DUBAI – All eyes turned east as November rolled around. For months there was anticipation about the opening of the long-awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi. Coupled with the Abu Dhabi Art Fair and Sotheby's inaugural Boundless: Dubai sale, few in the Middle Eastern art world had their attention turned anywhere else. Events kicked off on November 6 with a well-attended Sotheby's sale preview at our beautiful new DIFC premises, where crowds from the DIFC Galleries night also visited the show. Eye-catching works by Mokhtar, Mohassess and Banisadr attracted many admirers, while the fresh and innovative concept of mixing works from many cultures, categories and periods met with the warm approval of audiences who are clearly ready for a more sophisticated and cross-fertilised approach to art buying.


A SELECTION OF WORKS FROM SOTHEBY'S INAUGURAL BOUNDLESS: DUBAI SALE

The following night was the opening of Abu Dhabi Art which this year boasted even more galleries than before. With a lively programme of educational talks, performances, music and panels, there was a bustling thread which connected cultural events to the visual arts.


AI WEI WEI AT LISSON GALLERY

Sales seemed to focused on mid-range works rather than the very top which struggled to sell. Thaddaeous Ropac did however sell a new work by Farhad Moshiri, while Leila Heller reported brisk sales of most works on show. Turn out was remarkable, given the attraction of the new museum opening, and the last night of the fair saw a full house even though some gallerists felt the museum had been a distraction for visitors.


YAYOI KUSAMA, INFINITY-NETS TWOWQ (#2838), 2006 AT ABU DHABI ART FAIR

The Salama bint Hamdan Emerging Artists Fellowship, Crossway Foundation and Culture Runners offered a particularly stimulating session, while Omar Kholeif of the MCA Chicago, HE Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Catherine David, artists Ahmed Mater and Manal Al Dowayan shone at other debates that addressed collecting, critical thinking and other aspects of the art world.


JACOB HASHIMOTO AT LEILA HELLER GALLERY

Collector and art Patron Mohammad Afkhami hosted a special Lunch in honour of the art fair where he gathered the great and the good who had convened for the series of Abu Dhabi events.

Sotheby’s also celebrated Abu Dhabi Art with its annual Collectors Lunch, thanks to the generosity and patronage of our host, HH Sheikh Nahayan bin Mabarak Al Nahyan: Cabinet Member, Minister of Tolerance, at his Majlis. This year a high-level guest list included the President of Afghanistan who had arrived early for the opening ceremony of the Louvre.

The real attraction for audiences was quite possibly the Louvre Abu Dhabi whose VIP opening ceremony (following an official 'state' opening attended by regional royalty where Macron delivered an impassioned speech for cultural dialogue and bilateral relations) was beautifully orchestrated to be both eye-catching, spectacular and well-judged. Images of works from the museum collection were projected against the museum exterior, seeming to rise out of the water, finished with fireworks and a performance on a boat. Once the doors were opened the following day, visitors were treated to one of the finest museum experiences to be had anywhere in the world.


FIREWORKS AT THE OPENING OF THE LOUVRE ABU DHABI

A new era in museology was ushered as this first-ever universal museum in the Arab world challenged the more traditional modes of representation in favour of new cultural and cross-category dialogues. From the moment of entry, objects and artefacts from early history to modern times speak to the viewer - and to each other - with a narrative that has a strong underlying educational mission. Meticulous planning, display, and installation lift the artefact to a realm of true appreciation, informed by exquisite curation and the significance of other artworks that surround it. The mission is clearly to move away from dry, Cartesian historical categorisation towards an edifying cross-fertilisation that encourages the bringing together of civilisations rather than the setting apart of them. Ten years in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is re-defining how to look at art in an institutional setting. Topped with the extraordinary latticed cupola that lets in the filtered light we know from regional bazaars and traditional windows, Jean Nouvel’s architecture is nothing less than an ode to beauty. Abu Dhabi is ready to welcome the world to what is undoubtedly one of the finest museums ever established in recent times.  


GUISEPPE PENONE AT LOUVRE ABU DHABI

Hardly pausing for breath, art lovers, collectors and patrons then moved to Dubai for the Sotheby's Boundless: Dubai sale. A private dinner on 12 November was followed by the evening sale on 13 November at the packed Ritz Carlton Ballroom, taken by Lord Poltimore who impressed the audience with his occasional forays into the Arabic language, but most importantly with his masterful auctioneering of 106 lots that achieved an impressive $3.6m, weeks only after our successful London sale.


LORD POLTIMORE TAKES THE BOUNDLESS: DUBAI AUCTION

Clearly the regional market is strong, with an appetite for blue chip works and the enduring modernists, though the $370,000 result for Bani Sadr confirms not just the strength of Iranian artists, but also the appeal of great contemporary work by artists with an established track record. Participants from five continents and 33 countries, 30 percent of which were from the UAE, showed a lively local and international engagement, with five record prices achieved.

While those in the art world now jet off to New York for the seasonal sales, I can report that the UAE has firmly established itself as a cultural destination hard to match anywhere else today.