Art Dubai’s 2016 edition marks a decade of excellence

Sunday 01/05/2016
Visitors to Art Dubai Contemporary, 2016, The Studio

Dubai - Art Dubai’s 2016 edition was exceptional and the most diverse to date, as the global cultural venue marked ten years since it was launched.The num­bers, not to mention the quality of the art on display, were staggering. The event attracted a record 27,516 visitors. Ninety-five museums and institutions from across the world were represented, with many ac­companied by curators, museum board members and patrons, reaf­firming Art Dubai’s high position among the world’s most global fairs.
“There is an ever-growing inter­est and enthusiasm of local audi­ences plus the interest and knowl­edge of the international arts scene in what is happening in the Arab world,” said Art Dubai Director An­tonia Carver.
It was a commercially success­ful event with about one-quarter of participating galleries selling out and the vast majority reporting healthy sales. “The galleries were also delighted with the opportuni­ties they had at the fair to meet the world’s leading museum directors and curators,” Carver said.
Sales ranged from less than $10,000 for emerging artists to more than $300,000 for works by internationally renowned artists such as China’s Ai Wei Wei, Iraq’s Faiq Hassan, Japan’s Yayoi Kusa­ma, Iranian Monir Shahroudy Far­manfarmaian and Spain’s Jaume Plensa.
More than 2,000 people attended debates at the three-day Global Art Forum and nearly 1,000 students participated in the fair. The topic of the Global Art Forum was The Fu­ture Was, with more than 50 speak­ers from art, science, technology and architecture taking part.
“Art Dubai has grown hand-in-hand with the local arts scene. In 2007 when the fair began, there was just a handful of galleries in the city. Now, ten years later, Dubai is known as the regional market cen­tre with a thriving gallery scene, the region’s leading fair and also a growing not-for-profit sector,” she said.
Art Dubai is part of Dubai Art Week, incorporating Design Days Dubai and SIKKA Art Fair, as well as Art Nights at Gate Village, Al­serkal and Al Quoz Galleries Night, RCA Secret Dubai, the Global Art Forum and the wider programme of shows and initiatives across the United Arab Emirates, becoming an important event on the Middle Eastern and South Asian art calen­dar.
With momentum provided by Art Dubai and Art Week, Dubai has been attracting impressive new lo­cal, regional and international ar­tistic talents, promoting the emir­ate as an essential meeting point on the art map.
An interesting aspect of this year’s show was that nearly half the participating artists were women.
Art Dubai Contemporary’s two halls were dominated by large-scale installations and stand-out works by internationally acclaimed artists, presented alongside works by emerging artists from the region and the highest participation to date of galleries from the UAE.
International museum repre­sentatives were particularly drawn to Art Dubai Modern, the only ex­hibition of its kind, focusing on the masters of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, highlighting mar­ket demand for works from the 1900s to the 1980s.
Art Dubai’s critical success is largely linked to its connections to the private sector, most prominent­ly with the Abraaj Group, a lead­ing investment group. The Abraaj Group Art Prize, worth $100,000, is the only one of its kind that awards artists based on a proposal, rather than a completed work. It is in its eighth year.
One of the highlights of the 2016 event was the unveiling of The Abraaj Group Art Prize 2016 exhi­bition. Titled Syntax and Society and curated by Antwerp-based Nav Haq, it featured a new video instal­lation by prize winners, Palestinian artist-duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, alongside works by short-listed artists Dina Dan­ish, Mahmoud Khaled and Bashir Mahmood.
According to Haq, the selected works “look at questions of lan­guage as symbolic structures in a playful as well as investigative way”.
Abbas and Abou-Rahme’s haunt­ing installation Only the Beloved Keeps Our Secrets examines how modern-day technologies, par­ticularly the internet, can enable a continued existence for those who have been deceased. The agonising footage of a Palestinian boy who is killed while attempting to pluck an edible plant, after he crossed an Israeli military line, is mixed with other images of rituals, the wider landscape and seascape.
Each element of image, sound, song and words came together as the video unfolded, pointing to the Palestinian narrative and collective history.