A work from The Third Line gallery.



Is Art Dubai the New Art Basel? Insiders Give Us The Scoop

Art Basel Miami, hold onto your reflective aviators and gladiator sandals; Frieze Art Fair, steel your statement necklaces; and Armory-goers: corral all your influencer friends. There’s another art fair that’s on the rise, and you’re going to want to know about it.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of Art Dubai, but it’s only just starting to gather steam—and it’s about time. As Antonia Carver, the fair’s director, told Artnet News, “We are doing something different than everybody else…I find the vast majority of the world is not represented in art equally yet.”

“The culture is just so different,” Chris Kennedy told us. “From the way people dress, to the everyday attitude. It’s not New York.”

Though it certainly showcases New York galleries, Art Dubai also offers a rare glimpse into cultures that you might not find at art fairs in the U.S.—through artists and their works, certainly, but also in looking at the trajectory of some of the artists’ careers. The late Maliheh Afnan, for instance, who was cited as one of the standout artists, is one of a handful of female artists that “were not given the attention they merit,” and whom “Art historians and curators are…[now] rediscovering.”

A photograph by Noavi, the documentary photographer and ethnographic media creator.
A photograph by Noavi, the documentary photographer and ethnographic media creator.

The people in attendance at Art Dubai this year spoke to how much the fair has grown. There were several “well-known art world personalities—like curators Hans Urlich Obrist and Germano Celant, artist Hito Steyerl, and MoMA’s Glenn Lowry.” Also in attendance were Chris and Chandler Kennedy, the New York based artist-sister duo. They were working with the young artist Noavi, who gave a talk at Art Dubai with the help of Share This Space, a new startup that aims to promote brands and artists. And though it was her second time in Dubai, Chris Kennedy maintains that it was still “a culture shock.”

“Dubai is definitely based around money,” Chris said. “If you’re not rolling in that sort of crowd, it’s a little more difficult.”

Out of the nine days the sisters spent in Dubai, four were spent at the art fair—and according to Chris, they liked what they saw. “The video art was really good,” she said. “Whoever is curating it is doing a really good job.” The other days were spent exploring the city, walking around, visiting the gold souk, and going to Arab Fashion Week.

A work from Khak Gallery.

When asked how Art Dubai fared against other well-known art fairs around the world like, Chris noted that there were a lot of art people and galleries from all over, but unlike, say, Miami Art Basel, this one was apparently “more reserved.” Hard as it may be to imagine, Art Dubai did not seem to come in tandem with a slew of parties and a bustling nightlife “It definitely wasn’t scene-y at all,” Chris told me. “It was very rare that I saw a pair of Adidas.” There was another expected element. “It was kind of like Vegas,” said Chris. “Lots of hookers, to be honest. I’m not sure if I can say that, but there were lots of prostitutes, and lots of men with money.”

“There were so many different types of people—it wasn’t anything we would’ve expected,” Chris said.

“I actually liked Art Dubai better than Art Basel,” she told me. Liking Art Dubai is one thing, but does it have the potential to surpass Art Basel in popularity and esteem? Chris isn’t sure “It’s really far away, [and] I don’t know if people [are willing to do that type of] traveling.” I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Stay tuned to Milk to see how other art fairs are faring. 

Photography by Chris Kennedy

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