Art Dubai Triumphs Amidst a Dreary Economic Backdrop

This year’s Art Dubai triumphantly surpassed gloomy market predictions after the city’s recent debt crisis. Sales were stronger than expected and a record number of 18,000 visitors attended, including major collectors and art enthusiasts from around the world. There was great sense of diversity and cultural appreciation this year with 31 countries represented exhibiting work from world-renowned contemporary artists.

Even with such a turnout, consequences from a tense economy could still be felt. A third of last year’s exhibitors did not show up. Among those were prominent dealers such as London’s Lisson Gallery and New York’s L & M Arts. Booth rates were also discounted by 20 percent, but there were four more galleries present than in 2009, totaling 72 exhibitors in all.

Dubai has changed. “Dubai won’t be the same place as it was two years ago. The amount of money sloshing around will be less, of course it will,” said John Martin, who co-founded the fair in 2007, in a recent interview.

Sales were nevertheless strong from the outset. Returning galleries Grosvenor Vadhera sold an important work by the Pakistani artist Sadaquain for more than $200,000. Zurich-based Galerie Kashya Hildebrand sold a Ran Hwang piece for $55,000. Aaran Gallery, participating for the first time at the fair, sold six works by contemporary Iranian artists for a total of $24,800.

This year’s Art Dubai also faced competition from its rival emirate, Abu Dhabi. In November, Abu Dhabi Art drew top international galleries such as the Gagosian Gallery and White Cube offering many highly priced works. The difference between the two art fairs was easily felt not only in the venue display but also in the caliber of artists which certainly reflects the disparities in the two emirates’ financial budgets.

Despite the dreary financial backdrop the spirit was positive and enthusiastic as were the number of engaging events. Guests were able to attend the Global Art Forum and see artists such as El Anatsui whose piece, In the World But Don’t Know the World (2009) was greatly visited, witness specially created artworks and video installations curated by Bidoun Projects, see the winning pieces of the 2010 Abraaj Capital Art Prize, and take a tour of the Poetry of Time exhibition featured a gorgeous collection of limited and special edition watches and jewelry made by Van Cleef and Arpels.

So even if this year’s Art Dubai was not as glamorous as previous years, the mood was inspiring as were efforts for the UAE’s cultural and educational development. As Shaikha Manal put it, “The UAE’s wise leadership has been aware of the fact that the sustainability of economic development entails equivalent social and cultural development. The event succeeded as a key platform for human and artistic creativity and as a forum bringing together artists, fans and collectors to interact and further enhance the relation between artists and the public.” Art Dubai’s triumph was not only financial, it was cultural.

Images courtesy of Capital D Studio in Dubai