Slowly yet surely, we see a swirling art craze take over this city, which was previously associated with skyscrapers and oil. In a market that is still finding its feet with regards to contemporary art, local artists have found quite a lot of success.
Undeniably, Dubai is shifting its focus to becoming a culturally attractive destination. With resident artists on the rise, generous incentives for art education from the Dubai Arts & Culture Authority and dedicated spaces for local artists to work and display their pieces, visual expression is receiving an impressive bump. It’s not just Dubai, with heavy investment in smart marketing, Sharjah’s Art Foundation has had new life blown into it with the Sharjah Biennial – internationally recognized artists, well-known curators and recently, the launch of the first art gallery 1971. Let’s not forget the building of Guggenheim and Louvre in Abu Dhabi. With these new attractions, the Saadiyat islands are a fantasy for any art lover. The question then arises: with this much investment in the supply of art, is there a complementary boost in art appreciation within the region?
In 2007, when the first Gulf Art Fair was held at the Dubai International Financial Centre, it attracted over 9,000 visitors and exhibitors from the world over. As Kinsella reported, the fair was well-organized and the well-received response pointed to a growth of local art collectors in the region. Indian art saw the strongest sales during this first fair, while there were expectations of an increased interest in contemporary art over the years.
This was the beginning of a rising art culture in the UAE. It seems, however, as of 2012, with the Abu Dhabi Art Fair held at the Saadiyat islands, the region could use more buyers as the supply of fresh contemporary art flourishes. Genochio reports,
“What they need here are more collectors. Clearly there simply aren’t enough people interested in buying art presently living in Abu Dhabi or hereabouts to make this a sustainable financial exercise for galleries. Unless galleries sell they won’t come back. This year the mood was more positive than last, I am told, and most galleries reported sales, but there is nothing like the crush of Basel or Frieze or Miami, where booths sell out in minutes. It is low key here, with things “on reserve.”
Genocchio suggests flying in collectors from Europe and the USA instead of making it a primarily local affair. We suggest, why not grow and breed collectors here?
As evidenced in November 2012: Emirates 24/7 reported over $400,000 worth of art sales at the Ayyam Gallery in Dubai at their biannual auction. This gallery targets young buyers who have an interest in art by putting up quality artwork by young artists at lower prices than the average art gallery. With new artists’ pieces priced at less than $10,000, Ayyam Gallery has successfully attracted first-time buyers, while also featuring prints and drawings by well-known artists.
Looking at this gradual upward curve, we can see the way forward clearly. It seems as the appreciation gathers ground, art at lower prices can draw in future art collectors. Yet, one issue still goes unaddressed: Is there enough awareness & education about art and art appreciation to give birth to collectors?
Granted, this sometimes nebulous field isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, yet one can argue that education about art, art history, and its cultural significance in the narration of history, can make art a form of more robust exploration in the U.A.E. In short: it all begins with the students.
The American University of Sharjah, with a dedicated faculty for fine arts and art history [even pottery classes] seems to be ingraining seeds of creativity in attendees – people whose eyes have been tuned to look out for the aesthetic value in any object. The same can be said of the Canadian University of Dubai, with instructors from photography, design and painting backgrounds that inculcate sensitivity to the visual mediums in their students. Their architecture program offers courses in modern art appreciation, design theory, color theory and the likes. In the University of Sharjah, potential students can apply for a Bachelor in Fine Arts, a one-of-a-kind offering in this part of the world. We applaud these efforts.
There’s a lot being devoted to students here, yet it seems accessibility for the general public to the point of tempting them to purchase art is wanting.
This is where umbrella campaigns like ‘Art Week’ are a step in the right direction, hitting the proverbial nail right on the head – awareness. What we love about Sikka Art Fair was just this accessibility; a single conversation with the artist would bring you closer to the meaning, process and experience of the art work. In conjunction, workshops and talks at Design Days Dubai, Sikka Art Fair and Sharjah Biennial can help newbies explore their creative side, understanding the process and history a bit more.
For a booming art collecting scene to flourish in the UAE, however, there’s still quite a while [and education] to go. We begin with the students and art that hits closest to home – local art. The entry point for most amateurs is a familiarization with the work of Emirati and UAE-based artists. This egged on by enthusiastic patrons, celebrated with the right advertising strategies, can go a long way in paving a path to a market that makes giants like New York &Miami tremble.
Art appreciation isn’t something remote, it’s human creation – and we can all relate to human experience, can’t we?
Featured Image Source: sharpwideopen.com