ARTnewsletter Archive

New Fairs, Auctions Highlight Growing Middle East Art Scene

The nascent art scene in the Persian Gulf region is developing rapidly, as new art fairs, auctions and exhibitions are being introduced in conjunction with ambitious museum and cultural projects under way in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

NEW YORK—The nascent art scene in the Persian Gulf region is developing rapidly, as new art fairs, auctions and exhibitions are being introduced in conjunction with ambitious museum and cultural projects under way in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Late last month, Sotheby’s announced that in March it will hold its first international auction series, including Orientalist art and international and Iranian contemporary art, in the Qatari capital of Doha. Christie’s began holding auctions of international modern and contemporary art in Dubai in May 2006, and British auctioneer Bonhams held its first sale of Middle Eastern and South Asian art in Dubai last March. The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage has announced that it will participate in next year’s Venice Biennale, making it the first Persian Gulf country to create a national pavilion there.

Abu Dhabi recently hosted the second edition of ArtParis–Abu Dhabi (Nov. 18–21), an offshoot of the ArtParis modern- and ­contemporary-art fair that runs at the Grand Palais in Paris each March. Organizers said that the Abu Dhabi spinoff, held at the Emirates Palace Hotel, received 12,000 visitors this year, a 30 percent increase from the 9,200 visitors in November of last year. The number of exhibitors was also higher, with 59 galleries from 22 countries, compared with 47 galleries from 16 countries last year.

The fair’s growth notwithstanding, dealers were frank about the cautious mood of collectors and the lack of actual sales. Vienna dealer Ernst Hilger, who was showing at ArtParis–Abu Dhabi for the second year in a row, told ARTnewsletter that “generally organization and attendance was good. Willingness to buy this year was very low. It was a true disappointment” in terms of sales. “Last year we sold to the Sheikh’s collection,” he added, referring to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, “and to local collectors. This year the only thing that sold was local art.” Still, the results did not discourage Hilger from participating in the fair in the future. “There will be a next, and then it will be better,” he said.

Dealer Amel Makkawi, director of the recently opened Art Sawa gallery, Dubai, wrote in an e-mail to ARTnews­letter that while the fair provides “an opportunity to market the gallery and its artists, the market is not so hot.” The gallery made some sales of works by its up-and-coming artists, but at “small prices,” Makkawi said.

Among other ongoing developments in the region, Saadiyat Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, will be the site of a cultural district, slated to open in 2012, that will feature branches of the Louvre Museum and a $400 million branch of the Guggenheim Museum, its largest to date, designed by architect Frank Gehry. Meanwhile, the Qatar Museums Authority recently unveiled I.M. Pei’s five-story, 382,000-square-foot Museum of Islamic Art, which was built on a specially constructed island at the tip of Doha’s corniche, or crescent-shaped harbor.

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