Dubai Opens Prestigious Fair

A huge curved bridge on the beach by Chris Burden, laser-cut steel sculptures by Belgium’s Wim Delvoye and Yayoi Kusama works are among as much as $45 million of contemporary art on sale at Art Dubai.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are focusing on Dubai as an important hub of Middle Eastern activity

Kusama’s collection, shown by London’s Victorio Miro, is the first display of the Japanese artist’s work in the Middle East. The fair, which in 2012 had 22,500 visitors, opens this weekend. It includes 75 museum groups from 30 countries.

The seventh edition has expanded beyond the Middle East and Asia to focus on West Africa, including galleries from Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali and Ghana.

Prices range from $500 to much more than $1 million.

“The focus on West Africa epitomizes the role of the fair as one of discovery,” Antonia Carver, Art Dubai director, said in an interview. The event is increasingly hosting collectors from all over Africa, China and East Asia, she added.

With more than 40 galleries, the United Arab Emirates city, which was on the brink of default in 2009, remains the nucleus of the Middle East’s contemporary-art scene as the oil-rich Persian Gulf uses its wealth to become a global art player.

Neighboring emirate Sharjah is currently hosting its 11th Biennial and Qatar has hosted music and art festivals. Dubai is planning a cultural district while Abu Dhabi will have local branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim.

Central Dubai

“From the perspective of business, Dubai has centrality no one can deny,” said Arif Naqvi, chief executive officer of Abraaj Group Ltd., a Dubai-based buyout firm with more than $7 billion of assets under management that offers an Art Dubai prize. “In the regional cultural perspective, the city is acquiring the same centrality.”

Art Dubai galleries this year include Pace, which has spaces in New York, London and Beijing; Galerie Imane Fares of Paris; New York’s Lombard Freid Projects and CRG.

Other exhibitors hail from South Asia, the Middle East, and East Asia. West African galleries are showing artists including Soly Cisse, Ablade Glover and Boris Nzebo.
CRG, which returned to the fair for its third year, is displaying works by female artists as young as 26 and as old as 92 from the Middle East and Asia to the U.S., Europe and South America.

“There’s an expansion of art appreciation, and therefore Dubai like any other city brings people together,” said Carla Chammas, a founder and partner of the New York-based gallery.
Art Dubai includes a mobile art gallery, site-specific installations, performances and video screenings, according to Carver. Pakistan’s Ehsan Ul Haq presented a dozen life-size plaster donkeys while Maha Maamoun, co-founder of Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo, curated the Hatch, a stairwell converted into a film and video space.

“We come to discover new works and to observe the development of other artists,” said Rami Salsali, a collector and founder of Salsali Private Museum in Dubai. “Dubai is the hub of culture for the entire region, without any doubt.”