Winter 2023

Art & Auctions
Splash of Colours

Art Dubai has received a spectacular response from the art community and will have more than 600 artists on display across 130 presentations during the five days of the show. The fair is about exploration, discovery and innovation. It can open all minds, says Benedetta Ghione, Executive Director, Art Dubai, in an exclusive interview with Sree Bhat

Art Dubai has come a long way since its first edition in 2007. Mirroring the economic rise of the region and the UAE’s commitment to supporting art and culture, Dubai has become a key creative and international cultural hub with a thriving art scene. The 2023 show, from March 1 to 5, will have a record number of participants from across the globe.

The quality of the applications this year has been super high, reflecting the growing interest in culture in and from the region – and also Dubai’s relevance as a global cultural centre, says Benedetta Ghione, Executive Director, Art Dubai, in an exclusive interview with Arabian Knight.

“We have always listened to our audience, and this year’s fair has been influenced by how we are adapting to a post-pandemic world. There is a real desire – and I think that’s not just in the art world – to bring people together, for live experiences and the exchange of ideas across cultures.

“This has inspired this year’s commissions, which are themed around food, community, connection, celebration and hope,” she adds.

Art Dubai’s annual talks programme, the Global Art Forum, will provide a powerful platform to bring together the brightest and best creative minds. Entitled ‘Predicting the Present’, it will consider the question: if it’s the end of history and the end of the future, what happens next?

Providing a louder voice to the global south, the event will bring together artists and inspirational and creative thinkers from across these regions that have been under-represented in the wider global art world, she says.

Excerpts from the interview:

How has the response to Art Dubai – both from regional and international galleries and art enthusiasts – grown since the pandemic? How many galleries/individual artists will take part in this year’s event and how does it compare with 2022?

We were one of the few large-scale international art events to take place in 2021, and the return to full-scale in 2022 was perhaps our most successful edition ever. Last year, for instance, we had a record attendance of more than 30,000 visitors, 130 presentations by 104 galleries and platforms from 44 countries and we are expecting more visitors than ever this year, in what is our most ambitious programme to date.

The response from the art community has been extremely positive and we will have over 600 artists on display across more than 130 presentations during the five days of the fair.

Commissioning new artworks is an important pillar of the fair, as is the idea of live art and performance. So, this year we are pleased to have commissioned 10 artists to explore these universal human themes – and the performative element will be brought to life with daily performances and food-based experiences.

Who are the curators and how will they contribute to Art Dubai’s overall theme/s?

This year’s event marks one of Art Dubai’s strongest-ever gallery line-ups, and this is complemented by an expanded commissioning and thought-leadership programme. It also highlights the breadth of discourse that is happening here and offers a glimpse into the past, present and future of this important region.

We have brought together a mix of some of the world’s most respected curators. For example, this year’s Art Dubai Modern is co-curated by Mouna Mekouar, an art critic, curator and art historian, and Lorenzo Giusti, curator and Director of GAMeC, Bergamo (Italy). They have worked with our galleries to bring together an incredibly strong series of presentations of the best Arab Modernists, from across four decades.

Contributing to scholarship around these presentations is incredibly important and this physical display will be complemented by a series of stimulating talks, lectures and round tables to provide an overview of modern art in the territories of North Africa, Middle East and South Asia.

Clara Che Wei Peh is a curator, educator and arts writer based in Singapore who is curating Art Dubai Digital this year. She is the Art Lead and Curator at Appetite, a transdisciplinary site focused on research and experimentation. Following its inaugural year in 2022, Art Dubai Digital provides a snapshot of an art landscape that is quickly evolving.

We are also delighted to be joined by Vipash Purichanont who is curating this year’s Art Dubai Bawwaba gallery section. He is an independent curator, Co-founder of “Waiting You Curator Lab”, and a lecturer at Silpakorn University in Bangkok.

What are the major themes Art Dubai Talks will discuss?

The thought leadership programme – something we have championed since our foundation – will expand this year to include a two-day edition of the Global Art Forum, our flagship talks programme with leading artists, curators, technologists and thinkers to take on the cultural temperature of our contemporary moment. Commissioned by the British writer, editor and curator Shumon Basar, this year’s edition, entitled ‘Predicting the Present’, will consider the central question: if it’s the end of history and the end of the future, what happens next?

Our annual event has always provided a powerful and prominent platform to bring together the brightest and best creative minds. This year is no exception.

We are very excited to be partnering with the internationally renowned auction house Christie’s, which is bringing the first Dubai edition of its Art+Tech Conference to the fair. During the one-day conference, we will hear from artists who are embracing technology, alongside discussions with global leaders, innovators, artists and visionaries looking at current challenges and future opportunities to collaborate. It should be fascinating.

There will also be a series of high-level ‘Collector & Modern Talks’, presented in partnership with Dubai Collection, the city’s first institutional art collection.

Art Dubai aims to broaden conversations about art beyond traditional Western-led geographical scopes and narratives. How are you able to achieve this?

The very essence of what Art Dubai aspires to is to bring together artists and inspirational and creative thinkers from across the global south (broadly this is Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, but these definitions are changing). These are voices that have been under-represented in the wider global art world that has been historically dominated by Western-led geographical scopes and narratives.

Not only will you see the largest presence to date of UAE galleries at this year’s Art Dubai, but we are also partnering with a greater number of the most important and influential organisations from across South Asia, including the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and the Kochi-Muziris Biennal, as part of the fair’s not-for-profit programme, Art Dubai Commissions.

As the landscape of international art fairs changes, we continue to be a key player in highlighting and assisting the cultural ecosystems of the global south. Art Dubai is a platform and this year’s programme wholeheartedly represents this region’s increasing importance, vitality, and vibrancy.

Please comment on Art Dubai’s role as a talent incubator for the region.

Our expanded programme fully reflects our role as a meeting point for the region’s creative industries, both commercial and not-for-profit. As an innovative public-private partnership, we have been an incubator of talent, a catalyst for the creative economy here in Dubai, a convener of great minds – and an entry point to this vibrant ecosystem for the wider cultural sector.

With digital art and NFT becoming major trends, how does Art Dubai cater to these segments?

The digital art world has undergone a huge transformation in the last two-to-three years, partly fuelled by the growth in the online art market, partly due to the pandemic and also the increased adoption and affordability of new technologies.

We set up Art Dubai Digital as a new physical section of the fair in March 2022 precisely because these things change very quickly and to give our visitors a snapshot of what’s happening at the present moment in a space that they may read about but may not fully understand. In its second year, Art Dubai Digital is expanding its programme, giving a 360-degree look at the digital art ecosystem, from artist collectives to blockchain innovations, institutions founded in the metaverse, to DAOs and NFTs.

How will Art Dubai Commissions enrich the experience for the visitors? How does Art Dubai help create a community that celebrates creativity and what does the fair contribute to enhance the art scene in the region?

We enrich the experience for visitors because a key element of Art Dubai is offering top-quality art and artists that you simply will not see at any other art fair and showcasing them first. This philosophy has helped the event become one of the most important in the global art world’s calendar.

The region’s art scene is going from strength to strength – there has been huge commitment to and investment in culture over the last 10 to 15 years. Art Dubai has also come a long way since our first edition in 2007. Before that, I doubt that many would have considered the UAE a global art centre. Mirroring the economic rise of the region in recent years, and the UAE government’s commitment to supporting art and culture, the Emirates has become a key creative and international cultural hub.

Today, we have a thriving art scene, which is not just homegrown. We have seen a large number of collectors from all over the world base themselves in Dubai and international galleries opening spaces in the Emirates.

Our fair is about exploration, discovery and innovation. It can open all minds but opening children’s minds to the wonders of art is a central part of what we do at Art Dubai.

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