The art of going global

Layla Haroon

19 February 2008

Director of Art Dubai, John Martin, speaks about the significance of bringing top class contemporary art to a dynamic city like Dubai

AS ART Dubai takes precedence in Dubai as the leading contemporary art fair in the Middle East, John Martin, Director of Art Dubai speaks to City Times about its significance and what one can expect from the second edition of the event.

Give us some insight into Art Dubai 2008

Art Dubai is one of the most diverse contemporary art fairs in the world. With galleries from 30 countries, it provides a unique opportunity for visitors to see the most exciting contemporary art from around the world.

This year we are delighted to introduce a new project space at Art Dubai called Art Park, which focuses on video art from the Middle East, and in addition, we have asked curator Salima Hashmi, to create an exhibition looking at contemporary art from Pakistan.

I want to highlight that people definitely should give themselves enough time to enjoy the entire fair and all that it offers. Art Dubai has nearly doubled in size since the inaugural event in 2007

How do you read the significance of the event as a cultural bridge between diverse nations?

Contemporary art is a global phenomenon in which artists participate at an international rather than national level. An Indian artist will have an exhibition in Beijing and work in London; a Chinese artist will work in New York and be exhibited by a gallery in Paris.

Contemporary art has already shown how effective it is as a cultural bridge, providing opportunities for artists and collectors from all corners of the world to become involved and make their own contributions.

There is a sense that artists are creating a new global culture: French artists no longer make art for a French audience, just as Chinese artists no longer make art for a Chinese audience. Artists are part of this new internationalism and are making art for everyone.

That is why so many artists are excited about the possibilities offered by Dubai, as it seems to embrace the most positive aspects of this new global culture.

How do you expect the event to be received this year?

In general, I would say that the first fair was a huge success. The quality and diversity of the work on display was exceptional; more importantly it was also innovative and forward looking.

On a personal level, I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction from the public: the only complaint I heard from the galleries was that they had never had to answer so many questions! Curiosity is one of the greatest attributes for artists and collectors, and it was great to see that element displayed so abundantly last year.

How do you go about choosing the participating dealers and galleries to exhibit at the fair?

In selecting galleries we not only want exceptional art, but we want dealers who have an excellent reputation for integrity and professionalism. This is of enormous importance in a new market like Dubai and the selection committee was very vigilant on this issue.

Art Dubai should give collectors the chance to establish relationships with a number of galleries — and those relationships are incredibly important as they grow and develop their collections.

Why do you think so many European art dealers want to do business in the UAE?

Art dealers are always incredibly quick to respond to new markets, therefore any good dealer will be thinking about the possibilities that the UAE offers.

It is not a European phenomenon at all; it is just that there are many more galleries in Europe than elsewhere, but this is likely to change.

What is your ultimate vision behind this initiative?

Art Dubai will grow; of that I have no doubt. But as Dubai becomes an ever-growing market in its own right, it may be necessary to rethink how we structure Art Dubai. We have to ensure Art Dubai remains innovative and relevant, and by that I mean that it serves to harness the unbelievable talent that abounds in the Middle East.

It is not inconceivable that one or two of the children who visit Art Dubai this March may well become major international artists within fifteen years — seen like that, we have an enormous responsibility to involve ourselves in the fabric of the art community from primary level upwards and make sure we can inspire people from all backgrounds and at all ages.

The Fair has become a cornerstone for the rapidly growing art community of the Middle East. Comment.

Art Dubai has become an immensely important platform for the whole international art community and a chance for important regional artists and art initiatives to engage at a serious level with curators and collectors around the world. But it is only a five day event!

The quality and depth of the art scene in the Middle East is immense and that is the achievement of those curators, artists and galleries across the region who work tirelessly throughout the year. It is a huge privilege to be part of this phenomenal growth.

Are there any plans to extend the present portfolio of Art Dubai?

We will keep expanding the fair in new directions, always trying to be original and inventive. For instance, this year we hope to involve many more schools and colleges in the fair and in children’s workshops run by START, the charity we established with Al Madad Foundation last year.
I am also delighted that there are so many other artistic projects across Dubai that will be involved in Art Dubai Week: by 2009 I am sure that it will have turned into a city-wide festival for contemporary art. By 2010, perhaps it could be pan-regional!
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