x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The international appeal of Design Days Dubai

The second edition of Design Days Dubai will be broader, fresher and more international than ever, says fair director Cyril Zammit

Molecular Chair by Antonio Pio Saracino. Courtesy Design Days Dubai
Molecular Chair by Antonio Pio Saracino. Courtesy Design Days Dubai

There's an unwritten rule in the world of art and design that young galleries, particularly those that are less than three years old, don't participate in fairs. They have yet to earn their stripes - and the right to stand and exhibit alongside their more established counterparts. "Which I think is unfair," says Cyril Zammit, the fair director of the upcoming Design Days Dubai, where a number of young galleries will be presenting their wares.

"If you are good, you are good. That's the reason why we have opened the fair up to very young galleries. You may not have a huge range to display but you are good. And some of the young galleries that are coming this year are presenting stunning work."

In fact, in emerging design markets such as Dubai and the wider region, where buying decisions are more spontaneous than those made by more calculated, seasoned buyers in developed markets, younger galleries have just as much chance as older ones to lure customers.

"We have this young generation of people in the region that have the means to purchase something spontaneously," says Zammit. "They might see a chair for $5,000 and like it. And they might come back the following year and buy another piece, so indirectly they become mini collectors. And that might turn into a serious collection. That's a sign of an emerging market - the spontaneity of the buyers.

"It's a completely different way of buying than if you go to Art Miami, for example, where people come with a shopping list; they need to buy this piece and that piece because the value is going up. Here, if people love a piece, they buy a piece. And it's great for the galleries because it gives everyone the same chance. In Europe or the US, when you go to a fair, the first thing you look at is the name of the gallery - it's the same as saying I will only buy a polo shirt because it is Lacoste. But here, the galleries are all on the same level."

In this and many other ways, Design Days Dubai is setting itself apart from other design fairs around the world. "I'm really pleased to say that this year, when you look at the lineup, we have become something different, with a whole identity of our own. That means we have really strong, established galleries like Carpenters Workshop Gallery and R 20th Century, but we also have a strong component of the fair, around 80 per cent, which is contemporary design. What also makes us completely different is we are bringing galleries from six continents. That's never been done before," Zammit says.

A total of 29 galleries will be present at this year's event, which is taking place from March 18 to 21 in Downtown Dubai. In addition to galleries from Mexico, Latin America, North America, Australia, South Korea, Europe and South Africa, there will be strong local representation, with nine galleries from the Middle East, four of which are based in Dubai. Works by about 135 different designers will be showcased, including a designer from Mali.

"We will also have design from India, with Gunjan Gupta, who recently received a prize at the India Design Forum. This is great because last year India was absent."

This year's show will present the full gamut of design: beautiful, sculptural, bronze furniture from Based Upon that's as rich and textural as molten lava; the almost ethereal Cobalt sculpture from Beirut's Art Factum Gallery - a deceptively simple criss-cross of PVC stained with ink and varnish; the eye-catching Prickly Lamp, which is made from 20,000 pieces of wood and hand dyed using natural vegetable dyes; tables that mimic the Taj Mahal and lamps in the shape of the Eiffel Tower from Carpenter's Workshop Gallery; Bokja's soulful Sufi chairs, presented by Kuwait's Contemporary Art Platform; and the Brick Plan centerpiece by designer Rock Wang, which is made from brick and proves that even the most everyday of items can be crafted into something beautiful.

"I would say that the diversity and the freshness of the pieces is really new. We haven't brought the usual suspects. That's what makes us interesting; there's always something new to look at," says Zammit.

In addition to the exhibits, Design Days Dubai will present a series of workshops, talks, film screenings, onsite installations and live performances.

Those hoping to invest in some design while at the show will be happy to hear that there is a lower average price this year. "We start at $2,500 [Dh9,182] and we go up to nearly half a million. I think that's something that is interesting, because the diversity of the people here is so huge that we need to talk to a larger audience.

"People get scared of investing in contemporary design because the designer is unknown. But the gallery is bearing the cost of supporting an artist, investing in production and creating prototypes; they would not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars if they did not believe in the designer. So remove that fear. Look at the object - does it speak to you or not; do you like it or not?"

At the inaugural Design Days Dubai last year, sales amounted to about US$3.5 million - a promising amount for a fledgling show in a developing market. Mirrors and lighting proved particularly popular, says Zammit, as was "anything that surprised the eye; anything quirky, interesting and unexpected".

More than 8,500 visitors attended the fair last year; some were serious buyers but many just wanted to have an ogle. "I got a bit scared at first because I think people thought we were just a furniture show. But once they entered, they realised that we were bringing a new dimension to design. It's really interesting because as soon as you see the pieces, you understand - this is so much more than a chair. It takes it to a new artistic level."

Design Days Dubai takes place from March 18 to 21 at The Venue - Downtown Dubai on Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard; Dh50 entry, or free for students and children


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