Abu Dhabi Art begins today and continues until Saturday at Manarat Al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island. There may be 50 galleries vying for the attention of both the public and collectors, with works by Martin Creed, Jeff Koons, Antony Gormley, Edgar Degas and leading lights of the regional scene on show. But attending any art fair should be about the additional programmes taking place around the event. Here's a rundown of today's must-sees.
Half and Half
Fairgoers who did not make it to this year's Venice Biennale, the world's biggest contemporary art show, have the chance to see a satellite version of the UAE's national participation from the event at Abu Dhabi Art.
Reem Al Ghaith presents a floating assemblage of scattered plaster, roadworks, ordinance survey maps and transparent figures to conjure the experience of navigating Dubai's in-construction urban fabric.
Lateefa bint Maktoum, however, approaches the UAE's rapid change with a more wistful and impressionistic eye. Working in photography, the artist uses digital collage and exaggerated colours to outline anxieties about the future - a changing environment that offers only an uncertain frontier ahead.
But while both of those artists have exhibited widely before, Abdullah Al Saadi leads a far more insular and obstinately reclusive artist career. He finds expression in the sweet potatoes that grow on his farm in Al Ain, a sort of Henry David Thoreau-like approach to the rural life in which contemplation of his crops yields exhilarated and animated drawings.
"The Pavilion is not curated around concepts, but around artistic positions," said the curator, Vasif Kortun, at the pavilion's opening in Venice. "Three independent projects form a coherent exhibition structure."
Half and Half is an opportunity to see a landmark moment in UAE recognition from the international artworld. Manarat Al Saadiyat, 3pm to 10pm.
Inspired and need to let it out? ADA has several workshops running each day that are worthy ways to spend an hour or two and are led by key people in their fields. The Emirati designer Noura Al Mehairi presents a leather-working session in Design Studio between 1.30pm and 2.30pm, working entirely in camel leather to guide students into producing - of all things - a series of coasters. Al Mehairi will offer background on the traditional use of camel leather in the region and then demonstrate the stretching, styling and decorating process.
Then from 5.30pm to 7pm, participants are invited to come up with their own sculptural public art piece to be displayed on Saadiyat Island, cobbling together influences from Great Masters, Norman Foster and a host of artists working with ADA.
Workshops are Dh50 to attend, and bookings can be made by calling 02 657 5800 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monir Farmanfarmaian was inspired to create the stunning mirror mosaics she's become known for during a return home to Iran from the US in the early 1970s. Standing in one of her country's many shrines, she saw the multitude of people reflected in the building's mirrored walls, a fragmented but yearning collective of beggars, holy men and workaday Iranians. The image moved her to tears and to discover her own distinct visual voice.
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry is an ambitious and complete monograph of this element of Farmanfarmaian's art, and gets its Middle East launch at Abu Dhabi Art. Edited by the director of London's Serpentine Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Cosmic Geometry includes tributes from the likes of Shirin Neshat and Frank Stella, who knew the artist in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as a host of exacting critical texts. Farmanfarmaian is in conversation with the Iraqi-American art historian Nada Shabout to launch a book, and chances are the artist will offer some anecdotes of her time as a fashion illustrator, when she was friends with a rather shy, young Andy Warhol, and her continued fervent output despite being in her late 1980s.
"Cosmic Geometry is about my life and my work," says Farmanfarmaian. "They are intertwined and if I had not lived the life I did, these works would not have the connotations they carry."
From 4pm to 5pm, Abu Dhabi Art Lounge, Gallery 3, Manarat Al Saadiyat. Free.
Art, Talks, Sensations
A purveyor of the sublime, the sensual and the downright wacky, Fabrice Bousteau, the editor of Paris's Beaux Arts magazine, is back in the UAE capital with another instalment of his artistic menagerie, Art, Talks, Sensations.
After previously creating a sit-down, stage-based show that blurred the line between panel discussion and theatrical performance, last year Bousteau opted for a space that visitors could wander through and apprehend different images and experiences along the way.
"This time, it's a maze in the garden of Manarat Al Saadiyat," says Bousteau. "The idea is that you enter a kind of island, which is the theme of the project itself. This is the first edition of ADA on Saadiyat Island, which itself means 'Island of Happiness'. When Thomas More came up with the idea of utopia, he envisaged it as an island, and utopia comes from the two Greek words for land and happiness.
"An island is isolated from continents, and this kind of insularity can create some general utopia because you're outside the context of the traditional world."
Bousteau explains that highlights include a commissioned installation by the Iraqi artist Adel Abidin, in which two embryos fight it out for supremacy, and a "palace of mirrors" by the Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. "There's also a famous Indian yogi on hand who will give lessons to increase your flux of energy in 10 minutes. It really works."
Essential viewing. November 16-19, 7pm to 10pm, Manarat Al Saadiyat.