Issue 3, Art Dubai

Art Fair. Art Dubai.
In Conversation: Antonia Carver.

12 March 2016
Ahmed Oran, "UNTITLED", 2014, courtesy of Rampa Istanbul Ahmed Oran, “UNTITLED”, 2014, courtesy of Rampa Istanbul

Art Dubai is a fair, but above all it is increasingly becoming the International reference point for Modern and Contemporary art in the Middle East. Art Dubai, since 2011, under the direction of Antonia Carver, has changed. A lot. Over successive editions, the fair has evolved a new look that reflects its character as a Middle Eastern art fair but with an International vocation. The recent proposal of a dedicated modern section has prompted reflection on a segment that is not well-known to the public: Middle Eastern, African, Pakistani and Asian Modern Art. The director of a famous international art fair defined art fairs as “a transformative cultural experience- in a good way”. This description fits perfectly Art Dubai. We met its director, Antonia Carver.

This year, Art Dubai celebrates its tenth edition.  In some way, it is time to take stock.

Absolutely. These birthdays are useful as moments of pause, and to think how far we’ve come – in terms of the local arts scene and its galleries, the ways in which today’s UAE government now foregrounds the arts, and for us, as a fair, and one with ambitions to develop a new model of a fair – one that is resolutely global (the galleries come from 40 countries) and one that provides a unique level of context and debate around the works on view (through the Global Art Forum, our commissioned projects, our community art school, and so on).

I think what’s unique about Dubai in the wider Middle Eastern region is the way in which the scene here is so homegrown, with many individual gallerists and patrons driving development forward, and with a certain communal spirit.

Huguette Caland, "Untitled" 1999, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

Huguette Caland, “Untitled”, 1999, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

Sure, Art Dubai has certainly contributed to the development of a broader collecting culture here and around the region…. In terms of art market we can say that Dubai is more mature than other places, even if it’s still new….

Yes, I think so. Many of today’s key collectors “grew up” with Art Dubai – we were the first fair they attended, and we’ve made real efforts to build this new market together with the local galleries and the key patrons who are based all over the world but think of Art Dubai as their home fair. The market is particularly interesting because of its breadth – we have collectors coming in from across Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, as well as the international “usual suspects” of major collectors and curators. Also because of its potential – and this is something that international galleries are acutely aware of, given the economic situation globally and the saturated nature of the established art capitals in Europe and America.

In terms of the market performance of the artists presented over the years at Art Dubai, can you mention some artists who are now well established on the international art market?

There are some obvious examples – the Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, who has been known for many years locally, but has become a superstar over the years the fair has been running. The Qatari-American artist and writer Sophia Al Maria, who participated in the Global Art Forum, and as a commissioned projects artist, then signed with the Third Line, and now has a solo show at the Whitney. Wael Shawky, represented by Sfeir Semler, who has spoken at the fair, won the Abraaj Group Art Prize, and is now in the collection of many major museums and is shown in major biennials. Or Basim Magdy, who was a projects artist, then an Abraaj Group Art Prize winner, then Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, included in a New Museum show, and many more. This role of contributing to artists’ careers is something we’re intensely interested in and proud of.

Jamil Molaeb, Digital city, 1987, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

Jamil Molaeb, Digital city, 1987, courtesy of Galerie Janine Rubeiz

How has Art Dubai’s relationship with the international museums and the future museums in the UAE evolved over the years?

From the beginning, the fair put particular emphasis on working with museums and bringing museum curators and patron groups to the fair. In the past decade, we’ve seen major European and American museums transform in terms of their engagement with the Middle East and South Asia, and now Africa.  Increasingly, there’s a recognition that the story of modern art was always global, and that institutions who only tell the story through Western artists are only telling half the story. Art Dubai has been described by museum directors as a “university” and as the one stop for the real world of the art world”. In recent years, there has been particular success in terms of acquisitions from Art Dubai Modern, perhaps for this reason. We have a close relationship with the Sharjah Art Foundation, and Qatar Museums, as well as the new museums coming up on Saadiyat Island.

The fair has three art sections, Modern, Contemporary and Marker, the curated section with a new focus every year. But, with respect to the attitude and attendance of your growing audience and the presence of more and more international galleries at the fair, what direction does the fair have to take in the years to come?

Marker has acted as a point of discovery for our audiences – and this year we focus on a new generation of artist-run spaces from the Philippines, which is exciting, also as a nurturing tool, to put galleries, artspaces or countries on the map, and hopefully boost them enough that in future years they can return as a regular gallery to the fair. For example, this year the Nubuke Foundation from Accra is taking part in the fair, having participated in Marker: West Africa in 2013. You’re asking an interesting question, and it’s one we repeatedly ask ourselves. But for now, we still stand out as a fair in terms of our international identity – there are no other major fairs with our global breadth.