To borrow a phrase from Antonia Carver, director of Art Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah will be turned into “art city” this week. With the start of the 10th edition of the annual fair, collectors and gallerists will converge within the conference halls of the sprawling complex to buy and sell some of the freshest contemporary works, while others will use the opportunity to learn about artists, experience interactive works, eat and enjoy a day out.
“Art Dubai is for everyone,” says Carver. “It begins as a place for galleries to sell to regional and international collectors and to host the who’s who of the art world, and by the end of the week, we see ourselves as an institution, with an incredible non-profit programme that people can really enjoy.”
This year, as well as accommodating a staggering 94 galleries from 40 countries, the halls feature a different, user-friendly layout, and are dotted with cafes, bars and restaurants where visitors can rest and refuel between hours of browsing and buying. There are also several pieces of commissioned work from Art Dubai’s resident artists, who have spent the past three months in the city’s Al Fahidi Historial Neighbourhood, producing site-specific installations that will be displayed in public areas at the event.
Top draws this year are European and American galleries. Don't miss the sculptures by British artist Conrad Shawcross in Victoria Miro Gallery’s booth or works by Timo Nasseri, a German-Iranian artist, from Sfeir-Semler Gallery.
New York’s Aicon Gallery will be displaying a major installation on the topic of drones. For those interested in paintings, Galerie Lelong’s booth will have works by international heavyweights such as Etel Adnan, Joan Miró and David Hockney.
The Philippines is the focus of the Marker section, which turns the spotlight on a different geographical area every year. The section is in a new space at the back of one of the contemporary halls. The curator Ringo Bunoan has invited several artist-run spaces to exhibit young, upcoming artists who are practising in unconventional media as well as street and graffiti artists.
“There something of a spirit of that in Dubai, too,” says Carver. “Of people getting up and doing their own thing, so we wanted to mirror that a little bit with this section, as well as offering something new.”
Close to home
Regionally, there are several discoveries to be made. Grey Noise from Dubai is exhibiting the young Pakistani artist Fahd Burki; Athr from Jeddah will bring a group of young Saudi artists to the show; and from Manila, Silverlens is showing Maria Taniguchi, a promising emerging artist who won the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award last year.
A space has also been set aside for the newly established Atassi Foundation, an initiative to preserve the archives of 30-year-old Atassi Gallery in Syria, which was forced to close due to the ongoing war.
Another key part of the fair is the Modern section, dedicated to 20th-century art from the region.
“We are one of the only fairs in the world to focus on modern artists from Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, and we are very proud of that,” says Carver. "This section more than anything shows that the story of art in the 20th century was always global.”
Among rare and valuable works, highlights include a larger-than-life sculpture from Egyptian master Adam Henein and a collection of works from the late Iran-born Maliheh Afnan, whose works trace her experience from the 1960s through to the Lebanese Civil War and to subsequent years spent in Paris.
The Abraaj Group Art Prize is strong, with a commissioned work from art duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme.
Alserkal Avenue’s Safina Radio Project will have live broadcasts throughout the fair. The Sheikha Manal Little Artist Programme will run workshops to keep little Picassos entertained. And for the first time, there will be gastronomic art. The Wedding Project, in collaboration with London’s Delfina Foundation, is “a look at how to create the ultimate artist’s wedding”, says Carver. It features performances, edible artwork and an 11-course menu conceived by artists and created by local chefs.
• Art Dubai is at Madinat Jumeirah, Al Sufouh Road (exit 39 on Sheikh Zayed Road). It runs Wednesday, March 16, (4pm to 9.30pm – invitation only; 1pm to 4pm – women/children only); Thursday (4pm to 9.30pm); Friday (2pm to 9.30pm); and Saturday (noon to 6.30pm). It costs Dh50 for a one-day ticket, Dh80 for a three-day pass, available on-site. Free for those under 18. Visit artdubai.ae