DOHA // Art Dubai, the region's largest art fair which begins today, has benefited from a historic collaboration between art institutions that represents a major push to expand the role of modern art in the Middle East, say its organisers.
For the first time, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), the Ministry of Culture in Bahrain and Doha's Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, the region's only contemporary art museum, have joined forces to host the fifth Global Art Forum, a regular feature of Dubai's annual art fair.
"The benefit of pooling our resources together like this is immeasurable," said Antonia Carver, the director of Art Dubai.
"We have been working on this for many months and we envisage it to be a long-term partnership which we will develop as we go forward."
Representatives gathered at Doha's Mathaf yesterday for the launch of the forum, a platform for regional cultural debate and discussion that moves to Dubai today and runs until Friday.
Organisers are expecting Art Dubai, held over six days and featuring 82 galleries from 32 countries, to surpass last year's attendance of 18,000 people over four days.
Although it remains to be seen whether the growing number of institutions involved in the contemporary art scene will filter down to local artists in the region, helping them display and sell their work, the outlook seemed bright during the forum's panel discussions yesterday.
Wassan al Khudhairi, 28, the Iraqi director of Mathaf, said she was thrilled to be part of such a far-reaching collaboration.
"It's these kind of projects that excite me," she said. "I'm most engaged with these collaborations as a reflection of what is happening in the region."
She added that the partnership had been in the pipeline for a number of years, with Sheikh Hassan bin Mohammed bin Ali Al Thani, founder of Mathaf, vice chairman of the Qatar Museums Authority and a member of the Qatari royal family, instrumental to efforts.
"Sheikh Hassan took his own initiative many years ago when he started visiting Sharjah and building up relationships with the UAE," she said.
Amid all the enthusiasm yesterday Tirdad Zolghadr, an Iranian curator and a member of the advisory committee for Art Dubai, sounded a cautionary note for the region's art institutions.
"One way or another what happens here will affect what happens in Tehran or Turkey, so it is important to try to get involved and influence discussions," he said.
"But I don't think it is as crucial to have mass collaborations as it is to carry out modest fine-tuning on the institutions already in place."
The forum's opening session yesterday featured Chris Dercon, the former director of the Haus de Kunst in Munich, who will take over the directorship of the Tate Modern in London next week.
In his first public speech in the position, he spoke about new curatorial practices and changing audiences. "The museum is no longer a separate environment from society," he said. "There has been a fundamental change. A museum is now a place where questions about culture, family and sociology are posed. People want to feel and be represented."
Mr Dercon also revealed that Tino Serghal, a British-German artist based in Berlin, will be exhibiting in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall exhibition space during the 2012 Olympics in London.
The Global Art Forum continues with a number of events in Dubai including the opening of the Emirati artist Hassan Sharif's newest exhibition at the Qasr Al Hosn Cultural Quarter Hall, a new Adach facility near Musaffah, on Thursday.
Art Dubai runs until Sunday.