Abu Dhabi Art’s Laid-Back Vibe Attracts Collectors

Gagosian may be out, but Acquavella and Paul Kasmin are in.

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Entrance of the Abu Dhabi Art Fair
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Subodh Gupta, Et tu, Duchamp? (2009–2010)
Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Liu Guosong at Hanart TZ Gallery
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Pipilotti Rist, Untitled 2 (2009)
Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Paul Kasmin Gallery
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Red Bull's Head (1938)
Acquavella Galleries, New York
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Sam Francis, Untitled (1979-80)
Edward Tyler Nahem, New York
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Acquavella Galleries
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Dubai-based gallery, Third Line.
Photo: Paddy Johnson.
Installation view of Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg and Beirut
Photo: Paddy Johnson.

With memories still fresh from last year’s storm, many in the press attended the preview of Abu Dhabi Art, which opens November 4, wondering whether the fair would suffer exhibitor fall out. It was, after all, the worst storm the Gulf had seen in 20 years and caused the fair to close on its second day. Gagosian decided not to participate this year and, now that the Manarat Al Saadiyat was the sole exhibition space, some attendees said the fair looked much smaller.

The fair, which is in its sixth edition, now hosts a total of 46 exhibitors, up two from this past year’s 44. It may have lost Gagosian and Tony Shafrazi Gallery, but it picked up Acquavella and Paul Kasmin Gallery. So while last year may have been rough, it seemed like the fair bounced back. This year, there’s a Patti Smith concert to boot (see “Patti Smith Will Rock Abu Dhabi Art“).

Indeed, no gallery we spoke to during the preview mentioned last year’s mishap. Some seemed more interested in market cultivation. “We’re very invested in the region” Xenia Geroulanos, director of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac told artnet News. Thaddaeus Ropac has been coming to the fair since 2010, one year after the fair launched.

Like many other fairs, Abu Dhabi Art has several sections: Modern & Contemporary Galleries, Signature (featuring galleries showing emerging artists), Beyond (which showcases outsized art work), and Artists Waves (a curated artist-led exhibition). They also have a robust set of auxiliary programs that includes performance, public talks, and a design and architecture program.

Beyond the work exhibited and the events, the region itself may be the more distinctive aspect of this fair. There is more construction in Abu Dhabi than there is in almost any other city anywhere—25-30 percent of the world’s cranes are located here. Even the Manarat Al Saadiyat is surrounded by construction—not the least of which is for the Louvre, which is slated for completion next year.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi won’t be finished until 2017, which means all shows they curate require venues. In response to that challenge, the fair has included an exhibition “Seeing Through Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection,” which opened Monday and takes place in the galleries adjacent to the fair (See “What’s in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s Collection“).

The placement and timing of this show may also reflect the influence of institutions over the Abu Dhabi market. Unlike their American counterparts, institutions here often have a lot of buying power.

As if pitching to these institutions, Aquavella brought a Picasso painting priced at $35 million and Edward Tyler Nahem is showing an enormous work by Sam Francis priced at $2.8 million. Given those prices, we were surprised to hear another dealer at The Third Line in Dubai say the fair was laid back compared to Frieze and FIAC. This is perhaps due to its size. “It’s the smallest one we do,” Clara Ha, senior director at Paul Kasmin, told artnet News.

In combination with Abu Dhabi’s growing base of collectors, the casual atmosphere may be why so many exhibitors returned. It’s a pleasant way to spend a few days, and even on the calm day before the fair began, it seemed clear that there’s plenty of money to go around.

Click through to see highlights of of the fair.

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