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Dubai fair reaps reward of focus on Indian contemporary art

British collectors Charles Saatchi and Frank Cohen were among those who bought

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Dubai. Arabian Delight, a stuffed camel squashed into a large blue suitcase, on show at the second edition of Art Dubai which opened on 18 March, was acquired by British collector Charles Saatchi. The 2008 piece by the Pakistani artist Huma Mulji was the talking point of the VIP opening.

The sale, for $8,000, was brokered in advance by an art advisor; Mr Saatchi did not attend the fair, however he also acquired a large pop-style group portrait (Untitled Eclipse 3, 2007) by Jitish Kallat from Chemould Prescott Road Gallery (Mumbai), for about $200,000. Manchester collector Frank Cohen snapped up Jagannath Panda’s figurative study of trees, Absence in Cite, 2007, for about e60,000 ($94,000) at the same gallery.

The fair, which continued until 23 March, brought together 70 dealers compared to 40 last year, from the local (Dubai, Bahrain) to the Middle Eastern (Iran, Lebanon) as well as from Europe, America, Australia, and Korea.

Art Dubai has grown not only in size but in complexity, with a programme of talks and events and this year boasted an “art park” for video along with a special section devoted to Pakistan.

The event is supported by Dubai’s ruler, HH Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, who swept into the exhibition hall on the first day surrounded by a phalanx of photographers, courtiers and press. This highly visible patronage was reinforced by a visit from his son HH Sheikh Majid Al Maktoum, who is culture minister of Dubai.

At last year’s fair, sales were driven by the market for contemporary Indian art, with many showing Western art reporting disappointing results. As a result, this year there was more Indian and Middle Eastern art on display.

Sales in this category proved the strongest on the opening day. In addition to sales at Chemould Prescott, Aicon Gallery found a buyer for India Shining, 2007, by Debanjan Roy for $20,000, a cast showing a red figure of Gandhi sitting in front of a laptop (edition of five).

While the mood was upbeat among the Indian gallerists, Western dealers noted that sales were slower. However Rossi and Rossi, with a solo show of Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso, had virtually sold out the God series of calligraphies, collages of glittery stickers (£16,500 per image), while Buddha in our Time, 2008, a large image of the deity, sold to Australian collector Judith Neilson’s White Rabbit Foundation for £45,000.

Elsewhere, there was a range of Western art on offer, from a large, $850,000 Sam Francis at Max Lang to Alexej Jawlensky’s House with Palm Tree, 1914, priced at $1.8m at Galerie Thomas. Albion had parked Wim Delvoye’s lacy metallic sculpture Cement Truck, 2008, outside the fair (e600,000, £473,000).

“There is a tremendous feeling of optimism about the Dubai fair,” says Mona Hauser, founder of the satellite Creek art fair. This consisted of dealer shows and artist installations scattered around 22 traditional houses and outdoor spaces in the historic Bastakiya district.

This event has also gathered momentum, compared to last year when there were only eight houses taking part.

The satellite event opened on 15 March, the Saturday before the start of Art Dubai, attracting over 1,000 visitors. Dealers reported strong sales particularly of Iranian art, much of it to UAE nationals.

Malekeh Nayiny sold examples from her “Demon” series of coloured photographic prints for e9,000 at XVA gallery.

Ms Hauser confirmed that it is important for dealers not to overprice in this still developing market.

Like Dubai itself, the fair is still being built, and can be expected to evolve as dealers and clients alike deepen their knowledge of the field. “We had better questions this year and more serious people, and I feel the fair has greater momentum,” said gallerist Max Lang of New York.