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Art Dubai returns to the city this week

Art Dubai, one of the world’s most prestigious art events, returns to the emirate from March 11 to 13 for its 15th edition, with a special focus on the ever-expanding realm of digital art

As 2022 continues to unfold, cultural initiatives across the globe, the Middle East and the UAE are continuing to take shape. Driven by the international art community (artists and audiences alike), their collective eagerness to move forward from the pandemic is inspiring the sector to adapt to our changing times in creative ways.

As such, the artistic realm continues to see growth, which is bolstered by the use of new technologies and alternative solutions to make art sustainable. And Dubai, in particular, is a shining example of this movement.

With a culture of nurturing creativity, the emirate hosts a series of events aimed at bringing the artistic community together all year round. Established galleries and seasonal exhibitions bring rare creations to the city while emerging artists are presented with the ideal platform to find their footing in the industry. Above all, Dubai is home to some of the most prestigious art fairs in the world. And, this March, one of the biggest highlights on the region’s creative calendar is set to return.

Paying homage to all things creative, the 15th edition of Art Dubai gets underway from March 11 to 13. Returning to the spectacular surroundings of Madinat Jumeirah, this year’s event is set to be the largest edition to date. Visitors can expect 115 presentations – from returning entities and 30 newcomers – from over 40 countries.

This year’s fair will be structured around four gallery sections, including Contemporary, Modern and Bawwaba, as in previous years, while a new section – Digital – is set to launch.

Speaking about the upcoming edition, Pablo del Val, Art Dubai’s Artistic Director said: “Art Dubai is a truly global fair and this is reflected in both the quality and geographic spread of the galleries participating in our 2022 edition, which will be our largest to date. That so much of the programme is drawn from the Global South highlights the increased interest in and appetite for collecting non-Western art, the strengthening of the gallery scene beyond the traditional centres of the art world and the role Art Dubai plays as a platform for the region.”

Digital art in focus

The fair’s upcoming edition marks the debut of Art Dubai Digital, an innovative new digital art and NFT section that will provide a comprehensive introduction to this fast-developing landscape. This new physical section of the fair will showcase a curated selection of digital works of art presented by 17 leading international galleries and platforms, examining the development of NFTs, cryptocurrency, video art and virtual reality. The line-up will be accompanied by an extensive education programme, including the 15th edition of Global Art Forum and a series of introductory talks.

“Each year we look at what is particularly exciting in the global scene and gauge how contemporary art is evolving and shifting,” said Val. “There is now a serious drive – from galleries to auction houses – to do something discursive related to digital media. We are particularly pleased to launch Art Dubai Digital, which will provide an important and needed bridge between the rapidly-developing global crypto-sphere and the international art market.”

While NFTs have been around since 2017, they have only gained popularity over the last two years. Their rise marks a significant evolution in the digital art world. As Val stated: “Artists are now not just searching for a dialogue between traditional art practices and technology, they are starting to create their art directly in the digital universe, and this is an entirely new approach.”

Art Dubai’s new section will provide a platform to engage all visitors with this new rapidly unfolding metaverse of digital art. It will include a dedicated gallery section, featuring several international platforms working with NFTs, contemporary galleries with projects devoted to digital art and those that have been working with digital art since the 1980s. There will also be a space introducing visitors to the main players in the digital world, explaining where to buy bitcoin and trade in crypto, among other activities.

Val reiterated: “The section is sure to be an experiential think-tank that thoughtfully answers many questions about the digital media landscape and encourages a lot of questions, too.”

A splendid showcase

Running alongside the comprehensive digital art programme, Art Dubai’s returning sections are sure to continue to enthral visitors. Art Dubai Contemporary will feature 77 galleries from 33 countries and will welcome 15 first-time exhibitors. Art Dubai Modern will feature solo presentations of museum-quality works by 20th-century masters from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Finally, Bawwaba – meaning gateway in Arabic and exclusively featuring works made in the past year or specifically for the fair – will feature 10 solo presentations, including six first-time exhibitors.

Lasting impact

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 was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who was keen to promote arts and culture in the city.

The past 15 years have seen Art Dubai cement its position as one of the most prestigious art fairs in the region. A local initiative with global reach, it has served as a platform for upcoming and established creatives from the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Australasia. While rising up the ranks on the international art scene, the event has been instrumental in broadening conversations about art among diverse geographies, often not exposed to the global art fair landscape.

In its role as a talent incubator, Art Dubai has been a launchpad and development platform for several artists, curators and art professionals. And its significance extends beyond the four-day fair. The initiative continues to celebrate excellence in art through programmes such as the Global Art Forum, Gulf Now, Ithra Art Prize, Art Dubai Commissions, Campus Art Dubai, International Curators Programme and Performance Arts.

The mission extends to cultivating an ecosystem of not only art but also education, mentorship and thought leadership, fostering cross-continental dialogue and exchange, enhancing the international curatorial landscape.

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