Dubai. Dubai’s latest property development, the $12.5bn Culture Village, opens with a series of exhibitions this month, including Islamic coins, miniatures, Qur’ans, and calligraphic paintings, plus new work by contemporary Middle Eastern artists (9 December-15 March). Several collectors based in the Gulf state are loaning works, some for the first time. Objects on show include a rare ink drawing miniature by Muhammad Siyar Qalam (“Muhammad of the Black Pen”), dating from around the late 14th century.
An exhibition of contemporary calligraphy includes works principally by Syrian artist Mouneer Al Shaarani, from the collection of Dr Anwar Gargash, the most committed patron of Dubai’s clutch of contemporary art galleries and a minister in the UAE cabinet. Another important collector, Iranian businessman Dr Farhad Farjam, a regular at auctions in London, Paris and New York, has loaned a selection of Qur’ans, dating from the 14th to the 19th century, that span Islamic India, Persia and today’s Arab world.
But the miniatures will be the highlight. Covering a 600-year period, the display includes an Ottoman album page with a black ink drawing by the mysterious Muhammad Siyar Qalam, whose work featured in the Royal Academy’s “Turks” exhibition in 2005. “This is very rare, there are few other examples of his work in private collections,” says William Lawrie, Islamic art specialist at Christie’s, who relocates to Dubai this month from London.
Abdullah Bin Jasim Al Mutairi jokingly describes his 13,000-piece Islamic coin collection, which includes an Omani coin, worth around £30,000, from 699AD, as his “first wife”. He will be loaning a selection of pieces dating from 660AD. The manager of a heritage museum in Dubai, Mr Al Mutairi has been buying Islamic coins for 30 years, mostly at auction and from dealers in London.
Billed as “a unique development offering an elite lifestyle in an intellectually stimulating environment”, the Culture Village had appeared to be another real estate project geared towards tourists and ex-pats, with the emphasis on traditional style architecture and a faux-rustic souk.
Contemporary gallery The Third Line recently stepped in as a consultant to the project, hoping to shift its focus towards contemporary art and work of international museum quality. Dubai is yet to build a public art museum, and the exhibition will take place in and around the sales centre of the developer Dubai Properties, part of the government’s business conglomerate Dubai Holding, which has committed around Dhs2.5m ($630,000) to the show.
Dubai Properties, who recently announced that a 215-suite Palazzo Versace Resort, complete with “artificial temperature-controlled beach” will be part of the development, has also commissioned new work from contemporary artists, including a photographic installation by the Montreal-based artist Arwa Aboun that features self-portraits.
The first phase of the development is due for completion in 2009. It remains to be seen whether contemporary art will have a permanent home in the “village”.