The United Arab Emirates’ capital is evolving into a true global art hub. This is in part due to the efforts of the Abu Dhabi Art Fair that is to take place from November 22 to 26.

For several years now, the United Arab Emirates has been contending for the title of the main cultural hub in the Middle East. There are at least three major cultural magnets here: Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi. These three largest cities are well-known to any culture and art connoisseur. The first one, maintaining its status as a premier business hub, is renowned for its futuristic architectural marvels and the annual Dubai Design Week, a staple of global design. In Sharjah, an entertainment hotspot, the Biennial of Contemporary Art has been a constant since 1993, earning the trust of art professionals and audiences worldwide. In contrast, Abu Dhabi, despite being the official administrative center, seemed somewhat lackluster until recently. However, like everywhere else in the country, things started to transform rapidly in the mid-2000s.

In 2007, the capital saw the opening of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the commencement of the Saadiyat Cultural District’s construction on Saadiyat Island. The latter, currently serving as an exhibition and educational venue, was envisioned as a unique gateway to a host of future museum powerhouses. One of these, the already famed Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Jean Nouvel and housing an extensive collection encompassing all of the art history, opened in 2017. Two others — the Guggenheim Museum’s branch and the Zayed National Museum, designed by Norman Foster, — are set to open their doors in 2025. The first Abu Dhabi Art Fair took place in the mid-2000s, celebrating its 15th anniversary this season and evolving from a local art scene’s essence to an international standard. People are drawn here today for the increasingly popular Middle Eastern art, as well as the decorative pieces by contemporary art stars from Europe and America, provided by their respective galleries.

This year, the fair, held in the halls of Manarat Al Saadiyat under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will host the largest number of galleries in its history — 92 dealers from 31 countries. This includes prominent international galleries such as Perrotin, based in Paris and representing artists like Pierre Soulages, Bernar Venet, and Takashi Murakami; Sean Kelly Gallery from New York showcasing works by Marina Abramović and Rebecca Horn; Vienna’s Galerie Krinzinger with Hans Op de Beeck and Gavin Turk; and Custot Gallery with offices in Dubai and London featuring a star-studded list from Jean Dubuffet to Tony Cragg. Also participating are Why Not Gallery from Tbilisi, Leo Gallery from Hong Kong, Mazzoleni from Turin, and Keumsan Gallery from Seoul, all of which have already made their mark at fairs around the globe. Naturally, there are also art dealers from the Middle East, primarily from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

While Russian gallerists currently prefer to exhibit at fairs in nearby Dubai, Abu Dhabi will also reflect the Moscow art scene — among the participants is Gary Tatintsian (showcasing George Condo, Mat Collishaw, Wim Delvoye, and other stars), albeit labeled as a “US gallery”. 

Art passions during the fair will not only run high at the stands in the exhibition center hangars, as the organizers employ a popular strategy of engaging various city museums and other venues to promote art among the local community and introduce visiting collectors to the national culture. Sculptural installations will spring up in various parts of the city and its outskirts, drawing attention to underprivileged areas. Over the years, special works have been created here by artists such as Shilpa Gupta, Rashid Arain, Leandro Erlich, Imran Qureshi, and others. This season, Nujoom Alghanem will install her work at Al Jahili Fort, while Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim will be featured at Al Ain Oasis. The latter will also become a representative of the exhibition, specifically his meditative abstractions that resemble ancient symbols will be incorporated into the advertising campaign and overall design of the fair. 

Manarat Al Saadiyat will showcase exhibits by several resident artists. The local Louvre, in collaboration with French curators, is hosting a refined exhibition titled Letters of Light, dedicated to the history of creating iconic religious manuscripts from various countries, showcasing additional works by their creators — calligraphers and artists. 

Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Anna Laudel gallery, Courtesy of the artist and Rossi & Rossi, Press Office