Abu Dhabi Art: coming to a web connection near you next month

The 12th edition of Abu Dhabi Art is to run as a virtual fair from 19-26 November this year, still with a public programme (always one of this fair’s strengths) and some novel ideas for the gallery displays.

Six guest curators will be working work with galleries and artists to present work online, each with a different geographic focus that promises live-streamed interviews and presentations as well as online viewing rooms.

“Abu Dhabi Art is adapting to the new reality that the world is facing,” said Saood Al Hosani, Acting Undersecretary at DCT–Abu Dhabi, which is responsible for the fair. Fair director Dyala Nusseibeh also referenced “an exceptionally difficult year for the global art world” and said “we are committed to supporting galleries that have been exhibiting with Abu Dhabi Art for years while continuing to develop new markets for the Emirates”.

In practice that means not all the galleries at this year’s Abu Dhabi Art are commercial clients for the fair – as the website puts it, “participating exhibitors for this year’s edition are either invited by curators or previous exhibitors”, which suggests the organisers are biting the bullet to keep Abu Dhabi Art part of the art fair ecosystem.

Most of 2020’s art fairs have been either suspended or have gone online, while many of next year’s fairs are already being promoted as real-life in-person events. Art Dubai, cancelled back in March and now scheduled for next Spring, falls into that come-and-visit-us group … though of course there’s no guarantee that the pandemic will be over then, or that Covid-19 restrictions on travel will have been relaxed sufficiently to deliver an international audience.

Mind you, showing and buying art has always been a gamble. Viewed in that light, Abu Dhabi Art is doing its best to improve the odds with the online version. Come November 2021, things should surely be (almost) back to normal for the 13th edition.

Galleries: new opportunities

Last year saw about 40 galleries in the main Modern and Contemporary sections of the fair plus another 14 invitees from China and India under the New Horizons label. Extending the geographical reach is the remit of the invited curators this time round, which should certainly make for an interesting (if unconventional) art fair.

It appears that most (if not all) of the galleries in these sections will be there on the invitation of the curator, which puts some stress on their personal contacts. Fortunately they all look well connected.

The Day After is a section for galleries and artists from across Africa, curated by Simon Njami (right). He looks like a very good choice – a Paris-based independent curator, lecturer, art critic and novelist, he’s one of the editors-in-chief of Revue Noire, a magazine created in 1991 with the objective of demonstrating that “there is art in Africa”. Njami was also the first Artistic Director of Art Joburg (2008) and co-curator of the firt African pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale; he has a longstanding association as artistic director with both Dak’art and the Bamako Encounters hotography biennial.

Sung woo Kim (left) is curator for the explicitly named Korean Contemporary Art section. A busy curator, he has been artistic director for the 2018 Gwangju Biennale and was a curatorial advisor for this year’s Busan Biennale. He also directs the curatorial programme and management of Seoul’s influential Amado Art Space.

A section for India returns for the second year under the label India Today. As before, it’s curated by Ashwin Thadani. He’s a gallerist, founder and main man of the highly regarded Galerie Isa in Mumbai.

The Abu Dhabi Art curators. Clockwise from top left: Simon Njami, Sung woo Kim, Nada Raza, Ashwin Thadani

There’s a new curated sector called A Picture Held Us Captive for artists and galleries from the UAE, a selection of works that is intended to “bring into question the primacy of the visual in our shift to consuming art online” (no, we’re not entirely sure how this differs from the primacy of the visual in visual art generally). The curator is Nada Raza, founding artistic director of Dubai’s Ishara Art Foundation (responsible for two good shows there last year – Altered Inheritance and Body Building) and currently a curatorial advisor to the Alserkal Arts Foundation.

Performance and more

In addition the fair will feature Beyond: Emerging Artists, a selection of new work by emerging artists from across the UAE curated by Maya El Khalil (right). This is something of a leftfield choice, since El Khalil is more obviously associated with Saudi Arabia; she had a long stint as director of Athr Gallery, Jeddah, and is the curator of 21,39 Jeddah Arts.

There will also be an all-online performance art schedule, curated this time by Rose Lejeune (left). She is the Associate Curator for the Delfina Foundation’s Collecting as Practice programme in London, where she developed a groundbreaking programme that looks at the politics and economics of global collections.

Lejeune is also director of a really interesting programme called Performance Exchange, a UK-wide project that aims to put performance art into galleries and encourage collectors and sponsors to treat it in much the same way as they do static and 2D art.

There’s no word yet on what exactly the performance programme will involve, though it will replaces the Durub Al Tawaya programme from previous years (though not 2019). Nor do we know who will be included in the emerging artists roster, though apparently Maya El Khalil has been working with three local artists. And we don’t yet know which galleries will be on view at Abu Dhabi Art. We’re told there will be a programme of online talks, too, but again there are no details.

With less than a month to go – the fair will be online 19 to 26 November – that seems a tad conservative. We’ll let know when/if we hear more, or you could check out the (currently skimpy) Abu Dhabi Art website.

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