DUBAI // This year will mark a "coming of age" for art in the region, the new director of Art Dubai said yesterday.
Antonia Carver took over the fair, to be held from March 16-19, after leaving her post as editor-in-chief of Bidoun magazine last year.
"From a personal perspective, this year marks a coming of age," she said during a press preview for the event. "We are in our fifth year and it is coinciding with the 10th Sharjah Biennial as well as the opening of the wonderful modern art museum in Doha.
"Not only that, but we have more galleries and more artists here than ever before. It is testament to the arts community in Dubai that we have world-class artists on our doorstep."
Ms Carver also revealed that the fair would be the stage for the unveiling of new work by The Otolith Group, a London-based artist collective founded by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun. The group is one of four nominees for this year's Turner Prize, the UK's most publicised art award.
"They are here with Experimenter Gallery from Kolkata, who are one of many galleries here for the first time. It is very exciting for us that they decided to show their new work for the first time in Dubai."
With 82 galleries from 34 countries exhibiting at the fair and a host of cultural activities, Art Dubai's fifth edition will be the largest and most dynamic yet, said Ms Carver.
Organisers are expecting visitor numbers to exceed last year's, when 18,000 people attended the four-day event.
Sheikh Sultan Sooud al Qassemi, an op-ed columnist with The National who is on the board of directors of the fair and is also the chairman of the city's Meem Gallery, said the event was more than simply a commercial venture.
"Art Dubai is not a commercial fair, it is a cultural festival. People come here from all over the Middle East, and it is an important element on a string of pearls of cultural festivals between Europe and Asia. This region deserves a fair of the calibre of Art Dubai and I am very excited and proud to be part of it."
Sheikh Sultan said 2011 was "our time", pointing to the fair's role in cementing the rise of art in the Middle East.
This year, Art Dubai will also partner with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage as well as with Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar.
These are measures that Ms Carver said would help to position Art Dubai as a central platform for the region.
Bidoun Projects will host an event called The Big Idea, which will provide a platform for 10 Emirati designers and artists to talk about their projects.
"It is important for us to involve UAE home-grown talent, and to support them as much as possible," said Alia Al-Sabi, the project co-ordinator.
"There are people involved in all areas of art who do not necessarily work in galleries, so we want to extend our support."
The art fair will take over Madinat Jumeirah, even finding room for the jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels, which will present a collection based on the work of the French novelist Jules Verne.
Displays will spill over to the car park, which will be used to show videos from the Egyptian artists Wael Shawky and Sherif el Azma.
This article has been amended since its original publication. The name of the gallery has been corrected from Experimental to Experimenter, and it is based in Kolkata and not London. The number of countries exhibiting at the art fair has been amended from 32 to 34.