Dubai fair reaps reward of focus on Indian contemporary art

Georgina Adam and James Knox | 19.3.08 |

Going to London in a suitcase: Huma Mulji’s Arabian Delight sold to Charles Saatchi for $8,000
British collectors Charles Saatchi and Frank Cohen were among those who bought

DUBAI. Arabian Delight, a stuffed camel squashed into a large blue suitcase, on show at the Art Dubai fair, has been acquired by Charles Saatchi. The 2008 piece by the Pakistani artist Huma Mulji, was the talking point of the fair, which opened to VIPs yesterday (Tuesday).

The sale, for $8,000 (£4,000), 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 (£100,000). Manchester collector Frank Cohen snapped up Jagannath Panda’s figurative study of trees, Absence in Cite, 2007, for about €60,000 (£47,000) at the same gallery.

The second edition of the fair, which continues until Sunday (23 March), brings together 70 dealers, compared to 40 last year, ranging from dealers from Dubai, Iran, Lebanon and Bahrein, to Australian, Korean, American and European exhibitors.

The fair has grown not only in size but in complexity, with a programme of talks and events and this year boasts 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 in the statelet.

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 element on the opening day of the fair. In addition to the sales at Chemould Prescott, Aicon Gallery sold India Shining 2007 by Debanjin Roy for $20,000 (£10,000), a cast (3/5) showing a red-painted Ghandi sitting in front of a laptop.

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 the Australian 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 Jawlenski’s House with Palmtree, 1914, priced at $1.78m at Galerie Thomas. Albion had parked Wim Delvoye’s lacy metallic sculpture Cement Truck, 2008, outside the fair (€600,000, £473,000).

“There is a tremendous feeling of optimism about the Dubai fair,” said 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 available. This year there are also films, talks and concerts. The opening night (which took place Saturday, before the fair itself opened) attracted over 1,000 visitors and saw the start of very strong buying, particularly of Iranian art, much to UAE nationals.

Malekeh Nayiny sold examples from her Demon series of coloured photographic prints for €9,000 (£7,000) at XVA gallery. This series has also been on display at the Vuitton centre in Paris. Watercolours of childlike fantasy landscapes by Farah Abolghasemi were selling strongly at 14,000 Dirhams (£200) at Total Arts.

Ms Hauser confirmed that it is important for dealers not to overprice in this still nascent market. The Creek art fair runs to 31 March.

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.
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