x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fine art fair falls victim to downturn in economy

Organisers say exhibition will resume in 2010 after 'postponement' because galleries were feeling the pinch in sales.

The 2008 version of the artparis-AbuDhabi art fair in November struggled, exhibitors say. But many added that they would have been willing to participate in 2009.
The 2008 version of the artparis-AbuDhabi art fair in November struggled, exhibitors say. But many added that they would have been willing to participate in 2009.

ABU DHABI // This year's artparis-AbuDhabi art fair has been cancelled, with organisers citing the impact of the economic crisis on art sales. The annual event, which made its debut in 2007, displayed works from 58 galleries representing 22 countries at the Emirates Palace hotel in November. Caroline Lacoste, the fair's organiser, said the 2010 event would go ahead as scheduled. Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage, a partner in the event, would make an announcement soon, she said.

"The economic situation is very, very bad for the galleries across the world; it's not necessary to bring them into a new market at the moment. "It's better to postpone than to do something and do it badly. We will postpone until 2010." According to the research company ArtTactic, confidence levels in the contemporary art market fell 81 per cent in 2008 and may take as long as five years to recover.

Dealers reported disappointing sales at last year's four-day event, which they partly blamed on the global credit crisis. But many said they would have been happy to participate in 2009, provided exhibition costs were reduced. Ms Lacoste would not comment on whether the cancellation had been influenced by slow sales last November. Ray Waterhouse, the director of the UK's Waterhouse & Dodd gallery, which participated in 2008, said he was "very disappointed" by the decision.

"We made a lot of new clients and we are sad that we won't be meeting them again this year. We actually did jolly well last year," he said, adding that the gallery had made $500,000 (Dh1.8m) in sales. But Dadiba Pundole, director of Mumbai's Pundole gallery, said he had sold "virtually zilch" in 2008 after a much better year in 2007. "I think it was because of the economic situation - November was probably the worst time for an art show," he said.

Despite the lack of sales, Mr Pundole said he would have come back this year if fees were lower. "You'd expect that," he said. "Last year everyone felt a bit cheated by the high fees; they paid a lot and didn't get a lot in return." Brigitte Schenk, the director of the eponymous German gallery which has exhibited at artparis-AbuDhabi for the past two years, said: "I don't think galleries are so affected by the financial crisis. We still go to all the art fairs. It's really not realistic to talk about the financial crisis affecting art sales in Abu Dhabi."

Ms Schenk described the decision as "counterproductive", considering Abu Dhabi is trying to establish itself as a regional art centre. "It doesn't make sense to stop an art show; an art show has to come first, before museums," she said. "It's necessary to engage the people and show them that it's important to buy art. Next year's won't be better, because this year's was missing." She said slow sales last year were due to Abu Dhabi being in the midst of establishing itself as a centre for art.

"Some exhibitors may not have wanted to come this year because sales were difficult last year, but that's nothing to do with the economic crisis," she said. "It will need some more years before people there really start to buy art. It takes time for people to be educated in the value of art." lmorris@thenational.ae