Spring of Art in UAE

Not immediately associated with a thriving art scene, the UAE is commonly criticised for its lack of culture. However, while it may be true that the Emirates have yet to attain the status afforded to the art scenes in New York or London, the success of Christie’s inaugural auction in Dubai in May 2006 showed that that there is clearly a huge market for art in the region.

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  December 18, 2006

Not immediately associated with a thriving art scene, the UAE is commonly criticised for its lack of culture. However, while it may be true that the Emirates have yet to attain the status afforded to the art scenes in New York or London, the success of Christie’s inaugural auction in Dubai in May 2006 showed that that there is clearly a huge market for art in the region. The country now has plans to make its mark on the international art scene with bold ambitions to rival established international art markets with the launch of the first Gulf Art Fair and the return of the Sharjah Biennial next Spring. Arguably the most important date on the existing UAE artistic calendar, the Sharjah Biennial, will return in April. Initiated in 1993, the Biennial is an active player in the international art arena and does much toward formalising art in the UAE and its perception abroad. It strives to encourage contacts between artists, art institutions and organisations locally, regionally and internationally. Several exhibition sites will be showing new and specially commissioned work from more than 70 internationally renowned artists addressing the theme ‘Still Life: Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change,’ through different practices and media. The Biennial will feature a series of outdoor installations and performances, art prizes, and a film programme curated by Mark Nash. A Symposium at the American University of Sharjah will take place in collaboration with the Royal Society of Arts, London on the theme of Art and Ecology. Special emphasis will be placed on the commissioning and production of new site-specific work. “Within the cultural context of Sharjah, where tradition and heritage are central, the Biennial offers a unique platform for open conversation in the region,” says Hoor Al Qasimi, director, Sharjah Biennial. A month after the Biennial opens, The Madinat Jumeirah will host the first Gulf Art Fair, which promises to bring together the finest contemporary art in the world in a city-wide festival of contemporary visual art. Forty of the world’s leading galleries will come to Dubai to showcase art by many of the most important figures in contemporary art today. A programme of projects will give internationally renowned contemporary artists such as Conrad Shawcross, Parviz Tanavali, Patricia Millns, Emily Young and Jorge Orta the opportunity to showcase their work in new and exciting environments. There are plans for larger pieces to be displayed in the desert close to Bab al Shams, or on Jumeirah beach. Director, John Martin, says: “I spoke to everyone I knew in the art world and it was clear that the Dubai effect has taken place and the idea just took off. Everyone wanted to be there. There is a booming art scene in Dubai; it is a buzzing, exciting place. A fair that could draw together the exciting art being produced in the Middle East was clearly needed.” He continued: “Dubai is set to become a major centre for the global art market. Situated within easy reach of Russia, India and South East Asia, and with some world-class artists now emerging throughout the Middle East, it is ideally placed to become the focal point for the most exciting art markets in the world. Moreover, as a tax-free location, it offers significant financial advantages for galleries and collectors from Europe and India.” Money from ticket sales will be donated in support of the START project which funds children’s art workshops in deprived communities. The project will be an ongoing commitment for the Gulf Art Fair and in future years, the fair plans to generate enough revenue to fund a number of scholarships at local colleges and universities while supporting the workshop’s most talented young artists. Martin adds: “In bringing some of the most exciting new art into one of the world’s most dynamic countries, we hope that the Gulf Art Fair will make a significant contribution to the cultural life of Dubai and the region.” The Sharjah Biennial 8 opens Wednesday 4 April and the Gulf Art Fair is in the Madinat Arena 8-10 March 2007.

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