Now in its ninth year, Abu Dhabi Art boasts an extensive yet intimate portrayal of UAE galleries and artists, with a keen focus on public programming.

With a new creative director and numerous new international galleries, Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights from the 2017 fair. 

Abu Dhabi Art, 8 November 2017. Image Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

Abu Dhabi Art, 8 November 2017. Image Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

From 8 to 11 November 2017, Abu Dhabi Art was held at Manarat Al Saadiyat, off mainland Abu Dhabi. With a brand new creative director at the helm, the art fair welcomed around 20,000 visitors, and consisted of a lively programme of performances, installations, talks and collaborative community initiatives, as well as the fair’s main gallery presentations.

Key to Abu Dhabi Art is its emphasis on diverse public engagement; something that it believes sets it apart from traditional art fairs, and this year this strand was felt more keenly than ever. With the contemporary art world turning its attention to Abu Dhabi due to the recent opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, it seems understandable that the government-run art fair wished to inject some innovation into this year’s creative proceedings.

With 48 participating galleries from 18 different countries, the fair strives to include both established and emerging artists in the line-up, from Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East.

Commenting on 2017’s line-up, Dyala Nusseibeh, Director, Abu Dhabi Art said:

This year’s edition aims to uphold and drive Abu Dhabi Art’s reputation as a regional cultural powerhouse presenting world-class galleries, internationally renowned artists and emerging talent to the public. We are delighted to welcome both new galleries to the fair and returning exhibitors. As Abu Dhabi Art grows and expands, it will continue to provide a platform from which cultural and artistic dialogue can be initiated, paving the way for the evolving art scene in the Emirate and the UAE.

Dyala Nusseibeh, the fair’s new director, has reinforced the public programming strand of the four-day event, with two curated exhibitions, new artist commissions, a new curated section and a stand focusing on art and technology. Speaking to The National, she explained how the art fair was unique as it is not a commercial, privately-funded enterprise:

Unlike a lot of other art fairs globally, we’re a government organisation. The government funds us, so our mandate is much wider. It’s about being a cultural activator and giving young artists opportunities. It’s not just about making money by putting on an art fair once a year.

The emphasis, then, of accessible and expansive art, was clear; with art even being shown in the art fair’s toilets.

Abu Dhabi Art, 8 November 2017. Image Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

Abu Dhabi Art, 8 November 2017. Image Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

Speaking to Gulf News, Fabrice Bousteau, explained how he planned to “bring art into the lives of the public” through this years offering, saying that “My concept, ‘Street art in motion’, aims to turn the otherwise daily routine of passers-by into a moment of art.” Street Art in Motion and Street Art intends to extend the creativity on show around the city, working with street artists around Abu Dhabi’s usually overlooked, urban areas.

Also new this year, was the newly curated section by Dr. Omar Kholeif entitled Focus: Beyond Territory, which introduces a group of inter-generational artists and major projects, from both emerging and leading artists, to a Middle Eastern audience for the first time. The exhibition takes the broad theme of landscape, allowing artists to explore formal, social and political landscapes.

As of past years, the fair also includes the Durub Al Tawaya performance strand, which sees site-specific performances throughout Abu Dhabi Art and in different locations throughout the city.

The growing impact of the Middle Eastern Art Scene
As Zsuzska Petró, artistic director of Etihad Modern Art Gallery, explains it is vital for young Middle Eastern galleries to be part of the local art scene, and be part of what is viewed as one of the Middle East’s most important fairs, and to promote Emirati artists. The atmosphere in Abu Dhabi is one of excitement, what with the arrival of new museums – such as the Louvre – which according to Petró ‘can be detected in the expansion of the collectors’ circle’ of the fair. Fair Director Dyala Nussibeh commented, key to this year’s fair was the placement of the local and regional artist community at the heart of the fair through installations, talks and workshops.
Abu Dhabi Art, 8 November 2017. Image Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

Abu Dhabi Art, 8 November 2017. Image Courtesy Abu Dhabi Art.

A hub for Middle Eastern Collectors
Sales for mid-tier galleries reflected a growing art collector base in the UAE which the fair is keen to expand, as the fair promotes itself as a creative platform through which attendees can engage with art, and develop their knowledge of contemporary art practices. The fair was attended by leading UAE collectors, including HE Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, HE Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at HH Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan Humanitarian & Scientific Foundation and HE Sheikha Hoor Bint Sultan Al-Qassemi, Chairperson of Sharjah Art Foundation. Prominent international collectors who attended the fair included Gul Kohli, Andrew Wynn and Nada Bayoud, Dounia Nadar, Christopher Rogers, Faaiza Lalji and Ameel Somani, Dina Zameli, Demet Sabanci Centidogan and Cengiz Centidogan, Kazufumi Mimaki, Philippe Dutieulle, Dylan Brant, William Zhao, Grace Chao, Chrissy Cheung and Tian Rong.
A Cultural Crossroads

Many galleries commented on the importance of sharing the work of Emirati artists with the wider world, whilst providing a platform for other artists. As Fabrice Bousteau comments, the use of moving works of art around the city ‘affirm the will of the emirate to be a veritable crossroads of cultures and seek to gift poetry into the otherwise humdrum pace of a day’. Similarly, Brigitte Schenk from Galerie Brigitte Schenk spoke to Art Radar about the cultural exchange that they witnessed at this year’s fair:

We have represented artists from the “Menasa region” since 2002 and are working intensively on a cultural exchange. We exhibit contemporary Arabic art in our gallery in Germany and show “western” art in UAE. Last year, for example, we organized the exhibition Angela Bulloch and Maria Zerres at the Sharjah Art Museum or the Arnulf Rainer exhibition at the Sharjah Art Foundation and the Kabakov exhibition 2015 at the Sharjah Art Foundation.

Anna Jamieson


Related topics: art fairsround-upsmarket watchEmirati artistsacquisitionsmuseumsevents 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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