Best art in the UAE

The year’s biggest Art events are here but where are the best places to get doused in culture, Dubai-style?

Art Dubai

The art world has landed. Sixty-eight galleries from across the five continents, descend on Madinat Jumeirah to showcase the best in new British talent, edgy Chinese sculpture, colourful Korean kinetic paintings, monuments to the Middle East’s contemporary art scene and everything in-between, from East to West. The third instalment of the fair sees more lectures, non-profit initiatives, workshops and forums taking to the stage. And did we mention that it’s a rather big party as well?
March 18-22

One reason to go
The sheer overblown opulence of the thing. Spread across the entirety of the Madinat, it’s not called a ‘highly lucrative’ scene for nothing, you know.


There was a time when the city scoffed at the expat, cultureless conundrum that was the Marina. Times they have a-changed. Head down to this peaceful side of town for a look at Austrian artist Thierry Feuz’s saturated and explosive lacquer creations at Carbon 12 (050 873 9623, Marina View Towers basement), or Marwan Sahmarani’s works, left, at Boutique 1 Art Gallery (04 423 1999, JBR The Walk) or a selection of paintings of the female form by Corine Pagny at Art Couture (04 399 4331, Al Fattan Marine Towers). As Dubai’s art tendrils spread further, have a look at this far out spot.

One reason to go
You won’t believe the bizarre microworlds that Thierry Feuz exhibits at Carbon 12. Like gazing into a psychedelic Petri dish.

Al Quoz

You’ve heard about Dubai’s arty happenings and here is its big, bold and brash nucleus. Like London’s East End, New York’s Dumbo (sort of) – Al Quoz is the city’s forgotten industrial melting pot and the final bastion of unplanned Dubai. Among these dusty warehouses, some of the most cutting-edge galleries have made their home. Check out Youssef Nabil’s most personal show (inset) of his hand-tinted photographs at The Third Line (04 341 1367, behind Times Square), see Bita Fayazzi’s Tehran neighbourhood sculpture ensemble at B21 Gallery (04 340 3965, behind Times Square) or witness an exposé of the Syrian new wave at Ayyam Gallery (04 323 6242, Al Quoz 1 near Kanoo).

One reason to go
Don’t get lost in this industrial hell. Jump on the Art Bus running tour of the galleries around Al Quoz, departing the Souk Madinat around 9am on march 19, 20 and 21. Tickets are Dhs100 and are available from thejamjar, Art Dubai and (800 4669)

Difc Art Village

A slightly different set-up from its dusty, unplanned Al Quoz counterpart, the financial district has still managed to carve out a pretty impressive selection of international galleries. Among all that glass and steel, search out Cuadro (04 425 0400), it’s one of the largest galleries in the region and currently display works by New York graffiti artists. Also, don’t miss out on Opera Gallery (04 323 0909), an international gallery displaying a markedly un-Middle East roster of contemporary works.

One reason to go
Opera Gallery have reconciled Picasso and Chagall in their latest show. Catch a glimpse of works rarely seen by these two European masters of modernism.

Bastakiya Art Fair

As far as ‘heritage villages’ go, Bastakiya is a pretty nice exception to the rule. Rather than being resigned to the tourist horde, Al Bastakiya, with its wind towers, huge mosques and weekly market, is home to a number of the city’s most reputable and time-honed galleries, including XVA and Majlis Gallery. This year, following on from the success of the fringe Creek Art Fair, the area will once again be taken over by artists, designers and gallery folk for the Bastakiya Art Fair. Each house has been given over to a gallery, with highlights including Green Art Gallery’s installation piece by Buthanya Ali and a dedicated art school-style series of both lectures and discussions.
March 15-22, 9am to 8pm daily.

One reason to go
Aside from this being a great opportunity to scurry through the alleyways of Bastakiya, BAF is also a good indication of what’s happening at the grassroots level of Dubai’s art scene. Very local, very fringe – a reassuring symbol of just how alive Dubai’s art scene is.

Sharjah biennial

Housed in the creative cluster of Dubai’s sister emirate, Sharjah Biennial has outlived them all. Before Art Dubai was even a twinkle in John Martin’s eye, before Bastakiya had been given its status as a force for the arts and before Al Quoz had become our answer to London’s Shoreditch, the Sharjah Biennial was already showcasing the cultural output of the Emirates, the wider Middle East and beyond. Now in its ninth edition, the Biennial is dedicating two programmes of art, performance and film to artistic output from all over the world.

But it’s still good local stuff. Sharjah Biennial has always supported the emerging generations of Emirati artists, and this year really demonstrates that. With performance art, city-wide sculptural ornamentation and a host of exciting commissions, you’d be daft not to head out of town to Sharjah for this one.
March 16-19, continuing until May 16.

One reason to go
Aside from getting an idea of what a number of Dubai-based artists are up to (and emerging Emirati nationals), heading to Sharjah, with its swathes of institutions and museums, is a surprisingly cultural experience. It’s also easy to get there, with dedicated buses running from Madinat Jumeirah every day as part of Art Dubai.

Read 10 Reasons to love Art Dubai click here
Read 10 Reasons to love Bastakiya Art Fair click here
Read 10 Reasons to love Sharjah Biennial click here

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