J ust as the Sotheby's advertisement announced in the ArtDubai edition of the Art Newspaper, on 13 March a world of treasures was indeed unveiled in our new offices at the DIFC Gate Building, at the heart of the art scene.
Chief amongst these was the Pink Star, a dazzling 59-carat marvel of nature, which will go on sale on 4 April in Hong Kong. Five departments – Middle East, Islamic, Orientalist, Jewellery and Watches – brought top end property in a celebration of the importance of the regional market. Audiences were in awe of the jewellery displayed, which resonated with Gulf ladies who are historically and culturally familiar with fine jewels. Tad Smith, Sotheby's President and CEO, and His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan bin Mabarak Al Nahayan UAE Minister of Culture inaugurated the space at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by nearly 700 people, testifying to the warm welcome for our auction-house presence in a city which thirsts for the best of brands, educational initiatives, art scene development, and innovative projects.
ROBIN WOODHEAD, CHAIRMAN, SOTHEBY’S INTERNATIONAL, ALIA AL SENUSSI, KATIA NOUNOU, DIRECTOR, HEAD OF OFFICE, SOTHEBY’S DUBAI, H.E. SHEIKH NAHAYAN MABARAK AL NAHAYAN, H.E. ESSA KAZIM, GOVERNOR OF DUBAI INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL CENTRE (DIFC) AND TAD SMITH, PRESIDENT AND CEO SOTHEBY’S.
The opening was followed by the week of frenetic activity that is ArtDubai. This year’s edition, the 11th and a first for new Director Myrna Ayad, has been hailed as the finest yet, with 92 galleries from 45 countries, many of whom reported brisk sales. With several overlapping evening events, the fair accommodated a panoply of programmes – ranging from Art Dubai projects focusing solely on performance art, to the Global Art Forum 11, the most significant annual arts conference in the Middle East (though closely rivalled by the NYT ‘Art for Tomorrow’ now established in neighbouring Doha), and The Room - a large-scale immersive and performative daily gala dinner. The well-known Abraaj Art Prize this year crowned Rana Begum as its winner, and fair visitors were spoilt for choice in terms of VIP visits to collections, art spaces and the usual array of what Dubai has to offer.
ABRAAJ GROUP ART PRIZE 2017. RANA BEGUM’S PIECE. COURTESY OF PHOTO SOLUTIONS.
Al Serkal, the extraordinary new art district, unveiled fascinating projects, talks and shows, all of which added up to a breathless experience for the die-hard art lover wanting to catch everything! Attendance was at an all-time high, the weather cooperated, and the general consensus rated ArtDubai amongst the best fair experiences available these days. Less scintillating however were reviews of Art Dubai Modern which this year somehow did not captivate as in previous years, though personally I found Mustafa Al Hallaj’s works to be an important modernist statement. With Sharjah Biennal only an hour away, and Part II of the Guggenheim collection as well as Warehouse 421’s ‘Bayn’ in Abu Dhabi, there was far more than ArtDubai itself on offer.
MOUSTAFA AL HALLAJ, UNTITLED, 1969. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND AGIAL ART GALLERY.
The conceptual framework of the Sharjah Biennial 13 is grounded in four key words: water, crops, earth and culinary – which together form the foundations of social interaction and exchange. This year’s curator Christine Tohme, founder of the prestigious Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, focussed on boundaries, identity and trauma. Many works had a sense of adventurous exploration and were a testimony to one's heritage with a strong cross boundary feel, being very international in the artist outreach. Khalil Rabah’s work, part of the ongoing ‘Palestine before Palestine’ project was a particular success, aiming as it did to address a future Palestine. Like most other art projects undertaken by Sharjah, the Biennial was a thought-provoking, pioneering experience confirming Sharjah and its Art Foundation as one of the leading art institutions of the region.
KHALIL RABAH, PART OF THE ONGOING "PALESTINE BEFORE PALESTINE" PROJECT.
Sothebys is of course proud to be declaring an official presence at a time when the UAE is driving forward the artistic development of the Middle East. Galleries and artists from neighbouring Iran, Syria, Iraq and other countries continue to show a presence in Dubai despite any challenges they may face in participating, showing that art as dialogue transcends other methods of diplomacy and that creativity will always flourish as a means of bringing communities together.