Buying activity at Abu Dhabi Art signals market return for UAE despite looming global recession


In previous years, even before the pandemic dealt a blow to art fair attendance, the halls of Abu Dhabi Art were sparsely populated with visitors, leaving many dealers wondering if the market had dried up. in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. But at the 14th edition of the fair this year, throngs of guests from the region and beyond filled the fairgrounds every day. “This is the best edition for a while!” Longtime Dubai-based dealer Sunny Rahbar told Artnet News.

Diversity was the predominant theme of the fair, which returned to Manarat Al Saadiyat from November 16 to 20, and seems to have become something of a gateway to international collectors for gallery owners coming from neighboring countries in full socio-economic and political turmoil. .

Organized again by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, this year also marked the biggest edition of the fair, with 80 galleries from 28 countries, with 33 new galleries from Colombia, France, Tunisia, Italy, Nigeria, South Korea, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

A greater presence of Turkish galleries has responded to the difficult market faced by national galleries. In October 2022, Turkish Lira inflation soared to 83%, marking a peak of 24 years. The 20-year-old Istanbul-based gallery Dirimart, a first-time participant, said it had not had to adjust its prices for inflation, but admitted some Turkish collectors were hesitant to buy. “The UAE is a good place to grow now,” director Levent Özmen said. The gallery has sold a work by prominent Turkish artist Fahrelnissa Zeid to an Abu Dhabi-based collector for over $100,000.

Installation view, Dirimart, Abu Dhabi Art 2022. Courtesy Dirimart.

Özmen was not alone in his thinking. Prices at the fair also ranged, from works capped at $3,000 in the Emerge section to the most expensive works: a museum-quality painting by Cuban master Wilfredo Lam offered for between $5 million and $8 million at Galeria La Cometa. The gallery’s Andrés Córdoba said he returned for a second year after selling a work by Fernando Botero for just over $1 million last year.

Although the Lam generated a lot of interest, it remained unsold on the last day of the fair. But Abu Dhabi Art is known as a fair where collectors take their time, especially local buyers.

“It’s always been a slower-paced fair,” William Lawrie, co-founder of the Lawrie Shabibi gallery, told Artnet News. “This is not a fair where you know how you did on the second day. Many acquisitions take place on the last day or even after the fair. The gallery presented a solo booth dedicated to the work of the Iranian-British artist Farhad Ahrarnia and sold several works on the last day for between $14,000 and $19,000.

“At this fair, people take their time; it’s not a fair where people buy with their ears and try to get the next thing that will make them money,” echoed fair director Dyala Nusseibeh.

Abu Dhabi is now a changed city, filled with great museums, like the Louvre Abu Dhabi which celebrated its fifth anniversary last week, and others on the rise, like the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum, teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi and the Abrahamic Interfaith Family House.

The regular exposure to these essential works of art in new museums, as well as the presence of institutions, art galleries and fairs have inspired young local residents to appreciate and collect art.

“They grew up with museums, art fairs and galleries and is now eager to buy,” Nusseibeh said, emphasizing how ultimately the boutique fair is for the benefit of the “community and general public.” And the royal family supports such goals. “They are very gallery-friendly,” added Nusseibeh. “For them it is important that they came to invest in Abu Dhabi.”

Farah Ossouli, Delacroix and me (2019).  Courtesy of the artist and Dastan basement.

Farah Ossouli, Delacroix and me (2019). Courtesy of the artist and Dastan basement.

For a fair that started in 2009 with a handful of top-notch galleries like Gagosian and David Zwirner keen to sell to Abu Dhabi’s Nahyan royal family, over the years Abu Dhabi art has taken on a distinctly regional in character, focusing instead on artists and galleries from the Gulf and the wider Middle East. However, the past two years have seen the fair encompass a more diverse mix of galleries and artists, with this year being particularly multicultural, particularly in its increased showcase of art from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey and Turkey. Iran.

On the stand of Dastan’s Basement, based in Tehran, a painting reappropriates a scene from Eugène Delacroix’s famous depiction of the French Revolution, Liberty Leading the People. Iranian artist Farah Ossouli very detailed and passionate work in gouache on cardboard, titled Delacroix and me (2014), seemed timely to present with the ongoing protests in neighboring Iran, just an hour and a half flight from Dubai. The work, from the artist’s private collection, was not for sale.

“It is very important to raise awareness of what is happening through art – art is a reflection of society on a deeper level,” Hormoz Hematian, founder of Dastan’s Basement, told Artnet News. “Ossouli is a pioneer in the introduction of Persian miniature painting into contemporary art. We thought the fair was a way to draw attention to his work.

All Hematian spaces in Tehran – Dastan Basement, +2 and Parallel Circuit – remain closed due to the ongoing protests.

Farideh Lashai, Catching the Moon, ed.  3/7 (2010).  Private Collection of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan

Farideh Lashai, Catching the Moon, ed. 3/7 (2010). Private Collection of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan

“There was definitely a strong presence of Iranian modern and contemporary art at this year’s fair,” Dubai-based collector and businessman Mohammed Afkhami told Artnet News. Afkhami launched his virtual museum during the week, but as a sign of respect for what is happening in Iran, he said he decided to delay the official launch until early 2023.

The exhibition “Farideh Lashai: Afloat Over Undulations” further marked the Iranian presence, presenting works from the last part of the late Iranian artist’s life. “The works relate to moving images and photography and subtly reflect what is happening with women’s voices in Iran,” Maneli said. Keykavoussi, Lashai’s daughter and director of the Lashai Foundation told Artnet News. “The show tells a bloody story with a great sense of humor and love, through allegory, prophetically, and above all, with beauty.”

And the platform has also paid off, which is more important than ever because the galleries remain closed at home. Hassan Saradipour, owner of the Sarai Gallery, whose space in Tehran remains closed, sold several works by Iranian artists ranging from $2,000 to $40,000. While the gallery’s branch in Mahshahr, southern Iran, remains open, its artists are focusing heavily on international platforms, either through its space at Cromwell Place in London or in programming for its upcoming gallery. in downtown Los Angeles in April 2023. And his verdict on Abu Dhabi Art? This year, he said, the fair is becoming “high-level”.

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