Art Dubai: Radical and resilient

Chloe Vaitsou. Photo: Art Dubai

Art Dubai, now in its 13th year, is West Asia’s most significant, and certainly most glamorous, art fair. This year there’s a special focus on Latin American art, as well as a new gateway section showcasing art from the “global south”, especially made for the fair. The organizers are also introducing a UAE Now section to highlight independent artists’ collectives.

These initiatives are heartening, given that the fair, scheduled to begin on 20 March, recently experienced a few bumps. In 2018, its principal sponsor, the Abraaj Group, filed for liquidation. The prestigious Abraaj Prize, initiated 10 years ago to support talented artists from the Gulf, South Asia and North Africa, also ceased this year. Past winners include Jordanian Lebanese Lawrence Abu Hamdan (2018), British Bangaldeshi Rana Begum (2017) and Palestinian artist-duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme (2016). Last year also saw fair director Myrna Ayad leaving, after just a two-year stint.

But Dubai is nothing if not resilient. Five months ago, Art Dubai announced the appointment of Chloe Vaitsou as international director. She is working alongside the fair’s artistic director, Pablo del Val. Vaitsou, formerly of Frieze Fairs in London, was in Delhi last month to attend the India Art Fair. She spoke to Lounge about her new role and why Art Dubai continues to be a mainstay on the global art scene. Edited excerpts:

You come to Art Dubai from Frieze Fairs and you are working alongside Pablo del Val. How will this collaboration work?

As international director for Art Dubai, my main focus will be to develop the fair’s global profile and positioning, and to work alongside Art Dubai’s artistic director Pablo del Val and the team to drive the short- and long-term vision of the fair’s mission, through its programme and collateral activities. This will involve developing key commercial, institutional and non-profit partnerships, building a network of ambassadors and patrons to strengthen and activate new local, regional and global networks, contributing to the fair’s world-class content, and working closely with our gallery clients to ensure a sustainable, productive and vibrant commercial framework for them to operate in.

Art Dubai lost its principal sponsor, the Abraaj Group. Who are the new partners?

The fair has always collaborated with a number of partners each year and Art Dubai 2019 is delighted to welcome back its lead partners Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, Julius Baer, Piaget, Jumeirah and BMW, all of whom are expanding their activities this year. This is alongside our new partners, UAE office of public and cultural diplomacy and the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation. Their combined support will help produce what will be the fair’s largest programme to date, both in its commercial and non-commercial activities.

What will be the major focus areas of Art Dubai?

Mirroring Dubai’s position as a centre of trade between different cultures, Art Dubai further acts as a place of discovery for art from centres that are usually omitted from the Western mainstream dialogue on art. We do this throughout the fair, and specifically hone in on the “Global South”—geographically the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia, and Latin America.

For the 2019 edition, works by more than 500 contemporary and modern artists from across the world will be exhibited by 90 plus galleries from over 40 countries. Parallel programming will include the Global Art Forum, the internationally-acclaimed annual trans disciplinary arts conference; the Modern Symposium, mapping out cultural shifts and trends instigated by modernity in four key cities in the Middle East and South Asia during the 20th century; a performance art programme developed by Kunsthalle Lissabon and featuring artists Marlon Griffith and Samson Young; and an after-dark music programming curated by independent radio station NTS Radio.

What are some of the fair’s new initiatives?

For the 2019 edition, Art Dubai will feature a whole new curated section and series of exciting new perspectives on its engagement with “The Global South”. The inaugural Bawwaba gallery section, taking its title from the Arabic word for “gateway”, will feature 10 solo presentations showcasing works created within the last year or conceived specifically for the fair by artists from, based in, and/or focused on projects about the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia and Latin America.

In addition, the Residents section will be dedicated to solo presentations from first-time participating galleries from Latin America, whose artists are currently in the UAE to take part in residencies of four-eight weeks. Additional Latin American presence will come via Brazilian artist collective OPAVIVARÁ!, commissioned to produce Art Dubai 2019’s interactive installation SOLAROCA.

Another new segment will be UAE Now, which will explore the country’s independent local-artist-run platforms. Existing outside the framework of public institutions and commercial galleries, these collectives and community groups offer a crucial counterpoint to the public and commercial sectors, and an essential layer to the local contemporary art ecosystem.

Art Dubai will be held from 20-23 March at the Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai.

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