The categories on show at Art Dubai are a wealth of influential, topical, boundary-pushing and provocative works from the biggest names in art. Within them, they represent the state of our beings — past and present — and a view, sometimes grim and sometimes rose-tinted — of the times ahead. If it’s art’s job to make you think, feel and dig a little deeper inside, the ninth Art Dubai does that quite well.
Art Dubai has grown from 40 galleries and 8,000 visitors in 2007 to 25,000 visitors last year and over 90 galleries exhibiting in this year’s event starting on March 18. Here is our edit of works you just can’t ignore.
The power of contemporary art
From canvases to art installations, this year’s contemporary arts section is full of stunning yet approachable beauties, with large-scale pieces presented by Hamburg based Sfeir-Semler Gallery, known for nurturing major artists from the Middle East and North Africa. Dubai’s own Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde and The Third Line present works by international artists with palpable connections to the Middle East.
Arguably, nothing captures the very essence of contemporary arts better than the ‘Plastic Tree C’ by the artist Pascale Marthine Tayou. Presented by Galleria Continua, this withered landscape of branches and plastic bags has been interpreted by many as a commentary on the state of our ecosystem.
Celebrating modern art
Leading the charge for the modernist movement is one of the foremost Parisian galleries, Galerie Claude Lemand. Founded in 1988, it was one of the first galleries in Europe to promote Modern Arab artists who had settled in the West.
This year, the gallery presents works by the late Shafic Abboud, whose works are regarded as manifestos for freedom, while appearing as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Dubai’s Green Art Gallery celebrates the life and works of late Syrian modernist Mahmoud Hammad with a solo showcase.
Marker — focus on Latin America
Helmed by independent curator Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, this year’s Marker, Art Dubai’s curated programme, is set to be the largest showcase of Latin American art in the Gulf to date, and will explore the historical and contemporary connections between the region and the Arab world, expressed through creation.
Complementing the thematic, salon-style presentation of painting, drawing and sculpture by more than 15 artists, the Colombian Maria Jose Arjona will explore ‘time’ through her live piece. The artists Marina Buendia and Maria Quiroga will present a sound art performance via specially designed sound chairs by Argentinean artist Nicolas Robbio.
Making its Dubai debut at the fair is the Royal College of Art’s anonymous postcard exhibition. The travelling exhibition, now regarded as an institution in the London art scene, is wrapped in mystery and excitement, for you never know if the postcard you buy for Dh500 is from a famous artist, an unknown one or one you love no matter what. The celebrated fashion designer and RCA contributor Paul Smith will be on hand to launch the exhibition’s Middle East outpost, which will feature international and regional artists.
The big win
The only prize in the Middle East and South Asia that awards artists on the basis of submitted project proposals, the Abraaj Group Art Prize has provided artists from the Middle East a platform to showcase their work on an international stage to museum directors, curators, critics, their peers and the public since its inception in 2008.
Curated by guest curator Omar Kholeif, this years showcase will present previous works by the three short-listed artists — Sarnath Banerjee, Setareh Shahbazi and Mounira Al Solh — crowned by the unveiling of a new work by the 2015 award winner, Yto Barrada.
Pratyush Sarup writes on design twice monthly in tabloid! on Saturday, and edits the design site designcarrot.net (@DesignCarrot).
How to visit
Art Dubai starts on Wednesday March 18 with a Ladies Preview (free and open to all women), from 1-4pm, followed by a private opening event. The public can visit March 19 (4-9.30pm), March 20 (2-9.30pm) and March 21 (12-6.30pm). Tickets, Dh50 for a one-day pass and Dh80 for a three-day pass, can be bought at the onsite welcome desks. Free entry for children under 18 and university students (with student ID).