ABU DHABI // Everyone has their own view on modern and contemporary art. From today, they can put that view to practical use.
This year's Abu Dhabi Art Fair features the Design Studio, a space dedicated to exploring participatory art in a public space, in which designers and visitors will collaborate to create their own works of art.
The aim is to encourage the audience to take an active role in the programme, said Rita Aoun-Abdo, the director of the cultural department at the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), one of the organisers of the fair.
"This is not only the art fair," she said. "This is the art fair surrounded by activities and events. This is an entire platform."
Modern and contemporary art from the Middle East, Europe, the United States and China will be on display at the fair from today until Sunday at the Emirates Palace hotel. More than 50 galleries are scheduled to showcase their work at the event, which attracted more than 15,000 visitors last year.
Abu Dhabi Art will also feature six solo displays for emerging artists and includes an outdoor section for sculpture and public artwork.
More than 25 talks, panels and lectures are planned, and a beach "labyrinth" has been constructed for live performances, videos and installations from artists, musicians, performers, photographers and singers.
A select group of invitation-only guests were given a sneak preview of the exhibition last night. One of them, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education, who inaugurated the event, took a two-hour tour with his three sons, discussing the pieces of work with exhibitors.
Khalid Mezaria, a young Emirati designer, said: "It is good to have this chance as an Emirati, and I never met Sheikh Nahyan before."
One of three exhibitions, Opening the Doors - Collecting Middle Eastern Art, will showcase 93 works by 52 Middle Eastern artists that were gathered from private collections.
"We are launching artistic initiatives, and we should not forget the vital need to also support the local and regional art market, to help emerging galleries and artists to be part of the international arts movement," said Mubarak Hamad al Muhairi, the managing director of TDIC.
For Abu Dhabi Art's organisers, the fair is a chance to draw attention to the emirate's emerging arts scene. Although this year's event is bigger than last year's inaugural fair, Ms Aoun-Abdo said she is not ready to call it "better".
"Last year, we had it for the first time, and it allowed us to brainstorm on the details and on the best way to do things," she said.
"We're just progressing and updating naturally. We're always learning. This year, we'll learn for next year."
The Third Line gallery in Dubai is again taking part in the fair, and its director, Laila Binbrek, said at least a few changes are apparent.
"The selections that the galleries have brought this year are more thoughtful and interesting," she said. "Last year some people brought things that are typical when you're not sure of the audience, maybe things that were too edgy or not edgy enough. This year there's a really good vibe."
Ellen Molliet, art director for Bait Muzna Gallery in Muscat, said Abu Dhabi Art is "definitely my favourite fair".
"Last year was perfection, and I was very impressed with the quality of the artwork. Maybe the only difference so far is that I am even more impressed this year," she said.
The artwork is for sale but some participants say the event is more than just a chance to show off their wares.
"Of course, we are a commercial gallery so selling our work is part of it, but we are very interested in the education of the public," said Samar Faruqi, the education and exhibitions manager at Meem Gallery in Dubai.
"We want to bring more to the experience than just the commercial side."
The fair takes place in the ballroom and on the terrace of the hotel from 3pm to 10pm.
* With additional reporting by Ola Salem