This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Art Dubai. The 8th edition of the international art fair hosted over 75 galleries for four days in the posh neighborhood of Madinat Jumeirah. Art Dubai also commissioned new works from artist and musicians specifically for the art fair.
The scene was very similar to The Armory Show in New York and other large scale art fairs, except for a few key differences. Art Dubai was a lot less crowded, both on the walls and as far as the amount of people. I was able to stand back look at work and read wall text without having to constantly bob and weave so that my line of vision was not interrupted. There was a lot of work to be seen, but the work presented did not feel crammed, stacked on top of each other or placed in unfortunate corners. Yes there were a few 2-D works I found hidden on the way to the bathroom, but that is to be expected. The pacing for viewing and diversity of work was slightly haphazard but enjoyable.
As for the work itself, I found myself disappointed with the overall voice of contemporary photography and the almost desperate randomness of composition found in many 2-D works. Cut plastic carrots were glued onto collages of people's faces, rhinestones and other bejewel-ing accessories were stuck onto wall weavings and painting were mainly abstract (seemingly random composition by nature). Although there is nothing wrong per-say with minimal abstract painting, they left something to be desired in diversity. It was a fight for originality, personality and volume.
The photography for the most part was straightforward, well executed and banal. There was a large number of landscapes, street shots, even the abandoned building or two, but few pieces seemed to be motivated beyond the initial impulse to shoot. A handful of photographs and photographers were a breath of fresh air in their attempt to depict larger concepts. A female duo confronted femininity and Islam in the Arab world, another spoke of the mix of colonial and tribal cultural traditions and other plaguing concerns of the human condition. It was a surprising treat to view some of Iranian artist Shirin Neshate's mural sized silver gelatin prints expertly executed in the darkroom with beautiful hand written arabic calligraphy done over the print.
The last difference I will touch on was the obvious influence place had on what was seen. I did not see one depiction of a naked body. Although there were some expertly crafted ceramic organic, floral looking feminine body parts that were quite explicit, the traditional tasteful nude or salacious subject matter was skipped. For better or worse controversial subject matter was avoided(again allow for the one or two that were an exception to the larger representative body).
The fair was worth the long trip and I will jump at any chance to see art here in the U.A.E. I will not say that I was disappointed, that language is a little too harsh for me, but what I will say is that I am eager to visit more galleries in the U.A.E. to glean a broader sense for the art scene in the Gulf.