One of the artworks to be displayed at Art Dubai 2010 Image Credit: Supplied

More than 70 art galleries from 30 countries; a special section of museum-quality contemporary artworks; a strong focus on emerging Middle Eastern talent and a diverse palette of public art events and activities for visitors of all ages — these are some of the highlights of Art Dubai 2010 to be held at the Madinat Jumeirah Resort from March 17 to 20. Launched in 2007, Art Dubai is the biggest art fair in the region.

The event, a subsidiary of the Dubai International Finance Centre, is held in partnership with Abraaj Capital with support from Van Cleef & Arpels and Madinat Jumeirah.

John Martin, director and co-founder of Art Dubai, says: "Despite the tough economic conditions of the last 18 months, the Middle East art market has demonstrated its resilience in general and Dubai has proved its importance as the principle platform for the contemporary art market in the region.

"This year, we have 27 new galleries from diverse places such as Mexico City, Prague, Budapest and Lahore. In this fourth edition of the event, the emphasis is on solo projects rather than [being a] multi-artist [show] that stands to reflect the growing maturity of the regional art market. As collectors here become more focused and experienced in their collection, galleries are able to devote more space to artists preferred by them.

"I am delighted that this year more galleries are presenting solo shows of Arab and international masters such as Adel El Siwi and Chant Avedissian from Egypt and Indian artist M.F. Hussain and also emerging talents from places such as Palestine, Iraq, Beirut, Korea, Chile, Peru, Spain, Pakistan, Turkey and Sudan. This will give established and novice collectors a broader understanding of the artists' oeuvre and provide greater depth to the visitor experience.

"We have also added a new area within the fair devoted to museum-quality painting and sculpture from the 1950s to 1970s to provide an important contextual framework for the achievements of contemporary Middle Eastern artists who have influenced the work of the present generation."

Besides bringing together art sellers and buyers, the art fair will also host a wide range of non-commercial art-related activities for the public.

These include the Global Art Forum, the Art Park, the unveiling of artworks by the Abraaj Art Prize recipients, art workshops for children and adults organised by START and an exhibition of iconic watches by Van Cleef & Arpels.

In addition, the art fair has invited not-for-profit arts organisation Bidoun Projects to curate an extensive public programme featuring exhibitions, presentations, film screenings, guided public tours by artists, outdoor art installations and an art library.

"Art fairs are an important community event and this is reflected in Art Dubai's public programme, which is designed to involve as many people as possible and provide a more comprehensive understanding of the contemporary art scene," says Martin.

"We want to encourage people from all walks of life to attend Art Dubai and understand that the event is more than a chance to view beautiful art from all over the world — it is a meeting of minds and a springboard for creativity.

"It is particularly important for the younger generation to participate in art early in their lives and realise that they have the potential to be the artists of the future," he adds. Art Dubai also nurtures artists of the future through the Abraaj Capital Art Prize and its Visual Arts Internship Scheme.

The Abraaj Capital Art Prize is one of the most generous art prizes in the world and provides an opportunity for creative collaboration between international curators and artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region.

This year's winners are Egyptian artist Hala Elkoussy with curator Jelle Bouwhuis; Lebanese artist Marwan Sahmarani with curator Mahita El Bacha Urieta; and Algerian artist Kader Attia with curator Laurie Ann Farrell. The three artist/curator teams will unveil their winning projects at Art Dubai 2010.

The internship scheme was launched in 2007 after the first edition of the fair. It gives students from the UAE and abroad an opportunity to work alongside art professionals from around the world during the fair and with the Art Dubai team throughout the year.
Each intern works on a project relevant to their coursework, thus learning new skills and applying their classroom knowledge in a professional environment. Over 150 students have benefited from this scheme so far and more are involved this year.

The Art Dubai experience is not limited to the Dubai art scene. To provide international visitors a broader picture, the fair has developed Contemparabia, a tour that links Art Dubai with the Sharjah Biennial, the recently opened Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and other artistic venues in the region. Contemparabia 2010 begins in Beirut, moving on to Doha and then Dubai.

The two-week itinerary includes architectural tours, historical excursions, performances and visits to contemporary artist studios, fashion designers’ showrooms, museums, non-profit organisations, private collectors’ homes and much more. “At present, this tour is tailored specifically for art professionals and museum benefactors but we hope it will become a catalyst for other art initiatives to take place across the region timed to coincide with the present cultural calendar in March,” says Martin.

An important aspect of Art Dubai is the Global Art Forum that brings together international artists, curators, museum directors, critics and collectors to debate various cultural issues.

This year, the forum will open in Doha on March 16 with discussions on topics such as the “Future Art School” and “Institution as Moment” and also conversations with artists M.F. Hussain and Dia Azzawi. The public forum will continue in Dubai from March 17 to 19 with discussions on arts writing, contemporary art in Iran, Palestine syndrome and shifting paradigms of public and private patronage. Also on the agenda are conversations with renowned artists and collectors that will offer fascinating insights into the mystery and mechanics of the creative process.

Art Dubai 2010 will also celebrate the art of watchmaking with an exhibition titled The Poetry of Time, organised by Van Cleef & Arpels. The show traces the almost 100-year-old history of watchmaking at Van Cleef & Arpels and showcases the company’s rich legacy of craftsmanship through several iconic timepieces. The display includes the Midnight in Dubai timepiece, an innovative new feature that reproduces the stars in the Dubai sky using a unique and complex movement. An interactive workshop area will feature famed watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and master enamellist Dominique Baron.

Events on the sidelines to enhance the art-fair experience

Art Dubai 2010 has invited Bidoun Projects, the not-for-profit curatorial wing of arts organisation and publisher Bidoun to curate an extensive programme of public events with the support of the Emirates Foundation. Antonia Carver, director Bidoun Projects says: “The aim of this programme is to give artists from the region a voice on the global platform of Art Dubai and to involve the local community and people of all ages in the event. Our basic concept was to invite emerging artists to create projects that look at different aspects of the experience of going to an art fair and reflect the glitz and drama and the temporary nature of an art fair.”

Perhaps the most innovative of these projects is the guided tours of Art Dubai by specially invited artists. The idea is to demystify the art-fair experience and show people that art is open to various individual interpretations and it is experienced with the heart rather than with the mind. Bidoun Projects has commissioned New York-based artist and performer Daniel Bokhkov, Qatari storyteller Sophia Al Maria and Palestinian artist Khalil Rabih to conduct these daily guided tours for the public. The artists have devised their own routes, narratives and interpretations of the artworks. Bokhkov’s tour is titled “The fastest tour of Art Dubai — 10,000 metres of art in 35 minutes without missing a single important thing”.

Bidoun Projects has also commissioned several young artists to create outdoor installations that are fun and interesting. Emirati mathematician-turned-artist Ebtisam Abdul Aziz is creating her whimsical version of a map of the Arab world and its art markets based on a set of numerical codes. Well-known Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri is working on an ice sculpture that reflects the transient nature of art fairs and Alice Aycock is restaging her iconic kinetic installation titled ‘Sand/Fans’.

An exhibition titled ‘A New Formalism’ takes a more serious look at Middle Eastern art. This show will bring together a precise selection of paintings and sculptures by well-known artists Hazeem Al Mestikawy, Iman Issa, Mahmoud Khaled and the collective U5. The aim is to develop a deeper understanding of formalism by focusing on pure aesthetics and exploring the subtle relationship between four very different works that share a space.

Visitors and researchers can also enjoy Bidoun’s vast collection of rare books, catalogues and journals on Middle Eastern art and artists at the Bidoun Library, located at Art Dubai. Bidoun is making a special effort to acquire material connected with artists, curators and speakers participating in Art Dubai 2010.

Bidoun Projects has also organised a variety of events ranging from film screenings and video art to talks, presentations and artistic performances at the Art Park, the converted underground car park at Madinat Arena. Designed in collaboration with design gallery Traffic with typography by the Khatt Foundation, the Art Park includes the cosy Bidoun Lounge, a large public screening area and several individual screening areas. The live events will take place daily from 5 to 8pm.

This year the Art Park talks will focus on the relationship between archives and art, film, music and books.

The programme includes presentations by musicians and poets from Armenia and Egypt and a talk by Kenneth Goldsmith, founder of archiving site UbuWeb. A highlight of the Art Park 2010 agenda is The Big Idea, an evening where artists and other creative people from the UAE and the region will present their new ideas and projects.
As usual, the Art Park will provide a platform for film-makers and video artists from the region to showcase their work. The cinema programme put together by Bidoun Projects along with well-known curators is divided into four segments.

The segment titled ‘Exploding Nostalgia’, curated by Antonia Carver and Masoud Amralla Al Ali, focuses on emerging Emirati filmmakers. ‘Cloudy Heads’ features new work by established Arab artists. ‘Strike A Pose’, curated by Ozge Ersoy and Sohrab Mohebbi looks at the promotion of art events through films and ‘Hollywood Elegies’, curated by Los Angeles-based Aram Moshayedi, features works by well-known international artists such as Hirsch Perlman, Nasty Nets and Walead Beshty.

Art Dubai will offer an array of creative and educational opportunities for all ages through workshops and other events organised by START, a charity established by Art Dubai and Al Madad Foundation to help disadvantaged children in the Middle East through arts education. Open to university students, schools and families, the workshops will cover photography, graffiti, design and large-scale drawing.

With the support of the British Council and Tashkeel, START has commissioned several artists to lead the workshops. These include young Emirati designer Noor Al Khaja with German designer Sven Mueller guiding BA students on a public design tour of Art Dubai; Leanne Elliott and Ita Maude-Wooler who will lead RART, an award-winning London-based art collective, which focuses on drawing and performance; and Mohammad Ali AerosolArabic, who fuses graffiti-art with Islamic calligraphy and patterns. The workshops are free with entry to Art Dubai and all supplies are provided by START.

The START pavilion will also host several activities for school groups. These include a Van Cleef & Arpels dial design workshop with enamellist Dominique Baron and the chance to learn more about the Abraaj Capital Art Prize through collage on March 17. On March 18, Mueller and Al Khaja will look at UAE public design and Elliot will get school students to draw.

AerosolArabic will be onsite all week developing a graffiti wall and on March 19 and 20 families are invited to develop a Golden Wall with designers Abir Fawaz and Sharmeen Syed. Indoors, START will have an information point for families and will exhibit art by Palestinian orphans taught by START.

Dubai’s emergence as a hub of art and culture emphasised

The Al Bastakiya Art Fair (BAF) is an independent fringe fair that is timed to coincide with and complement Art Dubai. Organised by XVA Gallery, the fair will take place in the historic Bastakiya area near Dubai Creek from March 15 to March 21.

The event focuses international attention on Dubai’s art and cultural scene and provides a global audience for local artists and galleries by showcasing the best of emerging Middle Eastern contemporary art. It invites art experts visiting Art Dubai to conduct talks and workshops for art students and young artists in the UAE. And it also promotes collaboration within the UAE’s vibrant artistic community by encouraging exchanges between local artistic organisations.

BAF 2010 will feature several exhibitions in and around the restored traditional wind tower houses in Bastakiya. National exhibitions from the UAE, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Russia will be displayed alongside solo and group exhibitions curated by leading authorities on contemporary Middle Eastern art such as Rose Eisa, Ana Finel Honigman and Brahim Alaoui.

The fair will also include exhibitions by local galleries and those from the Middle East and North Africa region. The participation of Saatchi Online will add an international touch to the event.

The fair has also lined up an extensive schedule of educational events for artists, art students and art lovers. This includes a brunch lecture series, curated by Rose Eisa, featuring talks by renowned international art experts such as Hans Ulbrich Obrist from the Serpentine Gallery, London, and Anna Somers Cocks from ‘The Art Newspaper’.

For more information visit www.bastakiyaartfair.com

Art Dubai 2010 fact file

Venue: Madinat Jumeirah Resort

Tickets are priced at Dh50 and are available at www.timeouttickets.com. Entry for children up to 12 years is free. Tickets can be bought at the venue during Art Dubai.

March 18: 4pm-10pm
March 19: Noon-8pm
March 20: Noon-6pm
For more information visit www.artdubai.ae

Jyoti Kalsi is a UAE-based art enthusiast.