Five takeaways from Art Dubai: from NFTs to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's growing collection

The art fair returned to full form after having been cancelled owing to Covid-19 and then downsized the year after

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Art Dubai returned to Madinat Jumeirah last week after being one of the first Covid-19 event casualties in 2020, and decamping to the Dubai International Finance Centre in a reduced version in 2021.

The presence of glitz, glamour and artistic diversity were heralded as a return to form — but what has actually changed in the intervening years since the last full Art Dubai fair, and what remains the same? Here are five takeaways from the popular three-day art event.

1) Dubai as an NFT marketplace

Dubai’s emergence as a centre of cryptocurrency and non-fungible token production translated into a market for art NFTs and “phygital” artworks (digital works with a presence in the physical realm). Housed in a separate Madinat Jumeirah wing from the rest of Art Dubai, the inaugural Art Dubai Digital looked and felt separate to the art sphere — and in a way it was, with many buyers at the section of the fair coming from the crypto world rather than "legacy" art world.

A visitor at the modern section of Art Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

2) A high interest in 20th century Arab Modernism

Arab Modernism remains a key priority for Gulf and regional collectors, and the art fair. The explosion of interest in 20th century art from the region, buttressed by the intellectual efforts of figures such as Salwa Mikdadi and Nada Shabout, continues apace, despite the prices of these works climbing ever higher. Curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath returned to the fair with a curated section, "The Soul of Progress," inspired by the Indian artist K S Kulkarni (1918–1994).

3. The appeal of Art Dubai returns

Art Dubai regained its stature as a meeting point for curators, collectors, dealers and art professionals across the region. This had been a selling point of Art Dubai since its early days and returned in earnest last week, with Dubai also buoyed by the Expo 2020 effect and its early exit from Covid regulations.

4. New diversity in the art market

Accra-based Gallery 1957's booth, featuring the Nigerian artist Modupeola Fadugba. AP Photo

Two new key constituents are entering the art market: the Saudis and the West African region. Both these areas had more galleries at the fair than ever before, and more visitors and collectors supporting the work.

5. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is growing its collection

In advance of its projected 2025 opening, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi staff were reportedly making enquiries and buying at regional galleries at the fair, as well as elsewhere during art week. The museum already has a sizeable collection that has exhibited publicly in the past, at its Manarat Al Saadiyat exhibitions and via loans.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 4:58 AM