If Covid has had a positive impact on any country in the world it is surely Dubai. In the city in the United Arab Emirates, famous for its leisure and entertainment, life didn’t come to a standstill during the public health crisis. Now considered to be an Eden for a number of the world’s wealthiest, it doesn’t cease to attract new inhabitants. British citizens fleeing the impact of Brexit, Russians distancing themselves from war, high tech or financial bosses seeking a secure location and good weather for their families… This major financial hub in the Middle East is also, according to Bloomberg, in talks to attract 50 hedge funds.
This significant shift can only have a positive impact on the local art market. Two influential galleries have recently opened up branches in Dubai. Emmanuel Perrotin, in partnership with French gallerists Dylan Lessel and Tom-David Bastok, opened a new site here in November 2022 in the epicentre of the city’s financial district, the DIFC. It is next-door to galleries with particularly mediocre offerings, which are exceedingly kitsch.
But it stands out by inaugurating, for example, at the same time as the contemporary art fair Art Dubai (from 1 to 5 March 2023) (see here a report about Art Dubai 2022) on its premises, for the first time, the work of a French artist based in Benin, Jeremy Demester (born in 1988). His intensely colourful paintings, a mixture of figurative and abstract which include objects inlaid in resin, summon up numerous African influences including voodoo mythology (on sale for between 45,000 and 90,000 euros). Demester was also the subject of an exhibition at the Max Hetzler gallery in London until 25 February. “The atmosphere in Dubai resembles that of Hong Kong 15 years ago. You can sense an exceptional enthusiasm and dynamism here,” observes Dylan Lessel. At the fair he is also presenting a double sculpture composed of two emblematic figures, Kaikai and Kiki, conceived by the Japanese art star who is now more discreet, Takashi Murakami (on sale for around 130,000 dollars for a set in painted metal with 20 copies dating from 2019-2022).
The multinational Continua gallery has made the choice to base itself recently in Dubai’s iconic, sail-shaped tower, the Burj Al Arab. Inside there’s gold everywhere, giant aquariums, a vertiginous view from indoor balconies. “Our international policy involves something different to a white cube serving as a gallery. It’s a challenge extended to artists. As for collectors, here we are operating a training ground. Our Anish Kapoor exhibition has made a strong impact locally,” explains one of the founders of the gallery, Maurizio Rigillo.
It is within this context that one of the most famous French artists, Daniel Buren (born in 1938) (see here and here reports about him) is being exhibited. He presents something unexpected, as he has totally transformed the space by exalting the view over the sea with the aid of mirrors. He has also created large-scale abstract relief paintings made up of coloured stripes and mirrors. It’s probably the most accomplished work on show in Dubai right now.
Pablo del Val
“In recent years, with the new arrivals, we are observing a population that is much more sophisticated in its relationship with art,” claims Pablo del Val, artistic director of the Art Dubai fair. For its seventeenth edition, this reunion of galleries, the leading event of its kind in the Middle East, brings together 115 galleries plus a section of 22 booths devoted to digital art.
The positioning of the fair, as Pablo del Val sees it, consists of following a concept that is very en vogue among museum institutions: showcasing the “Global South”, in other words, artistic expression from all countries that are not part of the western artistic mainstream. It’s true that at Art Dubai you can see creations that rarely find a voice commercially elsewhere.
A gallery from Pakistan
In this vein, Pakistan’s Canvas gallery has made the trip from Karachi. They are exhibiting the stunning work of Adeela Suleman (born in 1970) who uses traditional artisanal techniques from her country to talk about male violence. An entire series of works in embossed copper, a giant embroidered tapestry, are on sale from 75,000 to 125,000 dollars, signed by the artist, who took part in the Busan Biennale in Korea in 2022.
The Efi gallery, recently installed in Dubai, was founded by Ghanaians who wanted a place to display African art in the city. At the fair they are exhibiting, among others, the work of Ghanaian art star El Anatsui (born in 1944) who will be taking over the famous Turbine Hall with a monumental installation at the Tate Modern in London in October 2023. He is known for his lively large-scale compositions made from bottle caps. At the fair, Efi are presenting one of these works made in 2022 (on sale for 1.5 million dollars). This is one of the highest prices at the fair.
A number of European galleries are bringing artworks here that bear witness to a non-western reality. This is true, for example, of Art Concept from Paris which is exhibiting paintings by the Syrian artist who lives in the French capital after having enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Miryam Haddad (born in 1991). Her work, which from a distance could seem abstract, up close evokes in a very colourful chaos the Damascus of her early years: a thick texture composed of isolated figures such as a mother and her child in a potholed landscape punctuated with geometric forms. The large-scale paintings are on sale for 50,000 euros and the smaller ones for 7000 euros. According to the gallery founder, Olivier Antoine, prices have increased by 50% in two years for this promising young artist whose work is part of the collections at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the Aishti Foundation in Beirut.
London’s October gallery is presenting photos with recent prints by James Barnor (born in 1929). He documented, among other things, daily life in Accra in Ghana in the 1960s and 70s, as shown recently in exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery in London and the Luma Foundation in Arles. They are on sale, in an edition of 10, between 5000 and 10,000 dollars. The Barnor impact is global: he will be the subject of an exhibition in Detroit from 28 May 2023. However, his international market has yet to be established. Only two of his photos have gone to auction, with a maximum sale of 15,000 euros.
Modern Middle East painters
Lastly, if there is a market that has yet to be explored and also documented, it would be for modern painting from the Middle East. The Leila Heller gallery, based in New York and Dubai, are showcasing at their space remarkable works by modern masters, in particular of Iranian origin. A rare painting on a mirror from the early career of one of the pillars of artistic creation in this country, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (1922-2019), dating from 1968, is presented for 450,000 dollars.
A far cry from the prices for the great names in western art.
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