A host of established and emerging institutions, cultural fairs and new initiatives are driving creative growth in the UAE and the wider Gulf region, making the region's art scene one not to miss.
In the early 2000s, the world looked to the Gulf for its oil-rich economy, but it wasn't until later in the decade that the region – and the UAE, in particular – began making waves for its intense artistic and cultural development. Cities like Beirut, Cairo and Damascus had already established their presence on the global creative map, thanks to their rich culture and stories steeped in centuries of history. But the turn of the 21st century witnessed the dawn of a new era in the Middle East – one that would go on to become a haven for artists, creative enthusiasts and collectors.
What began as an independent community of art collectors, made up of Emirati locals and long-time residents, has gradually developed into a comprehensive market of modern and contemporary arts. This growth can be attributed to the efforts of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who was keen to promote arts and culture in the city and therefore, ordered the development of new initiatives to fuel the sector.
A stunning showcase
One such initiative, Art Dubai, went on to become a true success story, setting an example for art fairs at home and abroad. Art Dubai’s first incarnation was the DIFC Gulf Art Fair in 2007 before being rebranded the following year to take on the now renowned title. From the outset, the fair served as a talent incubator, a launchpad for emerging artists and a platform for established creatives, curators and art professionals. And today, it has cemented its position on the global map as one of the most prestigious art fairs in the world.
A local initiative with global reach, Art Dubai has served as a platform for upcoming and established creatives from the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Australasia. It has been instrumental in broadening conversations about art among diverse geographies, often not exposed to the global art fair landscape.
This year, the fair returns for its 15th edition to Dubai's Madinat Jumeirah from March 11 to 13. The edition is set to be the largest to date with 115 presentations – from returning entities and 30 newcomers – from over 40 countries. Keeping up with the times, Art Dubai's 2022 edition will introduce a new section – Art Dubai Digital, an innovative new digital art and NFT section that will provide a comprehensive introduction to this fast-developing landscape, examining the development of NFTs, cryptocurrency, video art and virtual reality.
Another popular art fair set to return to Dubai from March 16 to 19 is World Art Dubai. The event presents art enthusiasts with the best opportunity to explore an exciting new world of affordable art and discover new perspectives in creativity.
Now in its seventh year, it will bring together a spectacular collection of more than 2,000 works from renowned international galleries as well as acclaimed and emerging artists from around the world. Also, as the region’s most accessible and affordable retail art, visitors can find pieces starting from just US$100, serving as a gateway into the art world for newcomers.
During the rest of the year, fairs such as Abu Dhabi Art, Dubai Design Week and the Sharjah Biennial also help foster a culture of nurturing creativity in the emirates as it attracts talent from the region and around the world and puts their work in the spotlight for galleries and curators to invest in.
A hub for all
While art fairs are key to a thriving cultural landscape, the development of galleries, institutions and projects dedicated to art have also helped shape the industry. Louvre Abu Dhabi made one of the biggest impacts on the sector and it paved the way forward for other institutions to follow suit.
In 2020, a brand-new, exciting hub for art enthusiasts was unveiled in Dubai. Housed in the heart of DIFC, The Arts Club is now open in Dubai. With a storied past that dates back to 19th-century London, The Arts Club served as a meeting place for individuals immersed in the fields of art, literature and the sciences. Originally founded in 1863, it’s the ultimate icon of creative heritage, with notable members, including Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hughes, Franz Liszt, Auguste Rodin and more, having walked through its doors.
Even today, the club remains a haven for the who's who of society. While it parallelly serves as a prestigious venue for members to entertain their guests in its sleek surrounds, the focus on art and culture is at its core, as a tribute to its early members, who stirred social change through the exchange of creative and entrepreneurial ideas at the hub.
Since its opening, The Arts Club has welcomed those involved in the arts, music, literature, design, science, technology, health and wellbeing, entrepreneurship, business, philanthropy, law, finance and fashion to enjoy its immersive offerings. Its sleek surrounds house a permanent art collection, showcasing stunning works created by established and upcoming artists from around the region. Rotating exhibitions are also organised periodically to further champion arts in the region, while under the club’s Artists Commission programme, the region’s creative community can contribute to the venue’s contemporary art collection, exhibitions and events.
The first of its kind in the Middle East, the club endeavours to support the artistic landscape of the region with a diverse programme of weekly events that has been designed to appeal to a wide variety of interests. On the agenda is everything from talks, panel discussions and debates to artist studio visits, live music performances, creative workshops, exclusive screenings and more.
These collective efforts in the field of art and culture show that the region is committed to the cause of championing arts. And the results are proof that the strategies have been successful. This wave has also fueled the growth of new visitors to the region, who come seeking artistic inspiration. And it has truly set the stage for enhanced intercultural dialogue that unites East and West.