Art Basel inside Abu Dhabi for 300

Art Basel, the dominant organisers of art fairs around the world, is “further expanding its engagement beyond the core art world” with “a multi-faceted cultural experience” in Abu Dhabi next February. Art Basel Inside is a three-day conference and “immersive arts programme” for “thought leaders from diverse fields and industries” who will be given “the opportunity to share visions and engage with the issues facing the world today”.

You may gather from our liberal use of quotation marks and phrases from the press release that we’re not convinced by the need for this event, not least because the definition of “thought leaders from diverse fields and industries” appears to be “someone who can afford $15,000 for a networking opportunity”.

That’s the price of attendance, though it does cover luxury accommodation and meals (not flights, though). It also includes “unique art experiences and access to creators, and the opportunity to interface with an attentively composed community”. Around 300 attentively composed participants are expected, so assuming some freebies and discounts the gross take should be somewhere north of $400,000.

Actually, the premise is quite reasonable – “art can be a powerfully transformative tool … Artists have a crucial role to play in imagining a different kind of future … [Art Basel Inside] embraces the creative process as a vehicle for reenvisioning the world around us”. And “Art Basel Inside offers artists, creatives, thinkers, founders, and entrepreneurs from all fields – technology, finance, the sciences, and more – a unique chance to come together around a common goal”.

So “thematic journeys, site-specific installations and commissioned performances” will be matched by “dynamic dialogues and workshops with visionary guest speakers from the worlds of technology and science” with breakout sessions for more in-depth conversation and “a focus on challenging conventional notions and discussing alternative pathways for the future”.

It’s undeniable that the future does need looking at, and a combination of art and technology (plus presumably a leavening of business) would provide a decent route into tomorrow. So maybe our scepticism is unfounded.

And the frontman is Marc-Olivier Wahler, director of Geneva’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire and curator of Art Basel Inside. His approac is suitably optimistic: “I am very much looking forward to creating an immersive environment, a unique ecosystem in which critical issues such as sustainability and artificial intelligence are not approached as isolated topics, but instead as contingencies within a larger network”.

Marc-Olivier Wahler, international curator (more than 400 exhibitions in 25 years), director of arts organisations (recently appointed director of the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva, founder/director of Paris Art Lab, previously director of the MSU Broad Museum at Michigan State University and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, among others)

Art Basel Inside is hosted in partnership with (aka “by”) the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, which sees this kind of the event and the Art Basel link as providing more lustre for its promotion of the city as an upmarket global cultural destination. As Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary at DCT – Abu Dhabi, puts it: ” Abu Dhabi invests meaningfully in culture with a long-term strategy in place”. He described Art Basel Inside as “a collaboration brought about by a shared passion for the arts, and a belief in their importance in driving understanding, progress and innovation”.

Art Basel Inside will take place in Abu Dhabi (not sure exactly where) from 14 to 16 February 2020. The website doesn’t tell you much more than this, but it promises more details in October and you have the chance to register your interest before you need to sign any cheques.


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