Abraaj Group Art Prize collection finally finds new home at Art Jameel

The fate of the near 30 works has been hotly debated after Abraaj's implosion

Rana Begum's winning 'No. 695 Abraaj' for the 2017 Abraaj Prize, an immense sculptural work made of coloured Perspex triangles. Courtesy Art Jameel 
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Art Jameel has announced that it has acquired the Abraaj Group Art Prize collection, the 29 works commissioned by the Abraaj Group when it sponsored the Art Dubai fair from 2009 to 2018.

Before Abraaj collapsed in 2018 after financial mismanagement and allegations of fraud, the private equity group was a major buyer of Menasa artwork. Its collection has since passed on to liquidators and has mostly been sold at auction – many at prices far below what the firm originally acquired them for. However, the fate of the Art Prize collection had been unclear, and the subject of much discussion, as it comprises a unique group of artworks that represent a slice of emergent art history in Dubai.

The Abraaj Prize was a high-profile component of the partnership between Art Dubai and Abraaj. Around four artists were short-listed each year, with, from 2015 onwards, the winner receiving $100,000 (Dh367,000) to go towards the production of a new work that would debut the following year at Art Dubai. (Each of the runners-up received $10,000.) All these commissioned works were then acquired by Abraaj, as well as a number of the works from earlier editions of the prize.

A work by Hala Elkoussy when the Egyptian-born artist won the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, as it was then known, at Art Dubai in 2010. Courtesy Art Jameel
A work by Hala Elkoussy when the Egyptian-born artist won the Abraaj Capital Art Prize, as it was then known, at Art Dubai in 2010. Courtesy Art Jameel

There was speculation from the beginning that the collection would be acquired by Art Jameel, the Saudi art foundation, and the works initially were meant to go there on loan. However, after the crisis hit Abraaj, this never happened, and the works' whereabouts were unknown. Now, two years later, they have finally re-emerged. It is understood that Art Dubai liaised with liquidators to enable the sale to Art Jameel.

“There were conversations with a couple of major international museums about the potential for the works to go on long-term loan, to build more and longer term engagement with the public,” explains Antonia Carver, who left Art Dubai in 2016 to head Art Jameel. She has since overseen the opening of the Jameel Arts Centre on Dubai Creek.

"But there was also a feeling that the works should ideally remain in the region, to be curated and seen here, where they were commissioned. When the Jameel Arts Centre was announced, conversations began then about them coming to us on long-term loan, with the chance for the works to be exhibited here but also loaned out internationally, on request from curators and institutions."

The prize was an instrumental source of support for regional artists such as Kader Attia, Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Wael Shawky, Bouchra Khalili and Rana Begum.

The collection does not include the work of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who won the prize in 2018.

The prize was also a strong platform for emerging curators of the region, with figures such as Myriam Ben Salah, Nav Haq, Nada Raza and Murtaza Vali organising shows.

“As the managing entity of the Abraaj prize collection, Art Dubai has been in conversation with the administrators of the Abraaj estate to endeavour to maintain the integrity of the collection by keeping the artworks together and finding a new home," says Ben Floyd, chief executive of the Art Dubai Group. "We are delighted to have arranged the acquisition of the prizes to Art Jameel, an organisation that plays a vital role in Dubai’s art and cultural ecosystem."

After the collapse of Abraaj, in 2018 Art Dubai brought on Misk, the Saudi art foundation established by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to support programming in its Modern section. This year the fair, which takes place in March, will be sponsored by A. R. M. Holding, a Dubai investment fund.

After years of being the flagship event in Dubai's art season, Art Dubai has recently undergone a period of change. Its replacement after Carver was Myrna Ayad, a well-known figure in the local art scene, but she left amicably after two years. It now has two directors, Pablo Del Val and Chloe Vaitsou, and has been adding new strands to its programming, notably the Bawwaba series, which shows emerging artists from the Global South; Gulf Now, a non-profit section focusing on khaleeji art initiatives; and the Residents programme, which invites artists from Africa to the 2020 edition.

In addition, this year the fair is partnering with the Jameel Arts Centre on a series of new commissions curated by Natasa Petresin-Bachelez, who lives in Paris, by artists such as Khalil Rabah from Ramallah and Prabhakar Pachpute, from Pune, near Mumbai, whose exhibition at Jameel recently closed.