In a last-minute move, Art Dubai fair has announced that it will delay its 2021 edition and change its venue. Originally scheduled to take place 17–20 March at its "home" in the luxury hotel Madinat Jumeirah, the art fair will now open on 29 March in a purpose-built venue at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a group of buildings around a 20-minute drive up the emirate's coast.
"Our new plan takes into account health and safety protocols, travel and other Covid-related restrictions, along with the continued commitment from our local community who wish to attend an in person art event," the fair says in a statement.
The postponed fair will now host 45 galleries, compared to the previously planned 86, and will run for six days (29 March–3 April) instead of four. The reduced number of galleries participating in-person reflects new travel restrictions for Dubai, preventing many international spaces from entering the country. In January, the UK added Dubai to its “red list”, ending direct flights and enforcing tough self-isolation rules on those arriving from the emirate. The fair is also launching a Remote Participation Programme for galleries to virtually present exhibitions and allow visitors in Dubai to experience artworks in person; an updated list of participating galleries is due to be announced later this month.
The new venue will enable the fair to "more efficiently regulate the number of people attending the fair at any point in time, in accordance with the necessary safety and social distancing measures," it says. Visitors will be able to book tickets through a new app; the fair is yet to decide whether it will operate on an appointment-only basis or open as normal.
The decision to change dates and venue comes as coronavirus cases surge in the UAE, leading the country to tighten restrictions and close bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. Many blame the spike—which has seen daily new cases in the UAE jump to nearly 4,000 at the beginning of February from around 1,000 at the end of 2020—on the country's loose Covid-19 rules over Christmas and New Year and encouraging international tourists to visit.
Despite the cancellation and postponement of many fairs in 2021, Art Dubai's organisers have remained adamant that a physical fair would take place this year.