Autumn 2019

Art & Auctions
Dynamic Fair

The Abu Dhabi Art Fair will present around 50 leading and emerging galleries and a host of renowned global artists

One of the biggest art shows in the region – the Abu Dhabi Art Fair – will open for its 11th edition from November 21 to 23 with a line-up of renowned artists and curators from across the world.

Presenting Modern and Contemporary art from around 50 leading and emerging galleries, the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, at Manarat Al Saadiyat, will also feature a curatorially driven programme of exhibitions, commissions, performances, talks, workshops and performances delivered by leading international artists and creative professionals.

Organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), the fair will also present a rich roster of public programming over its three-day run.

Commissioned artist and writer Ebtisam Abdulaziz will expand on her ongoing initiative ‘Life in a Bag’ in which she documents the various bags of fair-goers.

Abu Dhabi Art’s agenda goes beyond the annual four-day fair, with 2019 welcoming a number of exhibitions and commissions that will continue beyond the show. Featured programmes, including Gateway and Beyond in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, will remain open until January 25, 2020.

The annual programme Beyond will see large-scale sculptures and installations displayed across the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The commissioned 2019 artists for Beyond: Artist Commissions programme are Leandro Erlich and Oliver Beer, whose work will be unveiled during the art fair and exhibited for two months afterwards.

The three selected artists for the Beyond: Emerging Artists programme this year are Ayesha Hadhir, Rawdha Khalifa Al Ketbi and Shaikha Fahad Al Ketbi. The artists are currently undertaking a year-long programme with the curators that will culminate in the realisation of a new art work or project which will be unveiled during the fair. The works will then remain on display until January 25, 2020.

Gateway, Abu Dhabi Art’s annual visual art exhibition, invites a unique curatorial perspective from a guest curator each year, with the 2019 edition curated by internationally renowned curator Paolo Colombo.

This year’s exhibition will explore the relevance that everyday objects from archaeological finds may have on stories that artists narrate in their practice today. In a first for Abu Dhabi Art, Al Ain Museum has generously loaned a number of objects that function as keystones for this exhibition. Al Ain Museum holdings constitute a history of the region made visible, and have been curated alongside contemporary works included in the show.

In an exclusive interview with Arabian Knight, Dyala Nusseibeh, Abu Dhabi Art Director, says the fair is a platform that connects arts professionals from the region with international counterparts and brings Abu Dhabi into global conversations about contemporary art. “We provide a dynamic space for a growing local and regional public to encounter contemporary art and connect with it. We support the local art market and the wider art eco-system through our fair and year-round programmes,” she says.

“If we can play a key role in supporting cultural developments here, we will have done well,” she continues.


Excerpts from the interview:

What is the main focus/highlight of this year’s Abu Dhabi Art Fair? How will it be different from previous years?

This year, we are introducing more curated gallery sectors at the fair. What this means, in practical terms, is that our visitors will encounter exhibition-standard, thoughtfully conceived gallery presentations, rather than a mixed presentation of works that don’t necessarily relate to each other. For example, thanks to sponsorship from a Chinese sponsor, Bai Jia Lake International Culture Investment Group, we have invited curator Jerome Sans to bring together nine galleries focusing purely on contemporary Chinese art. We also have six galleries spotlighting artists from India in another curated sector, following our collaboration with Ashwin Thadani from Galerie Isa. There is an opportunity for those wishing to learn more about art from particular regions to develop their knowledge by attending the fair this year. At the same time, as we are a commercial fair, all the works seen in these gallery presentations will also be for sale.


The fair is the culmination of a year-long programme. What are some of the highlights of this programme and how have they been received by art enthusiasts and the public?

Earlier this year, we ran one of our more community-focused projects – Art & Technology, at Khalifa University. For this, we invited Saudi artist Rashed Al Shashai to undertake a residency with technology students at Khalifa University culminating in a group art work. We also had our popular galleries at MAS event last Spring, for which we invited some of our regular galleries to put on shows of works under Dh10,000 ($2,722) each, to attract new collectors. Our public programme is a growing one – we always try to reach new audiences with the programme.

Is there one theme for the fair or is it diverse? What are the key segments of the fair?

It is diverse – the key segments are of course the galleries, which are the heart of the fair, alongside curated exhibitions such as Gateway, artist commissions as part of Beyond, Community Partners and, this year, a special collaboration with Al Burda.

Who are the curators for the fair and what will they bring to the show?

In the gallery sectors, we have Dr Omar Kholief, Jerome Sans and Ashwin Thadani as our 2019 curators. Each will be bringing a unique perspective to bear on the galleries in their sectors: Dr Kholeif will be looking at drawing, tracing and mapping in art, whilst Jerome Sans will highlight artists from China and Ashwin Thadani will present Modern and Contemporary art from India. All the works in these sectors will be for sale.

In our non-commercial exhibition area, we have also invited Paolo Columbo to curate our annual exhibition, Gateway. Paolo will be commissioning a number of works for this and presenting, for the first time ever at Abu Dhabi Art, selected works on loan from the Al Ain Museum alongside Contemporary art. For our Emerging Artists section, we are also proud to be working with Dubai-based artists Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian who are mentoring three emerging Emirati artists this year. The artists they have chosen will also be presenting their works at Abu Dhabi Art. 


How many local and international galleries will join the fair and what they will bring to it? How do the numbers compare to last year’s show?

This year, we have 50 galleries participating, 14 of which are local and the rest are from more than 21 cities around the world. We have about a 10 per cent increase in galleries participating due to our new focus sections.


Please tell us about the “Beyond” series and what are its highlights?

We are proud to be working with the wonderful artists Leandro Erlich and Oliver Beer on site-specific commissions in historic sites in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi as part of Beyond this year. The commissions will be revealed in November and then be in exhibition for several months afterwards.


How do you see the growing interest in art in the region and what will you say to art collectors?

I think our local and regional art histories are being recorded and considered at a very fast pace and many of our key artists are now in museum collections and important biennales and fairs worldwide. This is in part due to the support that has been offered by existing art collectors who sit on acquisition committees for museums and commission important research. There is an opportunity here for new collectors to also enter the field and make an impact if they are passionate about supporting art from the region.


Technology is disrupting many areas. How is it impacting the art scene – in terms of the market as well as on art itself? Do you have a place for digital art at Abu Dhabi Art Fair?

Of course, there is the domain of online sales which is considerable worldwide, when viewed from a market perspective. From the creative side, there has also been a growth in new media art. At Abu Dhabi Art, both these domains are reflected – we use entities such as Artsy to market our galleries online and at the same time, some of the works shown are by important artists creating video work, for example.

We are also playfully introducing Abu Dhabi Art After Dark this year – whereby the Abu Dhabi Art Fair will open its doors to the world by allowing anyone, with just a simple web connection, to take control of a robot and guide it through the art fair once the fair is closed to the public at night time. Lights mounted on the robot’s head will allow users to navigate their way through the galleries to view art.

We also have a special performance called ‘Hello Hi There’ by director Annie Dorsen, in collaboration with New York University Abu Dhabi, which consists of two computers programmed to have an improvised dialogue, using texts culled from the Bible, Shakespeare, YouTube and as a main component, a recorded conversation between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomksy in the 1970s. The resulting improvised debate is humorous, startingly intelligent and questioning of what it means to be human in an era of growing technological innovation.


How does Abu Dhabi Art help budding artists in the region?

Beyond: Emerging Artists is our largest programme focused on this, but we also find that having galleries in the city, enabling gallerists to discover local artists and occasionally pick them up and represent them globally, is a valuable return.


Among the global art fairs, where do you see Abu Dhabi Art’s place and what are your ambitions for the years ahead? 

I don’t think we need to view ourselves in comparison to other fairs around the world, it’s much more interesting to drive our ambitions toward contributing locally and regionally to what is already a thriving cultural productivity. If we can play a key role in supporting cultural developments here, we will have done well.

– By Sree Bhat

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