristine Khouri and Nada Shabout.
The event, showcasing the work of over 500 artistes spanning from more than 80 plus galleries from over 35 countries, partnered with the Abraaj Group and sponsored by Cartier, was open to public from 19th to 22nd March 2014.
The extensive program included commissioned projects and performances, artists’ and curators’ residencies, educational workshops and the unveiling of the works of the winners of the annual Abraaj Group Art Prize by the critically acclaimed Global Art Forum.
The Abraaj Group Art Prize section was curated by Nada Raza, bringing five winning artist’s projects together in a poetic and meaningful way. Each artist was paired with one of the region’s poets or novelists who responded to their work with a piece of creative writing.
One of the firm favorites was Abbas Akhavan’s “Study for a Hanging Garden” which is a floor-based sculptural work that was cast in bronze flowers and leaves on a white sheet looks towards the vegetation native to Iraq. A powerful piece that draws the visitor to the juxtaposition between the inherent natural beauty of an area which has been scarred by war in the modern age.
My invitation to the ‘Art Dubai’ VIP event arrived a couple of weeks before. The pre-selected international clientele list is a strictly invitation only affair and aims to bring together the crème de la crème of renowned curators, artistes and art collectors of the highest caliber.
Visitors are invited to enjoy the unlimited champagne and cocktails establishing this final soiree as the ultimate social event on the art calendar.
Delectable intercontinental nibbles grace the huge array on offer from sushi, pasta, to middle-eastern was enjoyed by the guests whilst mingling with the ‘artsy’ crowd to discuss and share thoughts on the commissions on display.
People from all countries were in attendance and amidst the fashion parade was an interesting diversity: from flowing chiffon evening dresses, fancy hats to short skirts.
Locals (Emiratis) were also present, sashaying elegantly in their traditional long black abayas while the men, pristine in their white thobes, looked sharp to represent their cultural identity.
Many of the galleries hosted a common theme that echoed the region: “key moments in history”. One explored the artistic cross-fertilization between Iran and Dubai and looked closely at links of centuries of trade and migration, currently separated by politics. Another looked at what Kuwait might have been, judging by political and cultural developments from 1942 to 1982. This insight allowed the visitor to experience the development of culture within historic Asia and ironically the positive and negative social effects of migration.
As the sun descended over the clear Arabian Gulf, the elegant crowd drifted to an after-party on the other side of the ‘man made lakes’ to the “Absolute ART Bar”. The complimentary liquor bar entertained with great music ranging from house, techno to pop and entertained the chic crowd who danced and lounged around on plush sofas discussing the future of Art in Dubai.
The night morphed into a networking scene where passionate discussions of topics of “Alternative Futures of Art History between Iran and Dubai” could be heard over the throbbing beats.
While my narrative may paint a picture of the Dubian art lover as a whimsical consort with too much money and not enough depth, this illusion could not be farther from the truth.
Dubai is a melting pot of diversity, it homes the hardworking construction workers to western Bedouin, the curious voyeur and the well traveled.
These individuals spin a dense network of invisible threads linking countries and cultures as almost no one comes from just one place. This blend brings ‘new blood’ to the art table which gives rise to intellectually stimulating prose as the combination of art and thinkers is different from any that you find in the West.
In many cases the intellectual climate in their own countries may prove too stifling or acutely political. In any case, the concept of the clash of civilizations is absurd here, rather the stimulus to expand and explore is endless.
Antonia Carver, Art Dubai’s director, noted that “Successful fairs should take on the characteristics of their host cities, which for Dubai means embracing its cosmopolitanism and bringing in art from parts of the world that aren’t necessarily well-represented on the global circuit.
Dubai’s trading spirit is increasingly entering the cultural sphere”, she said, “making the city a point of exchange for ideas, not just goods. Art Dubai’s development over the past eight years reflects the extraordinary growth of the UAE arts scene and the fair has acted as a catalyst, expediting Dubai’s role as a bona fide cultural hub for the region and beyond”
The events over the past week, together with this glamorous affair, have proved the Art platform in Dubai to be striking, and progressive.
The events have attracted a plethora of nationalities and professionals from the art world to share and cross-pollinate ideas, to brainstorm and create new initiatives.
The potent images and pieces tell the difficult and somewhat controversial message in a non-threatening manner within an environment that is conducive to healthy dialogue. It is in these gatherings where the mentor is introduced to the student, the novice to the art scene and the serious art collector to like-minded lovers.
The art scene in Dubai may be in its incunabulum, but it is this ‘renaissance’ that seems to see tastes and styles growing at an exponential rate. Watch this space, events such as this will develop the city into a respected and developing hub in the Middle East. This is the city from which the artisan of tomorrow will transpire.