DUBAI—The third edition of Art Dubai, the Persian Gulf region’s biggest international contemporary art fair, took place at the Madinat Arena March 18–21, against a background of economic crisis from which even the petroleum-rich Gulf has not escaped.
The fair hosted a range of galleries from 26 countries across the globe. Of the 68 exhibitors, approximately one-third were from the United Arab Emirates (there are now 40 galleries in Dubai, versus about a half-dozen three years ago), one-third from Asia, and one-third from the West.
Among the Western galleries making their first appearance at the fair were L&M Arts, New York, which mounted a power display of works by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and Sam Francis; Haunch of Venison, London and New York; and Max Protetch, New York, which showed a large Henri Matisse cutout (priced at $2.5million) and a bench by Zaha Hadid as the centerpieces of its stand.
Whereas three years ago the fair had seemed more like a platform for Western and Indian galleries to market their artists to collectors in the Gulf, the focus this year was more on Middle Eastern artists. Many of these were from the Middle Eastern diaspora, and were being introduced to local collectors by Western galleries. As Zurich dealer Kashya Hildebrand put it, “One of the more intriguing sides of this global world comes into play as Western galleries bring works by Middle Eastern artists who are then discovered by their compatriots here at Art Dubai.”
Francesca Minini, Milan, for example, presented video works by Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman, priced between $30,000/50,000, and an installation by Egyptian-born, U.S.-based Ghada Amer with a rug paying homage to Alighiero Boetti’s rugs made in Afghanistan. A piece from Amer’s installation sold for E85,000 ($110,500). Max Protetch featured early works by Iranian-born U.S. artist Siah Armajani, one of which sold for $75,000.
Most successful in this respect was Goff+ Rosenthal, New York and Berlin, which devoted its stand to work by Berlin-based Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani, who fled Bagdhad after the first Gulf War. Alsoudani’s figurative paintings, inspired by violence and conflict in the Middle East, are currently on view in the Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition “Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East” (through May 9). Goff + Rosenthal’s show at Art Dubai sold out at prices ranging from $2,000 for a print to $18,000 for a large work on paper to $65,000 for a large painting. Buyers came from Kuwait, Lebanon and Dubai, dealer Robert Goff told ARTnewsletter, adding that the Saatchi exhibition definitely affected their sales.
Works by another artist featured in the Saatchi exhibition, 28-year-old Hayv Kahraman, a Kurdish-Iraqi artist based in the United States, also sold well through The Third Line, Dubai and Doha, Qatar. Two stylized but exquisitely executed paintings influenced by Japanese prints, depicting women as marionettes—a comment on the oppression of women in Iraq—sold for $11,000 and $13,000 respectively.
Censorship did not seem to be a major issue. Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, exhibited five near-identical paintings by Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri, all titled Golden Allah! They were calligraphic paintings of the name, rather than a physical representation, of the deity, veiled behind curtains of chandelier crystals. Two sold early on in the fair for $70,000 each.
Other successful shows were mounted by the Athr Gallery, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia—which sold most of the works in its stand with the first exhibition of Saudi Arabian artists at the fair—and Agial Art Gallery, Beirut.
Galerie Michael Schultz, Berlin, even had a sold-out show of works by German, Korean and Chinese artists, including a life-size painted fiberglass car by Ma Jun, which Schultz sold to a “very important local Arab collector” for $114,000, according to Michael Schultz. “Last year was good; this year was even better,” he told ARTnewsletter.
A local collector paid a visit to the booth of Galerie Thomas, Munich, and bought a photorealist portrait by Chinese artist WangMin Yun, entitled Two Young Women, 2007, for $60,000. The gallery also reported selling a painting by Fernando Botero, Woman in Blue (Teresita), 1982, to a European collector for $500,000.
But most agreed with Elisabeth Lalouschek, artistic director of October Gallery, London, that business had slowed down. After a sellout show last year, October Gallery placed sold stickers on a $450,000 wall hanging by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and two paintings by Palestinian artist Laila Shawa, priced at $45,000 each. Claudia Cellini of The Third Line said that their sales were down by about 50 percent from last year.
Indian art, previously the biggest seller in Dubai, was also on hold. One exception, however, was the show at the stand of Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. The exhibition of life-size sculptures of water buffalo, made with small brass discs by Mumbai artist Valay Shende, was probably the most photographed in the fair. Four were sold for $55,000 each.
Western art proved more difficult to move, though Galerie Almine Rech, Brussels and Paris, sold works by Sylvie Fleury and Anselm Reyle to local and European collectors. At the end of the fair, however, paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Rothko, all at prices upwards of $2million, remained unsold.