The Four Paintings about Sun Ilya and Emilia Kabakov; Galerie Thaddeus Ropac Image Credit: Supplied

Each year, arts enthusiasts eagerly await the return of Abu Dhabi Art, and the upcoming edition is set to be even richer than ever. The 2015 event, which is being held from November 18 to 21 at Manarat Al Saadiyat in the Saadiyat Cultural District, has a diverse range of galleries and artists as well as an engaging public programme lined up.

The event is being held under the patronage of His Highness General Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and is organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi).

“Stimulated by the ongoing cultural developments in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Art evolves each year in alignment with the need for creative experimentation and intellectual discovery. A selection of the world’s leading modern and contemporary galleries present exceptional artworks for sale. ‘Beyond’ will bring art directly to local communities, displaying large-scale sculptures and installations in Abu Dhabi’s public spaces,” Michelle Farrell, Abu Dhabi Art’s programme manager, said.

Among the highlights of this year’s edition is “Bliss”, a performing arts series inspired by the vibrancy of Abu Dhabi. It will include the first public screening in the UAE of French artist JR’s acclaimed short film, “Les Bosquets”. The film is inspired by French ghettos and the New York City Ballet, which brought together well-known artists such as Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer and dancer Lil Buck.

Visitors to the fair can also attend various discussions organised all through the event. These will be a reflection on the growing interest in Saadiyat’s cultural institutions, especially the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is now in an advanced stage of construction.

“Talks this year will feature museum directors Richard Armstrong of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, Neil MacGregor from the British Museum and Jean-Luc Martinez, president-director of the Louvre Paris. For the Abu Dhabi Art Architecture Statement, Louvre Abu Dhabi architect Jean Nouvel will present a discussion about the ‘Rain of Light’ dome, and his concept for a flagship museum integrated into the traditional architecture and heritage of the Emirate,” Farrell said.

The annual fair will also see the return of Durub Al Tawaya, curated by the Brussels-based Egyptian artist Tarek Abou El Fetouh. The programme, in its third edition, will have five performances that explore the ways in which contemporary art creates zones of cultural exchange by engaging with diverse archives and influences, while addressing questions of ownership, responsibility and preservation.

“Abu Dhabi Art has established consistent, long-standing relationships with curators, art historians, scholars and art world professionals that inform and enhance our programme. Our renowned curators Fabrice Bousteau and Tarek Abou El Fetouh are part of the artistic team and have been working with Abu Dhabi Art for several years to expand our performing arts programme,” Farrell said.

“We are particularly looking forward to Remote Abu Dhabi, in which participants will experience Abu Dhabi as never before in Rimini Protokoll’s dramatic urban scavenger hunt. A group of up to 30 participants will be guided on a walking tour around unexpected parts of the city by a computer-generated voice, in a participatory artwork that explores our relationships with technology and the environments we live in,” she added.

Those interested in Emirati art can explore this vibrant world with “Emirati Expressions IV: Conventions of Arts”. The exhibition, being organised parallel to Abu Dhabi Art, will present works by 15 Emirati artists whose projects oscillate naturally between design and fine art, exploring the functionality of artworks from a distinctive practice embedded in the social context of the UAE. “‘Emirati Expressions’ is an ongoing initiative that supports the local arts scene, the development and growth of a generation of accomplished Emirati artists, and the wider maturing cultural ecosystem of the UAE. It will feature artworks ranging from wearable textiles to photography, furniture design, interactive video installations and large-scale sculptures. Some of the participating artists are also producing site-specific commissioned works inspired by Abu Dhabi’s diverse and historic social clubs,” Farrell said.

“The international platform of Abu Dhabi Art supports Emirati artists [by] increasing exposure and awareness of their work. It introduces them to international collectors, curators, galleries and art world professionals. Platforms such as Abu Dhabi Art are working to develop the local cultural ecosystem in a form that is integrated with the global arts scene.”

Abu Dhabi Art’s main platform is a boutique art fair. With 40 participating galleries from Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East, there’s something for everyone, whether you’re an interested collector, someone who’s curious about the latest art trends, or just want to admire unique pieces.

The galleries will be exhibiting under the fair’s five sections — Modern, Contemporary and Design Galleries; “Signature”, galleries presenting their emerging artists; “Beyond”, the section for large-scale installations, sculptures and site-specific commissions; “Bidaya”, highlighting one emerging gallery, and “Artists’ Waves”, an artist-led exhibition.

“For this year’s ‘Bidaya’ section, we’re pleased to present Palestine’s first art gallery — Gallery One, Ramallah. This platform will give the emerging gallery an opportunity to make its debut on the international arts stage,” Farrell said.

In spite of the lower number of participating galleries — last year’s edition featured 50 — Farrell stresses on the high-quality offerings that will be featured during the fair.

“The participating galleries are select, established and innovative. They best reflect the quality of art represented on the international platform and represent a high calibre of artists, both renowned and emerging. Visitors will have a rare opportunity to see exceptional artworks from the 20th and 21st centuries,” she said.

Asked whether she was concerned about Abu Dhabi Art being hijacked by artist-activist groups and turned into a platform of protest — one such event took place at the Venice Biennale recently — Farrell said, “Abu Dhabi Art is a platform which welcomes a diversity of artists and participants and engages in debate from around the world. [It] integrates the art fair with the diverse programme of world-class art, talks, performances, workshops and innovative events; it is a holistic experience.”


Perspectives from participating galleries

Isabelle van den Eyde, IVDE Gallery

As a local gallery, we have participated in Abu Dhabi Art since its inception. We have seen it grow with tighter curatorial programmes year after year. The region’s arts scene is growing with joint efforts from galleries, artists, government initiatives and art fairs. There is an increasing number of arts-related initiatives in the country, which are creating innovative platforms to raise curiosity about contemporary Middle Eastern art.

Even the audience is evolving along the way. A few years ago, most of the gallery’s sales were happening outside the GCC, but this trend is now reversing. There has been a sort of awakening in the entire region towards modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art. The local audience has come to realise the profound and diversified artistic practice emanating from the region. The market is maturing and private sectors are developing more confidently.



We are regular participants at Abu Dhabi Art; it is a great privilege. With so many great museums in the making and collectors in the area, we — as visitors from afar — enjoy this dialogue. It is all about building relationships, and that takes time. For the artist it is a great opportunity to be part of Abu Dhabi Art.

Abu Dhabi is rapidly changing and to be part of a new dynamic city is exciting. We are looking forward to present Ilya and Emilia Kabakov for the first time after the success of their “Monumenta 2014: L’étrange Cité” at the Grand Palais in Paris and Powerstation in Shanghai.


Mohammad Hafiz, ATHR

This will be our fourth year at Abu Dhabi Art. Although ATHR is a Saudi-based gallery with a focus on artists from Saudi Arabia, this time we are showcasing the diversity of artists we work with. We’ve carefully selecting these artists and aim to build on the ideas, topics and issues that the gallery has always taken into consideration and focused on.

Abu Dhabi Art is one of the two fairs in the Emirates, and for galleries that see this area as a strategic market, being in both fairs is essential. Moreover, the audience in Abu Dhabi is unique and different from that of other fairs in the region; this makes participating very important for us.


Nathalie Farah is a writer based in Abu Dhabi.

Entry to Abu Dhabi Art is complimentary. However, online registration is required for the fair and discussions. To register, visit abudhabiart.ae