Making more of Art Dubai

Art Dubai has unveiled details of the programme and partnerships for its 16th edition, which runs 3 to 5 March 2023. It’s an impressively expanded portfolio that sits alongside the core art fair – “one of our strongest ever gallery line-ups,” said Art Dubai’s Artistic Director Pablo del Val, with more than 120 participants from 40 countries across the four gallery sections: Contemporary, Modern, Bawwaba and Art Dubai Digital.

“Art Dubai has always tried to reframe what an art fair can be,” said Art Dubai’s Executive Director Benedetta Ghione (right). “This year’s expanded programme fully reflects our role as a meeting point for the region’s creative industries, both commercial and not-for-profit.”

That’s an important consideration for an art fair these days, particularly one that sees itself as a key regional leader. Although the commercial imperative remains preeminent – at base it’s all about buyers and sellers – the wider obligations cannot be overlooked. Building an art ecosystem means taking a long view, which in turn means not-for-profit activities that involve development, information exchange, and opportunity-spotting. As Ms Ghione puts it: “As an innovative public-private partnership, we [at Art Dubai] have been an incubator of talent, a catalyst for the creative economy here in Dubai, a convener of great minds, and an entry point to this vibrant ecosystem for the wider cultural sector.”

Key points for 2023 include a lot more collaboration, both locally and internationally; and an increasing focus on alternative institutional models – especially, of course, those based on blockchain solutions to ownership and trading.

Collaboration and commission

At the centre of the fair’s not-for-profit programme are the Art Dubai Commissions, site-specific works in a purpose-built space in the fair grounds. The 2023 Commissions programme will comprise “daily performances and food-based experiences” that will explore themes of community, celebration, hope, and connection. The artists have been selected from participating Art Dubai galleries; they will include Prajakta Potnis (Project 88), Rathin Barman (Experimenter), Anoli Perera and Tayeba Begum Lipi (Shrine Empire), and Gunjan Kumar (Exhibit 320).

This programme has been developed with leading institutions in South Asia – Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation in collaboration with Britto Arts Trust, Ishara Art Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Samdani Art Foundation.

Art Dubai will also present a new group exhibition with 421, a second year of collaboration with the Abu Dhabi based arts centre that for 2023 presents a group exhibition curated by UAE-based artist and researcher Dania Al Tamimi. Under the theme: ‘does time move through you, or do you move through time?’ it will explore time as “the binding element of the biography of objects, the active archive of lives, and the solidifying catalyst of experiences”.

After the debacle with its former sponsor Abraaj Group, liquidated in 2019 under a welter of debt and fraud allegations, Art Dubai seems to have settled into a comfortable relationship with the Swiss wealth management group Julius Baer. The two have announced a renewed agreement that has Julius Baer as lead partner of Art Dubai for a further five years, until 2027.

Régis Burger, Global Head for Middle East & Africa at Julius Baer spoke about the long-term partnership “[driving] meaningful engagement with the region’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary art practices.” Alireza Valizadeh, CEO for Julius Baer (Middle East) called the UAE “a core strategic market for us” and said “the collaboration is a testament of our commitment to the country”.

He also added: “For us at Julius Baer, promoting arts is like a social responsibility and is one of the reasons we entered into a partnership with Art Dubai”; and Burger chipped in with “the art fair is an important talent incubator, which encourages positive cultural exchange, and we are thrilled to be partners in this journey”. 

Part of that journey will be a new Julius Baer initiative called NEXT that aims to show how science, technology, and the arts “interact to create new perspectives” and “provide a reflection of the changing priorities in our society”. In practice this means commissioning boundary-testing new work, the first example of which will be by Refik Anadol. The always interesting Turkish-American new-media artist typically works with data-driven machine learning algorithms that create abstract, dream-like environments. Or, as his website puts it, “Refik Anadol is intrigued by the ways in which the transformation of the subject of contemporary culture requires rethinking of the new aesthetic, technique and dynamic perception of space … Anadol builds his works on the nomadic subject’s reaction to and interactions with unconventional spatial orientations. Embedding media arts into architecture, he questions the possibility of a post digital architectural future in which there are no more non-digital realities”.

The project in question will apparently be an immersive experience that will be unveiled over several locations at next year’s Art Dubai. That should be good.

Professional development

Art Dubai’s flagship professional development initiative Campus Art Dubai celebrates its tenth edition with two concurrent strands. CAD 10.0 Professional Development will expand to include placements at both Art Dubai and other leading UAE cultural institutions – Alserkal Avenue and the Jameel in Dubai, 421 in Abu Dhabi. A second strand, CAD Public Art, aims to build sector knowledge and capacity in the rapidly developing field of public art commissioning.

Equally important to our way of thinking is the A.R.M. Holding Children’s Programme of artist-led workshops for youngsters aged 5-17 years. This will reach around 100 schools and more than 6,000 children across Dubai.

Information and access

Another of the jewels in Art Dubai’s crown, and a personal favourite of the magpie team, is the Global Art Forum. It’s always stimulating, packed with interesting speakers and a buzzing audience. The 16th edition of the transdisciplinary conference is again commissioned by Shumon Basar and for 2023 will have the theme ‘Predicting the Present’ – “if it’s the end of history and the end of the future, what happens next?” We’re promised “stories, experiments and speculations about culture, innovation and society [that] point towards new sources of optimism … Dubai – a future-facing city leading in innovation – provides the ideal backdrop for these discussions”.

Among the typically impressive array of speakers are Lukas Amacher, Head of Art for Dialectic AG and MD of 1of1 Works; Sumayya Vally, principal of Counterspace, architect of the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion and Curator of the First Islamic Biennale in Jeddah; Chiara Costa, Head of Programmes at Fondazione Prada; Brendan McGetrick, Creative Director for Dubai’s Museum of the Future; and artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan, whose work on the geopolitics of sound and the acoustics of territories is more than matched by his articulacy.

The fair’s conference programme has been expanded to include a Dubai edition of Christie’s Art+Tech Summit, the sixth iteration of this event and the first in the region. The New York Art+Tech Summits have become must-visits (or must-streams) for anyone interested in the relationship between art and web3; for Dubai we’re promised a survey of tech trends, presentations from artists who incorporate tech in their practices, and explorations of current and future challenges and opportunities.

Highlighting the role played by collectors and philanthropists in the development of the region’s cultural infrastructure, Art Dubai’s also has a series of high-level Collector and Modern Talks, presented in partnership with Dubai Collection, the first (only?) institutional art collection in and for the city.

Sessions in the Collector Talks will focus on emerging trends in both traditional and digital collecting across the region, and what it means to be an arts patron in a place that is developing and implementing new institutional models (something of a theme at the 2023 Art Dubai). The Modern Talks concentrate on 20th Century art from the Middle East and North Africa, looking at trends in collecting across the region and the decolonisation of the region’s art history.

Being digital

There’s an expanded second edition of Art Dubai Digital, curated this year by Singapore-based educator and arts writer Clara Che Wei Peh. As well as some bricks-and-mortar galleries, Art Dubai Digital will feature collaborations with “a range of organisations that are pioneering new institutional models”.

They include Lian Foundation, the not-for-profit arm of a tech investment business established by private collector and blockchain entrepreneur Fiorenzo Manganiello; and 6529’s Open Metaverse project, promoting the ERC-721 token interface as an essential step in decentralised trading in the metaverse (which is “the internet with better visualisation and persistent digital objects … It will replace all current screen time, it will be primarily augmented reality, it will be your ambient digital reality smart contract must implement to allow unique tokens to be managed, owned, and traded”). 6529 is an NFT investment fund manager whose Museum of Art has one of the largest and most valuable NFT collections in the world.

Another key element of Art Dubai Digital is UAE First Immersion, a selection of new artworks presented in collaboration with MORROW Collective. The works are by some of the leading names in crypto art, produced after they visited the UAE for the first time in November 2022 – among them Coldie, Colborn Bell, Monaris, Bryan Brinkman, and Kirk Finkel. These works will be made available first to collectors at Art Dubai 2023.

Now read on

Art Dubai runs 3 to 5 March 2023 (preview days on 1 and 2 March) at Manarat Jumierah. More information here.


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