The Best and Worst of Art Dubai 2012

Eine Szene von der Art Dubai, 21. März 2012
(Courtesy of Art Dubai)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The sixth edition of Art Dubai closed over the weekend after logging record attendance figures and the event’s most extensive international participation to date. Although sales on opening were strong, they slackened during the course of the fair, and some international galleries went home with books full of contacts but with their stock intact.

Despite this, all the international participants ARTINFO spoke to were genuinely happy with their outing at Art Dubai. It was a doorway to a new market that is genuinely interested in what the international art scene has to offer. As New York gallerist Alexander Gray put it, the fair could not be described as “salesy,” but nevertheless had an energy that was “inspiring and promising.” The overall message was that it would take time to develop contacts and business in the Gulf, but that the effort involved would eventually be rewarded.

Some international exhibitors did score big in Dubai. The brisk action at Pilar Corrias’ booth made her a star of the fair. She sold 10 works by Iranian-born U.S.-based artist Tala Madani (some off her iPad) for between $13,000-$55,000, as well as three works by Pakistan-born U.S.-based artist Shahzia Sikander. These sales were made to a range of local collectors (including some from ruling families) and others from locations further afield such as India, Indonesia, and Spain.

Pace Gallery also had reason to be pleased with their trip to the Gulf. Aside from works by Tara Donovan and Keith Tyson, the gallery also sold a major piece by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, an “ash painting” entitled “Tiger.” The price was undisclosed, but Zhang’s ash paintings of similar size often sell for around $250,000.

The experience of Galerie Perrotin, which made its return this year after a two-year hiatus, best represents how the fair played out for most international participants. They made two sales: a work by the French duo Kolkuz for €28,000 ($37,000), and a Peter Zimmerman painting for an undisclosed price. A modest result, but other deals were in the works as Perrotin packed up, and gallery staffer Raphaël Gatel was happy. “A lot of possibilities will emerge from this fair,” he said, “even if it takes a little time to build a relationship with the collectors here.”

Meanwhile, many Middle Eastern galleries capitalized on having hometown advantage. Jeddah’s Athr Gallery sold out on opening night as works by Shadia AlemMusaed Al-Hulis, Maha Malluh, and others fetched prices between $15,000 to $26,500. Dubai’s The Third Line almost cleared their booth as well thanks to demand for work by Iranian artist Laleh Khorramian (in the $4,000 to $8,000 range) and Iraq-born Hayv Kahraman (in the $14,000 to $20,000 bracket).

Now that the galleries have packed up and shipped out, ARTINFO brings you our take on the "Best and Worst of Art Dubai":

Best: Dubai’s local galleries like Carbon 12, The Third Line and Green Art Gallery, who have grown up with Art Dubai and mounted distinctive booths promoting regional artists.

Worst: Sfeir-Semler gallery who, in a fair otherwise blissfully free of Damien Hirst, decided to show a painting depicting a crowd looking at a Hirst spot painting, to the evident bemusement of fair-goers.

Best: Galleries like London’s Pilar Corrias and New York’s Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, who showed up-and-coming artists with close ties to the region, and were rewarded with strong sales.

Worst: Reports that some galleries, like local outfit Artspace, were asked to remove works which too obviously referenced the Arab Spring.

Best: International galleries that chose to highlight work from their own region rather than scrambling for local cred. Notable in this group: Platform China with its beautifully curated booth of paintings by Qin Qi and Aniwar; and Kolkata’s experimenter, which showed ink paintings and sculptures by Adip Dutta.

Worst: The strange and rather too realistic paintings of horses’ heads that adorned the entrance to the fair.

Best: The Sikka 2012 festival, which ran concurrently with Art Dubai and showcased young Emirati and regional artists, giving fair-goers a reason to visit what is reportedly Dubai’s last patch of indigenous housing (the Al Bastakiya area).

Best: Art Dubai’s aspiration to be more than an art fair. In a country still starved for cultural infrastructure, the seriousness with which the fair pursued parallel programs of talks, forums, and exhibitions was laudable.

Best: Son of the Sheikh. As Rudolph Valentino has proved, there is nothing quite like a Sheikh’s son to add glamor to proceedings. The visit of the ruler of Dubai's son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, to the fair on opening day had many hardened gallerists’ hearts beating faster. The fact that he took a genuine interest in the works on display was a welcome bonus.

To see images from Art Dubai 2012, click on the slide show.