The city’s biggest art event is hosting more than 100 galleries this year and it seems like business as usual
With more than 100 galleries, this year’s fair is the largest ever, in terms of number of booths.
At a VIP preview on Wednesday night, ahead of the fair’s public opening on Friday, there was a palpable sense of joy — reflecting a similar outlook in the overall art fair landscape — to be returning after two years of cancelled or scaled-back events. While in 2019 fatigue was starting to set in, with nearly a fair every month that many galleries felt compelled to attend, now, the role of art fairs as a place for curators, art professionals and art aficionados to meet is being newly valued.
There are some noticeable changes at the fair, mirroring currents that have been simmering under the surface while the coronavirus pandemic surged. African art is continuing its ascent in terms of market and general interest, with more African galleries at the fair, such as Gallery 1957 from Ghana and Circle Art Gallery from Kenya. Circle’s Cyrus Kabiru is also leading art workshops for families at the fair, where children can turn recycled objects into the blinged-up sunglasses he calls C-stunners.
Cyrus Kabiru, Miyale Ya Blue (Cyrus Kabiru Wearing), 2021, photography, 70 x 70 cm, AKKA Project
Saudi Arabia’s presence has also increased, both in terms of galleries — Athr, Mono and Hafez — and in terms of visitors, as AlUla contingents and collectors from the kingdom milled about on the terrace on opening night. Athr is also collaborating with Alserkal Avenue in a pop-up space featuring a fantastic work by Mohammed Al Faraj reflecting on climate change, with desiccated stems of palm trees lying supine on the floor like lifeless articulated spines.
Otherwise, Art Dubai is business as usual. And business seems good: collectors were chatting animatedly to galleries on opening night; Jal Hamad from Sabrina Amrani Gallery said he blinked and three hours had gone by. The Madrid-based gallery is showing textile works by the Egyptian-Armenian artist Chant Avedissian, who is better known for his Pop images of icons such as Umm Kulthum.
A work from Chant Avedissian’s ‘Icons of the Nile’ series. The artist features in the Modern section at Art Dubai. Photo: Sabrina Amrani
“We want to show the three decades of Avedissian’s work before the 10 years that everyone knows,” said Hamad.
The works were inspired by Central Asian nomads, who folded the square panels of their tents into triangles to transport them. Avedissian took this practice as a stepping stone to look at the mathematical profession of geometric shapes.
The Modern section of the fair is especially strong this year, with the selection of booths, each focusing on one artist, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. It has been cleverly demarcated from the rest of the fair via a posh exhibition display — a welcome integration between Modern and Contemporary versus Modern’s previous location in another wing of Madinat Jumeirah.
A solo presentation of Indian artist KS Kulkarni at Aicon Gallery’s booth in the Modern section. Antonie Robertson / The National
That area is now home to Art Dubai Digital, the fair’s much-vaunted exploration of the digital realm. Echoing Dubai’s emergence as a centre of blockchain trading and NFT development, this year the fair is showcasing some of the makers of art in this new area, curated by Chris Fussner.
On the opening day, the digital section seemed to attract the curious, who quickly scurried back to more familiar art territory. But as the list of art invitees blends into general punters, this area is coming into its own among those who know the field better, particularly supplemented by the talks on the subject curated by Shumon Basar in this year’s Global Art Forum, to be held from Friday to Sunday.
“The Digital section is a platform for increasing awareness of cutting-edge technologies,” says writer Laura Egerton, a former Dubai resident who is visiting from London. “This sits comfortably alongside its established identity. Art Dubai has yet again proven itself to be the place to see new work by artists from the Global South.”
Across the fair on opening night, as a DJ installed himself on Fort Island and a smattering of stilettos teetered down the terrace, it felt like Art Dubai of the old days — but with perhaps a bit more gratitude to be back once again.
Art Dubai will take place from 2pm-9pm on March 11 and 12, and noon-6pm on March 13 at Madinat Jumeirah. Tickets cost Dh60 for one-day entry, and Dh100 for a three-day entry, and are available at artdubai.ae
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