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SHIFTING GEARS? Why Dubai’s “booming” art market needs to change its strategy

art dubai

Dubai has discovered there really are some things money can't buy.

June 14, 2012 5:35 by

A Christie’s auction in April in the ballroom of Jumeriah Emirates Towers in downtown Dubai featured works by contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish artists and attracted a young, fashionable crowd, some of them emerging collectors.


Michael Jeha, Christie’s Middle East director, who describes the boom in 2007 and early 2008 as overheating and unsustainable, said this new league of collectors was instrumental to the foundation of a stronger market.


“Where we are today is you have a truly sustainable market with a far deeper base of buyers and far more younger collectors participating,” he said. “Collectors want to buy art from their own region as they relate to it.”


The status of women in society, social and civil rights and certainly the effects of the Arab Spring revolutions in several countries in the Middle East are what stimulates this younger art crowd. Some say they’re looking for pieces that, as collector Shaz Sheibani put it, “reflect the pains of the society and are full of powerful statements”.


“Iranian art for example is very topical,” said Sheibani, a Canadian national of Iranian origin who grew up in Dubai. “I like those kinds of things that I can relate to and the messages are more about the reflections on the society.”


Sheibani, 34, who has been collecting art for the past four to five years, talks about a generation of people who spent their childhood in Dubai and then went abroad to study. Many came back with a fresh and broad world vision and are determined to be a part of the artistic transformation of the city.


“What happens when your walls are full?” asked Bashar Al-Shrooqi, a private collector and the director of Dubai’s Cuadro Fine Art Gallery.


“Then you actually develop this passion and instead of going to the movies you go to a gallery opening and at that point it becomes not just collecting to fill your walls anymore … This is what we’ve been seeing here.”


One positive indicator for the Dubai art scene is the popularity of Art Dubai, which covers the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia region. For its sixth edition this year, featuring 75 galleries from 32 countries, visitor numbers have nearly quadrupled from its first year in 2007 to more than 22,000.


Fair director Antonia Carver predicted a bright future for Dubai’s art market.


“The recognition of Arab and Iranian artists by the global market has been absolutely phenomenal,” she said.


“I don’t think anyone in the art market here is hoping for a big boom. They’re hoping for a steady growth and I can say we’re in a much better position than before.”    (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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