“It really did feel like business as usual,” says Abu Dhabi Art’s director Dyala Nusseibeh of her experience at Frieze London last month. “People were hungry for it.” As international fairs get back on track, each physical iteration acts as a litmus test for the next. Abu Dhabi Art is next: it returns this week at its usual venue at Manarat Al Saadiyat after an online-only edition in 2020. While Nusseibeh says that the online viewing room was a good substitute in difficult circumstances that “managed to achieve pretty good sales for quite a few of the galleries”, she is excited to have the art world return to the emirate.
Another more local test of the willingness to travel and attend large-scale events has been the Dubai Expo, which finally opened last month; it reportedly had more than 400,000 visitors within the first ten days, with one in three having come from abroad. The world fair hopes to attract 25 million people before it closes in March next year.
“It has been a really good indication that people have the confidence to travel again—from the US to the UAE in particular—and they’re not feeling that it’s too difficult,” Nusseibeh says.
Fifty galleries are participating in Abu Dhabi Art this year—similar to pre-Covid numbers—with 14 first timers including Rossi & Rossi (London); Colnaghi (London); Baró Galeria (Palma); and Galeria La Cometa (Bogotá). The fair isn’t jumping on the NFT bandwagon, and while some galleries may be showing digital works, Nusseibeh says that painting will dominate on the booths this year (an observation keenly noted by many at Frieze London, too).
“The counterbalance to [digital] is, of course, the materiality of paintings,” she says. “I could go through a number of different artists that are showing wonderful paintings at the fair. Colnaghi has proposed Raqib Shaw paintings, and Rasheed Araeen, who is well known for geometric structures, is creating a whole series of paintings. The UAE market responds really well to it.”
This year, a special section of contemporary African art from four galleries is being organised by the curator and African art expert Simon Njami. Called Kind of Blue, it uses jazz music as a metaphor for African art’s current role in the international scene. The exhibition will be the first thing you encounter on walking into the fair, Nusseibeh says. “It’s like a central market square off which everything else goes. It’s definitely going to be something special.”
• Abu Dhabi Art, 17-20 November, Manarat Al Saadiyat