Why galleries and collectors keep coming back to Art Dubai

Continued dealer participation shows great loyalty to the fair


Aicon Gallery is an Art Dubai veteran, having participated at Art Dubai ten times. “We want to appeal to the Middle Eastern collector base. We straddle various fault lines of cultural geography through our artists, rather like Dubai itself,” says Projjal Dutta, the co-founder who specialises in contemporary works by South Asian artists. He is showing works by the Pakistani artist Rasheed Araeen, Pakistani-American Anila Quayyum Agha and Rashid Koraichi of Algeria, among others, with a price range of “a couple of thousand to a couple of hundred thousand dollars.” 

The continued participation by such dealers reflects ongoing faith in the fair, which launched at a time when Dubai was not established as an art hub. This year, there are more than 90 galleries at Art Dubai from 44 countries, of which three quarters, like Aicon, are returning. Another repeat participant is the French Galerie Daniel Templon, which is taking part for the fifth time. 

“We always bring works by the Indian artist Jitish Kallat,” says Anne- Claudie Coric, the gallery’s executive director. Kallat’s sculpture Sacred Geometry (Covariance; 2017) is priced at $65,000. “There is a very good collector base of Indian expatriates here,” she adds, stressing that the gallery is also showing works by an African artist, Omar Ba for the first time. 1x1 Art Gallery, one of over ten Dubai-based dealers attending, also emphasised that tapping into target audiences is a key attribute of the fair. 

“Collectors here are really curious, they want to know about new things,” says Martijn Dijkstra of Up- stream Gallery, an Amsterdam-based dealer who is participating for the second time. His adventurous artist roster revolves around works that push the limits of technology, with pieces on show by Rafael Rozendaal (Abstract Browsing, 16 10 01 Google Docs, 2016; $9,000) and Jan Robert Leegte (Compressed Landscapes, a website priced at $6,500).

Some galleries expressed this freedom to take risks as another of the fair’s strong points. Mumbai dealer Chatterjee and Lal has brought works by Thukral & Tagra. “We feel comfortable at Art Dubai being able to take risks,” says Mortimer Chatterjee. The works, priced between $12,000 and $50,000 are amongst the more expensive works the gallery shows at fairs. This focus on curatorial freedom is also echoed by Mohsen Gallery, one of eight Iranian galleries taking part this year. 

This year marks their first participation, presenting a double-artist booth featuring large-scale sculptural installations by Mojtaba Amini (Haleb Haleb, 2017, for $22,000 and Jeld, 2016-17, $18,000) and Mehdi Abdolkarimi (untitled photo installation works, $6,000-$13,000). “At Art Dubai, we felt we wanted to come in strong,” says gallery manager Narges Hamzianpour. “These are pieces that these artists perhaps can’t show anywhere else; we wanted a strong debut.” 

For Australian gallery Gagprojects, back for the sixth time, a combination of new and familiar names is important. “Every year we introduce one new artist who is not from this region—this year Julia Robinson of Australia—as well as show a sense of consistency through the rest of the roster,” says founder Paul Greenaway. Works by Hossein Valamanesh and Ariel Hassan, for instance, appeal to regional collectors.

This sense of local meets global is reflected in the selection of many galleries, including Agial Gallery of Beirut, which has taken part in all 11 editions of the fair. “Art Dubai is a rendezvous of sorts,” says the founder Saleh Barakat. “You can carve a niche here, and have recurring clients. I try to do something different every year.” US collectors are scarce but European collectors are out in force. Coric argues that the fair is “truly ‘glocal’; it’s rooted in the region but has the capacity to bring in international dealers and collectors.”