A detail from The Valley of Scent, by Pakistani artist Muzzumil Ruheel
A detail from The Valley of Scent, by Pakistani artist Muzzumil Ruheel

It should come as little surprise that Art Dubai, which enters its twelfth edition this week, is the Middle East’s premier art fair. With Dubai positioned as a global trade hub on the crossroads between the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the fair attracts galleries from locations as geographically diverse as Ramallah, Accra, Latin America and even Iceland. This year’s event features a record 105 galleries from 48 countries, and more than ten of those galleries are Asian.

In 2017, Singapore-based dealer Ikkan Sanada participated for the first time as he showcased teamLab, a Japanese collective. This year, his gallery Ikkan Art International will feature artworks by the collective once again.

“While our sales last year were not significant, we had so many inquiries from private and corporate collectors, and advisors who had discovered teamLab for the first time,” he says. “This is why I am returning to Art Dubai for the second time to introduce the same collective as it is an intriguing group of artists, technologists, engineers and other professionals from the internet age. We will present many digital artworks in our booth as a joint-effort by three galleries representing teamLab: Ikkan Art Gallery, Pace Gallery and Martin Browne Contemporary.”

Saskia Fernando, who brings her eponymous gallery from Colombo, Sri Lanka, praised the intimacy of Art Dubai, as well as its mix of emerging and established galleries. “I began visiting the fair as a guest from the second edition onwards,” she recalls. “The response we received from collectors in our first year of participation was fantastic and the collaborations that resulted from this were incredibly encouraging for us.” Saskia Fernando Gallery this year presents works by four artists: Saskia Pintelon, Priyantha Udagedara, Jagath Weerasinghe and Gayan Prageeth.

Another returning gallery is Canvas Gallery of Karachi, in Pakistan, and this time it’s presenting work by Muzzimil Ruheel, one of a growing number of celebrated contemporary artists from the country. As gallery director Sameera Raja attests, the fair has played its part in the burgeoning confidence of Pakistan’s art scene. “The success of our first participation in 2014 was [pivotal]. The connections with institutions, collectors and Art Dubai personnel [contributed to] flourishing relations within the art network. Art Dubai [has been important] to the region and to the artists of Pakistan.”

Works from teamLab, presented by Ikkan Art International.

Previous editions of the fair have reported brisk sales. Last year, Victoria Miro Gallery (London, UK) sold out of works by Idris Khan and Alex Hartley, with prices ranging from US$20,000 to US$800,000. Dubai-based The Third Line also sold out all works at a solo presentation from 2017 Abraaj Group Art Prize winner Rana Begum. Most of the pieces by the Bangladeshi artist apparently sold on the first day of the fair, with prices ranging from US$8,300 to US$35,000.

Art Dubai continues to introduce new platforms. This year’s novel feature is ‘Residents,’ a new programme dedicated to solo presentations from invited galleries whose artists are involved in UAE-based residency. Indonesian artist Iabadiou Piko, represented by the Bandung-based gallery Orbital Dago, and Indian artist Poonam Jain, represented by the Dubai-based 1 x 1 Gallery, are both showing on the ‘Residency’ platform.

Meanwhile, the fair’s Modern section – the only commercial platform in the world to showcase museum-quality works by artists from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia – is in its fifth year. Fair Director Myrna Ayyad says: “[This is] our largest ever Modern section, which has been the most oversubscribed edition to date.”

Finally, this year’s Global Art Forum discussion event – a “transdisciplinary summit” – could hardly be more relevant: its themes are technology and trade.

The 12th edition of Art Dubai will take place from March 21-24 at the Madinat Jumeirah.

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