Major buyers at the sensational fair include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Zayed National Museum.

The seventh edition of Abu Dhabi Art featured 43 international galleries and a dazzling multidisciplinary programme. Art Radar brings you highlights.

Nacera Belaza, 'Le Cri'. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Image courtesy the artist, Agathe Poupeney and Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

Nacera Belaza, ‘Le Cri’. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Image courtesy the artist, Agathe Poupeney and Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

Star-studded affair

As in previous years, Abu Dhabi Art 2015, which took place 18 to 21 November, was a regal affair. According to The National, the star-studded attendance list included Emirati royals, the United Kingdom’s Princess Eugenie, and Manchester City football club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, amongst others.

Guests and VIPs enjoyed a dynamic programme. Apart from quality art from 43 international galleries, fair highlights included the “Beyond” Public Art programme, a continuation from previous years’ successful editions; the “Durub al Tawaya” performing arts programme, curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh; and the “Bliss” programme of live and interactive performances, curated by Fabrice Bousteau.

From left to right: Neil Macgregor, Richard Armstrong, Anna Somers Cocks, Manuel Rabate, Peter Sloterdijk. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

From left to right: Neil Macgregor, Richard Armstrong, Anna Somers Cocks, Manuel Rabate, Peter Sloterdijk. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

The starry element extended to the fair’s guest speakers and panellists. As reported in Art Agenda, Abu Dhabi Art’s talks programme included a “talk by Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong, outgoing British Museum director Neil MacGregor, and Agence France-Muséums chair Manuel Rabaté”. The article goes on to say that a number of panel discussions revolved around the upcoming new museums, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and the Zayed National Museum that is being designed by Lord Norman Foster.

Big institutional buyers

With such a turnout by global art world giants, “many of the galleries brought with them historically important work clearly intended for museums,” according to The National. As observed by Art Agenda, the Guggenheim in particular has been collecting “assiduously”:

At the art fair [the Guggenheim] announced new acquisitions ranging from a 1973 Warhol ‘Mao’ to a 1989 Alighiero e Boetti ‘Mappa’, and from Rasheed Araeen’s ‘Chakras’ (1969–70/87) to Akram Zaatari’s ‘Studio Scheherazade’ (2006) and Kader Attia’s ‘Act 2: Politics. The Repair’s Cosmogony (Die Weltentstehungslehre der Reparatur)’ from 2013.

Ai Weiwei, 'Forever', 2013. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

Ai Weiwei, ‘Forever’, 2013. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

The National adds:

David Zwirner […] brought two Dan Flavin light pieces from 1972 that attracted institutional interest. William Lawrie, founder of Dubai’s Lawrie Shabibi gallery, noted that they sold the wonderfully insubordinate sculpture The Seed, by Jordanian artist Mona Saudi, to the Sharjah Art Foundation […]

Budding local scene

While Art Agenda admits that Abu Dhabi Art still “pales in comparison to the larger and better attended Art Dubai”, the smaller fair still proved so popular that authorities had to redirect highway traffic. This is proof of the growing strength of the local art scene: in addition to international blue-chip galleries including David Zwirner, Lisson Gallery and Hauser & Wirth, the fair featured lesser-known local galleries and emerging Emirati artists. Rita Aoun, Abu Dhabi Art’s Executive Director for Culture, told Gulf News:

Every year we try and evolve, especially in terms of programs, and really to understand better the organic scene and to be able to really build something that is rooted within the social fabric of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. I feel that this year Abu Dhabi Art is really starting to become this platform where we have a right balance between the grass roots, the organic creative scene and what we receive from all around the world.

Pascale Marthine Tayou, 'Tree of Life', 2015. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

Pascale Marthine Tayou, ‘Tree of Life’, 2015. Image courtesy Abu Dhabi Art 2015.

Art Agenda reports on Abu Dhabi’s budding art atmosphere:

“Emirati Expressions,” a biennial exhibition that runs alongside Abu Dhabi Art, focuses this year on the social clubs of the UAE as proto-community-led art institutions. There is also the sense of a local scene forming as more artists return after studying to live and work in the UAE, rather than staying abroad.

Challenges remain, however, in infrastructure and funding difficulties. The article continues:

While a lot of the investment in art in the UAE has been top-down – the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi are as geared towards tourists as local artistic communities – small to medium-scale organizations have been harder to nurture. As elsewhere, they are systemically difficult to fund, requiring investment in young or little-tested artists who, if they make it big, will do so elsewhere, with those organizations reaping the rewards financially or in terms of profile.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Emirati artists, acquisitionsfairsmuseumslectures and talksevents in Abu Dhabi

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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