Doha hosted its first art fair this month to coincide with the third edition of the annual New York Times Art for Tomorrow (AFT) conference (10-13 March), both hosted at the W Hotel. START Doha invited four galleries—Aurum Gallery (Korea), Montoro 12 Contemporary Art (Italy), Hafez Gallery (Saudi Arabia) and Anima Gallery (Qatar)—for its inaugural edition and included an independent booth from the artist Owais Husain and a section dedicated to emerging Qatari artists organised by the Iraqi-Canadian artist Mahmoud Obaidi. “We are presenting a much more focused and intimate art fair [in Doha], offering select galleries the opportunity to engage with local collectors in a meaningful way, and potentially secure long-term relationships with them,” says Jag Mehta, the director of START Art Fair and START Doha. “Though the market is relatively small in the region, there are exciting and ambitious collectors at work.” Al Bahie auction house, which opened in March 2016, also tapped into the region’s small but lucrative art market, with auctions of Islamic and Orientalist art.
The AFT conference, titled Boundaries, Identity and the Public Realm, hosted over 200 figures from the art world including museum directors, gallerists, curators, collectors and artists including Irina Bokova, the director general of Unesco, the architect David Chipperfield, Isabelle de La Bruyère, the director of Christie's Middle East, and artists such as Lalla Essaydi, Dia Azzawi and Christo. The keynote panels covered subjects from the growth in cultural activity in the Gulf Cooperation Council states and whether there should be more collaboration or competition between them to the position of female, Muslim, contemporary artists in the field. A number of major exhibitions are also currently on show at Qatar’s state museums and galleries including a retrospective by the artist Dia Azzawi at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, a show on Picasso and Giacometti at the Firestation, and a solo show by the French street artist JR at QM Gallery Qatara.
Mehta believes that this growing activity in Doha’s art scene is garnering increasing international attention and investment. “We are attracted to Qatar which feels very fresh and exciting. We are making our intrepid debut in Doha, with a view to a long-term engagement with the region,” she says.