DUBAI — From the development of an opera house to rival Sydney’s to what’s billed as the world’s most diverse art fair, Dubai is having a cultural renaissance.
The emirate with its glitzy skyscrapers and megamalls kicked off a month and a half long Art Season in Dubai, an umbrella initiative of events aimed at highlighting its creative landscape. The title event, Art Dubai, welcomed 25,000 guests who came to see 92 galleries from around the world selling works of art in excess of $46 million. In the same week, visitors shuffled between the art fair and an enormous tent at the base of the Burj Khalifa, which housed Design Days, a three-day fair dedicated to collectible and limited edition design objects and decorative art.
Van Cleef & Arpels, the title sponsor of Design Days, brought an exhibition entitled “Timeless Design” of rarely seen pieces, including a jewel-encrusted frog cage made for an Indian maharaja in the Thirties. “We can be playful and surprising in Dubai,” said Nicolas Bos, chief executive officer of the jewelry firm, which ranks the Middle East among its strongest performing markets. “We have great success here with local clientele who are important collectors of estate pieces. They look at jewelry as works for art. Tastes have evolved and growth in this market has been the most important for our company in the last 10 years.”
Claudia Cellini, owner of one of Dubai’s most established art galleries, The Third Line, said Dubai’s art market has also come a long way: “At our first show, we weren’t even sure we would sell any paintings.”
Thanks in part to increased education and appreciation for art throughout the gulf with the opening of the I.M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and outposts of the Guggenheim and Louvre under construction in Abu Dhabi, interest in art across the region has grown exponentially. “There is a real maturation in the market,” Cellini said. “What’s happened over the last few years is that the appetite for experimental art coming out of the region has increased and there is much more appreciation for conceptual practices like video art.”
The appreciation for art and design is having a positive commercial effective on the region’s designers. “We have a strong heritage of design and craftsmanship. What design fairs like Design Days do, is highlight and remind people of this,” said Nez Gebreel, ceo of the recently established Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC), whose aim includes educating retailers and consumers in the region to support locally based talent. “One of the designers’ biggest challenges is getting buyers from the region to support them and buy into their brands. This is beginning to change as the retailers are seeing a shift in the consumers who are looking to buy unique and regional brands as opposed to just the larger international known brands.”
The next big event on Dubai’s art season calendar is a three-day design, music and food extravaganza called Meet d3 which launches April 2. Designed to showcase Dubai’s most buzzed about real estate project, the Dubai Design District (d3). The development offers creative entrepreneurs and businesses in industries like fashion, graphic design and architecture a dedicated neighborhood. D3, set to open its first phase later this year, will include office space, residential areas, hotels, retail and restaurants.
The event, which is open to the public and actually taking place on the d3 construction site, is aimed at bringing together a mix of local, regional and international designers, artists, musicians and concept retailers. “We are showcasing the various aspects of fashion, art and design to give the people an experience of what being in a creative community will be like and make the concept of design more accessible,” said Saadia Zahid, programming director for Meet d3. “The idea is for the people of Dubai to discover and understand what Dubai Design District will add to the city, even for those not working in those industries.”
As the emirate shifts towards more institutionalized cultural hubs, another highly anticipated project is the Opera District in downtown Dubai developed by Emaar Properties, builders of the world’s tallest building. Set to open next year, the Dubai Opera building, whose style is inspired by the traditional arabic wooden boats, will house a 2,000-seat multi-format venue for opera, theatre, concerts, art exhibitions, orchestra and film. “Dubai Opera, which is central to the new arts and lifestyle district, will be a spectacular addition to downtown Dubai…with the city establishing its global reputation as an arts hub, the new development will also strengthen the ‘Dubai Art Season,’ which brings together the city’s vibrant arts initiatives,” said Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties.