Dynamic Art Scene Is Beginning to Take Root in Dubai ; Opening of New Galleries Adds to Cultural Life and Draws Foreign Buyers

By Hamdan, Sara | International Herald Tribune, March 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Dynamic Art Scene Is Beginning to Take Root in Dubai ; Opening of New Galleries Adds to Cultural Life and Draws Foreign Buyers


Hamdan, Sara, International Herald Tribune


More than 20 galleries have set up in a cluster of buildings around Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz in the past couple of years, attracted by the large spaces available and the neighborhood's gritty, urban feel.

In the center of a large room, the skeletal shape of a bird -- an installation of steel and light-emitting diodes -- hovers near the ceiling. About four times human size, its strong, light presence dominates the otherwise empty space.

The piece is part of an exhibition in Dubai by the Iraqi artist Adel Abidin. But instead of a gallery in the glitzy Dubai International Financial Center, the show, "Symphony," has found a home in the Lawrie Shabibi Gallery in Al Quoz, a district of warehouses, dusty garages and trucks that has become Dubai's alternative arts hub.

The gallery is one of more than 20 that have set up in a cluster of buildings around Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz in the past couple of years, attracted by the large spaces available and the neighborhood's gritty, urban feel.

"In terms of location, it's not as easy to find as the D.I.F.C., but now we have art lovers who go out of their way to find it, both tourists and Dubai residents," said William Lawrie, co-founder of the gallery. "As a result, we have much more diversity in the art market, in terms of work and collectors."

Mr. Abidin is one of many artists and gallery owners who have been drawn to Dubai to escape political turbulence in countries like Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.

The same dynamic is at work in the annual Art Dubai fair, running here this week. "The new growth areas for Art Dubai are either countries that are going through difficult times, politically, and whose artists use Dubai as a refuge or funnel to the outside world, or those who are looking to extend their sphere of influence with the who's-who of the art world," said Antonia Carver, the director of Art Dubai.

The resulting diversity and growing competition among gallery owners has deepened Dubai's art market, as has the emerging dichotomy between D.I.F.C.'s elite art scene and Al Quoz's underground hub.

"Because of what's happening in Syria, we had to move most of our art and our main headquarters to Dubai this year," said Khalid Samawi, who co-founded Ayyam Gallery in Damascus in 2006. Ayyam now has a branch in the financial center and another in Al Quoz. "We use the D.I.F.C. space as a vitrine and then encourage interested collectors to look at our gallery in Al Quoz, which is 10 times bigger, for more artwork, " Mr. Samawi said.

The gallery has other spaces in the Middle East, and in London, but Dubai is the only city where it has two branches, acting as a hub for the region. …

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