Annual event still has a key role to play in UAE's flourishing arts scene
Abu Dhabi Art celebrates a decade of culture in the capital
The milestone tenth edition of Abu Dhabi Art draws to a close on Saturday - and it has felt like spring has been in the air for many culture lovers.
March is the time when the UAE’s art scenes explodes into life, with major shows and events held to showcase work to a local and international audience.
Now November is making its mark on the cultural calendar, with Abu Dhabi Art organisers having to contend with increased competition in a bid to get fresh eyes on its offerings.
This November, even before the fair opened at Manarat Al Saadiyat , Concrete at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai opened a Hayward touring show; Sharjah Art Foundation launched a new show and an art book fair, and the Fikra Design Biennial opened around the corner.
Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its Arabia archaeology exhibition and a weekend of anniversary festivities and, last but not least, the Jameel Arts Centre opened on Dubai Creek.
After this onslaught, Abu Dhabi Art itself felt quiet in comparison. The fair has lost a fair few of its major galleries in its 10 years of operation — gone are the likes of Lisson, Hauser & Wirth, and Acquavella who used to alight in the capital.
Part of this is because galleries used to come to Abu Dhabi Art to sell major work to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi or Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the main collections-buying for these institutions has subsided. Subsided but not ended, as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi was reportedly buying at the fair this year.
Now that the art landscape, both beyond Abu Dhabi and within the capital, is so much better developed, Abu Dhabi Art is no longer the only chance for residents who want to get a look at contemporary or modern art.
As of Friday evening, the gallery reports were mixed. Lawrie Shabibi did well with its stand of Mona Saudi works, and Meem Gallery, also in Dubai, were pleased with the reaction to their show of Zhivago Duncan’s batik paintings.
But, as the art market cools down, few galleries sell out on the opening as before, and a lot of activity happens on the last day.
The non-commercial section of the fair looked great this year. Hammad Nasar’s show on architecture yielded some beautiful pairings, opening up onto a discussion of language, landscape and the human body amidst these constructs, with works from Abdullah al Saadi, Sara Al Haddad, and Abigail Reynolds.
Opposite, a show curated by Athr Gallery from Saudi Arabia, based on the Omar Ghobash book Letters to a Young Muslim, gave a well-judged glimpsed into production from that growing art scene. It was also a real treat to see the first Guggenheim Abu Dhabi commission, Sarah Morris’s visual essay about the city from 2016.
Now that it anchors the new March, aka November, Abu Dhabi Art’s strength is becoming the variety of platforms it offers.
Visitors have had the chance to take in the children’s art centre (with a workshop based on Samia Halaby’s work), a book launch by the Berlin artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian
as part of Durub Al Tawaya, and a third-glimpse of the beautiful stand of Huguette Caland’s work at Janine Rubeiz.
The fair’s director, Dyala Nusseibeh, stressed on the opening day that the fair felt like a family - and it is one that is still going strong a decade on.