First, let me clarify that this is my first (and most likely last) Art Dubai. The event is an annual celebration of Contemporary Art in Dubai with adjacent events like the Art Week, Sikka Art Fair, Design Days etc.
Part of my experience of the event has been colored by living in countries with a longer history in fine arts like South Africa, India and Canada. However, knowing next to nothing about Contemporary Middle Eastern Art, I found the experience very educational.
Certain aspects of the event have been heavily commercialized, though I assume this is unavoidable in a heavily consumer driven economy like Dubai. For example, vending stalls sold food and beverages similar to what one might expect at a concert or sports stadium & the majority of attendees were more socialites than art aficionados. These minor criticisms aside the volume and quality of Middle Eastern art was a visual and intellectual delight.
I started my experience at the Art Dubai Modern section of the exhibition. The walk to the venue offered magnificent views of the Burj Al Arab and the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. It was disappointing to see that many artists were not in attendance, though they were represented by their Art Galleries.
I was particularly impressed with A Modernist Project for Lebanon by Michel Basbous. His sculptures echoed the archaeological value of Lebanon, while creating products that were unashamedly simple and modern.
The Art Dubai Projects exhibition was much more prolific with works by Lalla Essaydi and Wiley Kehinde. In particular, seeing Lalla Essaydi’s response to early 20th Century Orientalism was interesting. Her female figures are also objectified, though at least, they do force a dialogue on Orientalism. The most striking piece of the exhibition was Place Soweto (National Assembly II) by Wiley Kehinde. The larger than life piece was both absorbing and confrontational.
I was also fortunate enough to attend a conversation with Taus Makhacheva and Stephanie Bailey on Makhacheva’s art. She first explored the idea of obscenely ostentatious weddings in her native Dagestan. I especially liked her comments on her other work Endeavour. She said “[Endeavour] is about life…you know…me pushing against a rock for about 9 minutes and then giving up.”
The Cartier room was another highlight of the exhibition. If you are not impressed by their impressive craftsmanship on traditional jewelry, then their crystal “city-like” project more than compensated with its aesthetic, conceptual value and execution.
Overall, the exhibition was not a “traditional” art show in the sense that a gallery patron from a more developed art market may expect, but it was certainly educational and relayed more of the questions that Middle Eastern artists and collectors are grappling with than I expected.