The Galleries at Art Dubai

On entering Day 3 of Art Dubai I decided that it was about time I roll up my sleeves and get down to business. Said business came in the form of the very quintessence of any art fair – the showcasing galleries and the much talked of Global Art Forum.

The Global Art Forum _5, the region’s leading platform for cultural debate, was presented by Dubai Culture in partnership with Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).

The conversations scheduled to take place under the GAF wing had been assigned to specially constructed tents for the occasion. These canvas structures, located at the Fort Island of Madinat Jumeirah, cleverly ensured that the goings on of the gallery visits would not get in the way of the Forum (and vice versa). But don’t let these temporary canvas housings deceive you, for their insides were decked on par with any other forum hall. A low stage targeted by massive spotlights, and furnished with a few white couches, was encircled by an organized scattering of seats for audience members – a more intimate atmosphere I felt, than most panel discussions. Not so much a forum, than a conversation.

The forum was inaugurated on Monday the 14th of March at the Atrium of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha with the theme Changing Audiences. Presentations, discussions and shop-talk revolved around this central theme with the focus of attention directed towards the art appreciative audience.

The conversation was then flown across to the Emirates, where on the inaugural day of Art Dubai the discourse resumed. Topics of the Dubai edition of the forum all revolved around the two themes titled Fascination: When Art Met Fashion, and Disappointment Management: Artists & Audiences. Broad enough themes indeed, for more than 15 forums and presentations had the scheduled expert panelists and connoisseurs of the trade kept busy, and the audience members duly engrossed until the forum’s close on Saturday, the 19th of March.

A new feature to this year’s edition however, was a schedule of practical workshops running in parallel to the Forum, directed towards regionally-based artists, curators and arts practitioners. Pros of the field offered their expertise in the form of advice and hands-on training in various areas of the subject.

The Galleries at Art Dubai

After being served my fill of culture debates, I decided to make my way back to the main building of the fair to browse through the many representing galleries and their exhibits – the very meat of the festival. With more than 81 galleries from 34 countries, not only was this year’s smorgasbord larger than previous editions, but also the most geographically diverse. In fact ‘diverse’ would be an understatement if having to describe the potpourri of artworks on display. From miniature suspended structures, to wall paintings thrice the average arm span, there really seemed to be a little something for everyone.

Gallery owners and representing artists had their hands full with the throngs of inquiring admirers, and as I understand it, despite the hefty price tag that came with most exhibits, a good few art works were sold.

Representing the home front were local galleries Tashkeel, The Third Line and Traffic, offering a good mix of classical as well as contemporary artworks. Foreign stands that I found to be most striking were the Connoisseur Contemporary (Hong Kong), Johann Konig (Berlin), Marianne Boesky (New York), October Gallery (London) and Gallery LJ (Paris) galleries – each individually unique in their own right.

The Galleries at Art Dubai

In addition to the above mentioned galleries, two other stands stood out in their authenticity. The Van Cleef & Arpels Les Voyages Extraordinaires exhibition appeared at first to resemble any other ordinary jewelry showcase, but only on making my way through the maze of artfully designed pieces did I come across the many actual art sculptures and installments supplementing the sparkling creations, in a theme inspired by the four popular novels by French writer and explorer Jules Verne. The START gallery was another. A non-profit organization established (by Art Dubai and Al Madad Foundation) with the intention of providing art education to refugee and orphaned children in underprivileged areas of the Middle East. This stand-alone gallery showcased the works of volunteer artists (namely Sacha Jafri) as well as of their students.

When planning out that Friday afternoon at Art Dubai, I assumed that I’d be done with my rounds in an hour or two at most. What I failed to underestimate upon finally pulling myself out, a good 4 hours later, was the draw of the creative arts, even to the most amateur of observers.

–    Shaahima Fahim

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