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   Global Art Daily Publication™ 
United Arab Emirates












“The local public became more engaged with the artworks than in previous years” - That was a conclusion of Leila Heller, owner of Leila Heller Gallery. According to her team, questions directed to the gallerists shifted from being “Are you the artist of all these works?” to more inquiries about the works themselves. Many conceptual museum-quality works were present throughout the booths . David Zwirner’s booth looked like the ultimate white cube gallery with a minimalistic selection of Donald Judd’s pile of black stacks and Dan Flavin’s neon tubes. Mona Hatoum’s Reflections (2013) photographic installation at was a nice touch of museum quality Arab conceptual art by an Italian/Chinese gallery. Following the contemporary conceptual, the ultimate commercial was present too. Acquavella’s Picasso and Rauschenberg paintings gave a certain upscale feel of buying and selling art. It made it a ‘legitimate’ art fair – yes, modern masters have this quality to legitimize any space they stand in.

Some Dubai-based gallerists view calligraphy and geometry-based commercial Arab art as a narrow-minded view on the works of Arab Contemporary Art. A lot of Alserkal Avenue-based galleries aim to sell pieces from MENA and international artists that can stand legitimately in the International Contemporary Art scene, such as Driss Ouadahi or Hamra Abbas. One of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s prime mission is indeed promote Contemporary Arab Art; and in order to gain art historical significance, contemporary Arab artists will have to produce something else than home décor.

Another market trend worth noting is a regional focus on Asia. Galleries of Korea and Japan were first-time comers to the fair. They enjoyed it and will probably come back in the following years. Their commercial success was evident as I was passing through their booth everyday to a new layout. Kukje/Tina Kim Gallery, with their Lee Ufans (Figure 1), had one of the fastest rotating booth. When asked about Korea and the UAE, its Director pointed out underlying historical pearl trade relationship even before the oil boom, mentioning the Gulf as crossroads for Asian cultures.

Perhaps a seed against the West-centric art market has been planted at this year’s Abu Dhabi Art. East-East dialogues have been developed, and will continue to grow as Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong becomes an established stops in the art world. Nothing can be generalized, but the commercial success of Chinese and Korean galleries in an art fair hosted in Abu Dhabi should not go unnoticed.

Sophie Arni, November 2014, Abu Dhabi.
All images are taken by Sophie Arni at the art fair. Copyright Global Art Daily, 2016.