Art Dubai 2022: Bringing People to Art 

Art Dubai, set to take place from March 11-13, 2022, aims to be the largest edition of the fair since its inception 15 years ago, with over 100 galleries from more than 40 countries, including more than 30 first-time participants. It will also launch Art Dubai Digital, a new section of the fair that will feature presentations by galleries and platforms from all over the world, that specialise in digital art and NFTs. 

Athr Gallery Courtesy Art Dubai

The Middle East seems to be exploding with cultural as well as architectural inputs, check the Dubai Expo 2020 or the AlUla Desert Art, both ongoing events that celebrates designs from around the world while giving the country and its culture the added impetus. 

The next event in the agenda is Art Dubai, an yearly art gathering in the month of March that brings together art enthusiasts and collectors to Dubai. Art Dubai has always been an entry into the Middle Eastern market. This event is especially for those focussed on the US- and Euro-centric art market to give a glimpse of what the Middle Eastern scene and that of the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as well as South Asia has to offer and throws open doors to a narrative and a vibrant art scene that was previously lost in translations and war-ravaged discourses.

The last two years has been particularly difficult for the art scene with the pandemic curtailing any travel plans  and thus impending art exhibitions and that’s why this year is significant according to Pablo del Val, Art Dubai Artistic Director, who says, “We truly believe in the importance of the arts and culture as a means to connect people, and in Art Dubai as a physical platform to bring people together to see, and buy, art. Collectors are eager to attend, institutions come and see work in person again, artists are keen to showcase what they’ve been incubating over the past two years.”

“Art Dubai is likely to be one of very few art events taking place in spring 2022. As we begin to navigate our way out of the pandemic, it is important to do everything we can to support those who depend on a vibrant and dynamic global art sector,” says Pablo del Val, Art Dubai Artistic Director. Pic Credit: Amirah Tajdin

An event that was initiated 15 years ago to propagate and build a then-fledgling-almost-non-existent-art scene, Art Dubai has grown to be an event that gallery owners and curators alike look forward to gauge the art scene from the MENA region while artists from these countries depend on this medium to showcase their work to the world. 

“This year’s event will be the largest edition of the fair to date and will offer over 100 galleries from more than 40 countries, including more than 30 first-time participants. Visitors can expect an in-person, full-scale edition of Art Dubai, a rich art-filled environment that so many people have enjoyed over the last 15 years,” promises del Val. 

Galeria Albarran Bourdais Courtesy Art Dubai

What set Art Dubai aside during the pandemic times was its intent to fan the excitement even amidst the pandemic, taking steps that were revolutionary yet strong in its purpose.

In order to persuade galleries to take a chance and exhibit, Art Dubai last year did not charge exhibitors up front. Instead, the organisers were said to have taken 50% of sales made, up to the value of the stand. “We need to support participants and remove the stress of having to pay in advance, because as a gallery you never know what sales you’re going to make [at a fair],” del Val had said to the Art Newspaper

Athr Gallery, Courtesy Art Dubai

SCALE talks to the Art Director to know more about the festival this year.

SCALE: How challenging is it to direct an Art exhibition in the Covid times? How have you made participating in the fair easier for the galleries given the uncertainty of the market?

Del Val: The pandemic has had a profound impact on the arts and culture sector globally, with many artists significantly impacted. There has been a substantial, and welcomed, expansion into the digital realm, partly due to the associated reduction in international travel caused by travel disruption and the closure of national borders. Looking to support these artists, we will be presenting a new section this year, Art Dubai Digital, which is one of four main gallery sections. 

Art Dubai is likely to be one of very few art events taking place in spring 2022. As we begin to navigate our way out of the pandemic, it is important to do everything we can to support those who depend on a vibrant and dynamic global art sector. 

Galleria Continua Courtesy Art Dubai

SCALE: How has the art market been affected by the pandemic? Del Val: The art industry, as maybe all industries, has shifted in a few ways – the search for meaning and purpose is increasingly important, as is an increased desire and commitment for collaboration and partnerships. 

Something that we have been humbled by as an institution is the fact that we’re increasingly seeing people wanting to work together to overcome whatever the challenges may be. We’re also feeling a clear sense of excitement for the return of an in-person, full-scale Art Dubai – that’s very much the feedback that we’re getting from our community. 

TEMPLON Gallery Courtesy Art Dubai

SCALE: What were the challenges for Art Dubai last year and how did you overcome those?

Del Val: We are in this unique and important moment in time where so much is changing. One of the things that I feel very strongly about is the need for greater meaning for things that feel purposeful, that feel sustainable, and that feel like they make sense in the 21st century. We are not just an art fair – we are of a sustainable size, we are innovative, we think outside the box. That’s why we went ahead with Art Dubai last year (April 2021) – we had to significantly restructure and rethink the fair model, but it was important to our communities that we went ahead and to do so in a safe environment. Thanks to the efforts by the Dubai government, we were able to move ahead with a smaller edition of the fair at DIFC. We’re very fortunate to be where we are. Going forward, we’ll be more agile and more sustainable. 

SCALE: What will be the highlight of the Fair this year?

Del Val: We are pleased to present the most extensive edition of Art Dubai to date. Visitors can expect lots of new works, young, cutting-edge galleries from all over the world, as well as a strong representation of female painters at the fair this year. More than half of the galleries participating are from the Global South. In addition, we also have a particularly strong representation of South Asian and African galleries. 

LoVid, ‘Hugs on Tape’, 2021, Medium_ Tapestry, digital animation NFT, Courtesy of_ Postmasters Gallery. Courtesy Art Dubai

Mazyar Kamkar, ‘CarpETHereum’, 2021, NFT Animation, Courtesy of Emergeast. Courtesy Art Dubai

We are also pleased to launch the first edition of Art Dubai Digital, a new section of the fair that will feature presentations by galleries and platforms from all over the world, that specialise in digital art and NFTs. Dubai is becoming one of the world’s leading crypto-hubs and Art Dubai’s new digital section is a core element of the fair’s long-term strategy.

Our year-round education programme Campus Art Dubai, known as the 9.0 Blockchain Edition this year, will take on a digital focus as we mentor 13 UAE and international digital artists over an eight-week process, and these new artworks will be on display at the fair. 

Fernando García-Dory and his collective INLAND is commissioned to produce an installation for Art Dubai 2022.

We’re also excited about Fernando García-Dory and his collective INLAND, who is making a major new commissioned artwork for the fair. He’s a high profile, globally recognised artist, who is looking specifically at Dubai, its history, its present and its future.

Work of Cyrus Kaibru who is known for this work on recycled materials.

Finally, we’re also excited to be working with A.R.M. Holding on a major expansion of their Children’s programme that will be taking place in schools around the UAE. This year, their activity will reach over 80 schools and more than 5,000 students, in a programme led by artist Cyrus Kabiru who is known for his works made of recycled materials to bring attention to important social and environmental issues. 

SCALE: Which are the galleries that are coming to Dubai for the first time and given your experience which are the ones you are looking forward to?

Del Val: There will be more than 30 first-time participants at this year’s event, including a curated selection of 17 top international galleries and platforms as part of a new main gallery section: Art Dubai Digital. This will include presentations by some of the most exciting and innovative artists working in the digital space today. This includes Refik Anadol (Pilevneli) and Uta Bekaia and Denis Davydov (Window Project) as well as multi-artist presentations by Institut, Bright Moments, Fingerprints DAO, Postmasters, Emergeast and Cyber Baat.  

SCALE: What installations and artwork are being made for the Fair this year? 

Del Val: Art Dubai’s commission for 2022 is INLAND, represented by Fernando Garcia-Dory, who will present a new multi-site installation at the fair and in a variety of locations across Dubai. Sand Flow will manifest in a range of places and moments, combining visions of Dubai’s past, present and future and examining the ways in which the multiplicity of cultures and communities inhabit the city and their contributions to it. The artwork will incorporate archaeology, hydrology, urbanism and transport as well as the Middle East’s rich oral storytelling traditions, heritage and crafts.

Julius Baer commission – Cloud Seed by James Clar:

SCALE: The fair will also be having NFT technology in place and can you explain how the blockchain technology is here to stay in the artworld and why it might open an entirely new market for the art scene?Del Val: The digital art space – and the art / NFT space in particular – has seen huge growth over the last couple of years. We have always been a fair with innovation at our center and we felt this would be the right moment to take a 360-degree look at the major global players in this space. The Dubai-specific context is also important – the city is rapidly becoming one of the world’s crypto-capitals and home to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and collectors – we also saw a need to create a bridge between the global crypto sphere and the international art market.

It’s still early days for NFTs in the broader art landscape. Although NFT technology has been around since 2017, we only really saw a big adoption of NFTs in the art market in 2020. Even then, it was still very fringe, with only a small subset of digital collectors from the crypto space purchasing NFTs. The media hype snowballed adoption into a broader audience of predominately Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z collectors, as well as a few historical new media collectors. I think this signals a shift in demographic spending power and habits. In some ways, it’s also shifted value perceptions and frameworks for digital art and digital objects. There is a value framework around these digital objects but it’s still in exploratory mode, the price fluctuations have been wild and will be subject to change.

SCALE: How has the local art scene developed during the pandemic and how will Art Dubai help fan the interest in the art of the region? 

Del Val: The art scene in Dubai has expanded hugely in the last 15 years, since Art Dubai was founded. There is now a thriving gallery scene, a large number of collectors now call Dubai home, and a growing number of institutions including Jameel Arts Centre and the forthcoming Museum of the Future. Expo 2020 Dubai has, of course, been a huge draw over the last six months, bringing a huge number of people to the city.

Dubai has been able to impressively bring forward a commercial proposition and establish a strong commercial scene. At the same time, it also supports a growing number of institutions that are being born and flourishing in other cities. 

There is a great drive for new cultural initiatives of different kinds in Dubai. Dubai Collection, which we run in partnership with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, is another one of them. I feel that what is so interesting here is that not only is Dubai a solid commercial hub, it’s also a city rooted in possibility. We have an ecosystem here, and an art fair like Art Dubai does so much more than being an art fair through our year-round collector and education programmes.

New, innovative initiatives like the Dubai Collection, also point to the fact that the scene is only going to keep growing and developing from here on.

For over 15 years now, Art Dubai has played a fundamental role in the development of the region’s creative landscape. Each spring, we welcome creative communities (including artists, galleries, curators and institutions) from all over the world to Dubai, and we continue to be the leading platform for presenting and collecting art from, and by artists from, the region. 

All Images Courtesy: Art Dubai