Abu Dhabi Art is back in the capital – or rather just outside it, in the city’s cultural centre of Saadiyat – and while some of the signals are a bit mixed the overall tone is very positive. The main fair days are 14-17 November, with some of the associated events scheduled for well into next year.
Abu Dhabi Art a fairly traditional art fair, three days of gallery exhibitions supported by a strong programme of side events and lots of non-commercial activity to go along with the artwork sales. The organisers say they are expecting 20,000+ visitors, and they should get them; Abu Dhabi Art is always very well supported.
Whether they have brought their chequebooks is another matter. In past years there’s been a suspicion that Abu Dhabi Art usually had only a few serious buyers, mainly from the Royal family. That seems to be changing, however, and not before time. Dyala Nusseibeh, Director of Abu Dhabi Art offered a bullish overview of the event over the last ten years: “We have seen private collector sales increase significantly thanks to the long-term commitment of our returning galleries and look forward to welcoming new participants and connecting them with these dynamic changes too.”
This year the fair has 43 galleries in total. That’s down on 2017 (we counted 47 last year), which might be a reflection of the fair fatigue that galleries are starting to report – too many fairs to choose from, too expensive to set up shop for a whole three days. And by comparison with Art Dubai, the selection of galleries is short on big names from London, New York and Paris.
But that might not be a bad thing at all; the smaller sales houses and especially the regional galleries often have the best and/or most interesting artists (and are more likely to have the artists with the best or most interesting prices).
Abu Dhabi Art also does well as a contributor to the city’s cultural ambition. The fair has a strong public engagement programme, including art installations and exhibitions, talks and events, that means it can genuinely feel like a community-aware event, one for all of Abu Dhabi; it helps that the city is more compact than say Dubai, and it doesn’t have the distraction of so many sort-of-competing alternative centres like Alserkal Avenue or Dubai Design District or (now) the Jameel Arts Centre.
The flipside, of course, is that Dubai has a more extensive, more widespread and more diverse cultural life. Abu Dhabi’s art world is currently concentrated on Saadiyat, with an outpost in the Mina at Warehouse421 (but that’s about as close to Saadiya as Abu Dhabi Island gets anyhow).
Dyala Nusseibeh certainly emphasises Abu Dhabi Art’s role in the broader cultural environment of the capital: “The fair has expanded from an annual exhibit to a permanent platform that offers year-long programming including solo gallery shows throughout the year and public art commissions. This is testament to the vibrant growth of the thriving creative community in the UAE that Abu Dhabi Art serves and to the global forum that the fair has fast become.”
In addition to the gallery programme, Abu Dhabi Art 2018 will present a series of talks on the circulation of art and the global and local perspectives on new art market economies, curated by Nada Shabout and Salwa Mikdadi. The talks programme is usually good and often booked out.
Offering visitors and collectors the opportunity to engage with contemporary performance art through the sixth edition of Durub Al-Tawaya, Abu Dhabi Art’s performing arts programme is curated once again by Tarek Abou El-Fetouh.
Gateway, the visual art exhibition that invites a unique perspective from a guest curator each year, will be curated in 2018 by Hammad Nasar. Entitled ‘Structures of Meaning | Architectures of Perception’, the exhibition considers artworks as structures through which meaning accumulates. The Beyond section provides a platform for large-scale public installations .which will remain in place through January. Emirati artist Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim will be presenting Beyond: Emerging Artists, commissions from three emerging artists in the UAE; Abu Dhabi Art has also commissioned three more artists to create site-specific works in Al Ain.
The gallery participation is organised into Modern & Contemporary (for established galleries that have been open for more than seven years): a Special Projects section, for solo or two-artist shows presented by participating galleries alongside their main booth or as an individual category: and a dedicated Focus: Icons section curated by Dr Omar Kholeif, which provides space for selected galleries to highlight one or two key artists regarded as actual or potential ‘icons’ of art.
Modern & Contemporary:
Agial Art Gallery
CEYSSON & BÉNÉTIÈRE
Cuadro Fine Art Gallery
Galerie Brigitte Schenk
Galerie Janine Rubeiz
Gazelli Art House
Hanart TZ Gallery
Le Violon Bleu
Leila Heller Gallery
Salwa Zeidan Gallery
The Park Gallery
Otto Piene and Heinz Mack at Plutschow Gallery
Anila Quayyum Agha at Aicon Gallery
Ibrahim El Dessouki and Mohamed Mandour at Hafez Gallery
Farid Belkahia and Abderrazek Sahli at Le Violon Bleu
Zhivago Duncan at Meem Gallery
Thomas Ruff and Jenny Holzer by Sprüth Magers Gallery (London, Berlin, Los Angeles)
James Turrell by Kayne Griffin Corcoran (Los Angeles)
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and Rana Begum by The Third Line Gallery (Dubai)
Huguette Caland by Galerie Janine Rubeiz (Lebanon)
Mona Saudi by Lawrie Shabibi (Dubai)
Michael Rakowitz by Pi Artworks (Istanbul, London)
Ahmed Morsi by Gypsum Gallery (Cairo)
Mohammed Kazem by Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde (Dubai)
The AED 55 ticket is good for all four days of the fair. There’s also a special Opening Reception on 14 November from 6pm onwards with DJs, special performances and canapés to celebrate ten years of Abu Dhabi Art; tickets are AED 100, or for AED 150 you can have the Opening Reception plus the three public days.