ArtParis-Abu Dhabi

As Abu Dhabi continues to take strides towards recognition as the culture capital of the Middle East we take a look at the ArtParis art fair.

Abu Dhabi, our sister emirate, is poised to be a capital of culture for the region. Only this year, works by one of the world’s great modern masters, Pablo Picasso, was showcased in the capital. With the upcoming Louvre and the Guggenheim, the rumblings of a mass cultural overhaul are drawing closer. But November sees the return of an event that captures the spirit of what is driving these huge cultural projects. For the second year running, ArtParis-Abu Dhabi will haul the world’s artistic greats to the heart of the capital. Cézanne to Matisse, Warhol to Hirst – they’ll all be meeting under Emirates Palace’s gilded roof.

In its Gallic heartland, ArtParis is one of Europe’s largest and most lucrative art fairs. For one weekend each year, the centre of Paris plays host to the cream of France’s gallery crop. But last year saw the fair venture out to the UAE. Altering its lineup to include galleries from around the world, over the three days of the fair, an incredible 9,200 art lovers and collectors perused the event. Its success and scope offered some insight into Abu Dhabi’s future as the international platform for art that the UAE capital is striving to become.

Keen to build on 2007’s success, ArtParis-Abu Dhabi hopes to attract 15,000 visitors this year. ‘The fair will host 57 art galleries, coming from 22 countries,’ Laura d’Hauteville, the fair’s project manager, tells Time Out. ‘Forty per cent of these galleries will be brand new ones, and our selection has come from slightly further afield this time. It has meant that when we were choosing the galleries from Paris, we could only pick the best.’

A more international streak is evident in the line-up as well. From 57 galleries, only 16 of those have been plucked from the French capital, and the portfolio of exhibitors has taken a step up in terms of diversity. Non-European highlights include Pundole Gallery, a Mumbai-based operation that places contemporary Indian art at its heart. This year it is exhibiting works by the massively successful MF Hussain, dubbed the Picasso of India. More local galleries have come on board this year too, including Contempo Corporate Art from Abu Dhabi, The Third Line and B21 (established hooks in Dubai’s art scene), and the newly-opened Artsawa gallery, which showcases works from around the region with a focus on North Africa.

Interest in the region’s art has been picking up for some time now. Back on its home turf in April this year, ArtParis installed a special pavilion to showcase Middle Eastern contemporary art. ‘The collectors just went crazy,’ d’Hauteville explains. ‘Nobody could imagine that Arab art would be like that – people thought it would be modern Orientalist works, but they saw that it just wasn’t that at all.’

Taking local finds back to the Paris event could prove to be one of the best ways for artists in the region to break into the European collectors’ market. This commitment to getting more local operations involved, along with galleries from Tunisia (El Marsa), Syria (Atassi Gallery), Lebanon (Galerie Agial) contributes to the spirit of global exchange that defines the event. This week’s fair offers insight into Abu Dhabi’s future, if it can become the globally connected capital of culture that it intends to be.

ArtParis-Abu Dubai, Emirates Palace, November 17-21.

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