David Velasco’s Artforum Diary on the knot of art fairs in the Emirates in March is the single best take on the event viewed from the ground:
“Dubai is Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi is Beverly Hills, and Sharjah is… Santa Monica,” espoused writer Bob Colacello. [ . . . ] “The media is all too eager to document ‘the end of Dubai,’” Rem Koolhaas said to the audience. “It’s as if we need the reassurance of Dubai’s demise to restore our own confidence.”
It was late Monday afternoon in the emirate of Sharjah, and about a hundred of us were sitting in a darkened room at Dar Al Nadwa trying to catch the tail end of the first day of the March Meetings. Koolhaas had followed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi overseer Thomas Krens, capping off a tag-team of Gulf cultural attachés/apologists who were no less convincing for being on the local payroll. As Koolhaas continued, a curator leaned over. “All he does is critique the critics. Look, he’s bashing Mike Davis again.”
It was the day before the preview of the third Art Dubai fair and two days before the official opening of the ninth Sharjah Biennial—though “official” timelines shifted depending on the person; each tier of participants seemed to have its own itinerary, institutionalizing a certain status anxiety.
The Art Newspaper ties a bow around the recently completed Art Dubai. The third edition of the fair was held during a tough time for the world economy and the region as credit collapse combined with weak oil prices to put the region in difficult spot. With that in mind, there was still plenty of to-ing and fro-ing among the various stakeholders in the Gulf States’ art complex.
In total 80 museum groups attended, with a contingent of 18 patrons and curators from Tate alone. They were fully occupied rushing between a packed programme of talks, forums and performances organised as part of a Global Art Forum. One stop was at the newly opened Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and the group also visited nearby Sharjah, which had moved its biennial dates to coincide with the fair.
This year, dealers focused far more strongly than in the two past editions on regional artists. The fair has matured to become the leading commercial event in the Menasa (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia) area. Even the western galleries ensured that they had something locally relevant on offer. Newcomer Edwynn Houk sold works by the Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi depicting veiled women, while Goff + Rosenthal was showing large-scale, semi-abstract works by the Iraqi-born painter Ahmed Alsoudani, a Saatchi favourite.
Other dealers definitely had an eye on future buying by the slew of new museums being planned for the Gulf: L & M was showing an exceptional group of Sam Francis works on paper priced at $12m, which the gallery hoped would find an institutional home. Lisson was showing a faceted Anish Kapoor sculpture priced at £875,000 and reported strong interest.
The Gulf Between (ArtForum.com)
Quality Up But Sales Patchy at Art Dubai’s Third Edition (The Art Newspaper)