12.18 PM Thursday, 18 July 2024
  • City Fajr Shuruq Duhr Asr Magrib Isha
  • Dubai 04:12 05:36 12:28 15:51 19:14 20:38
18 July 2024

Art scene draws in tourists

By Safura Rahimi




The UAE is  set to raise its status as an international tourism hotspot following an increased focus on Dubai’s estimated $80 million (Dh294m) art sector.

The emirate’s booming art scene has experts predicting it could soon rival London or New York as a global cultural centre. As part of a drive away from traditional tourism traps, such as beaches and theme parks, the emirate has witnessed its cultural scene flourish, presenting ripe investment opportunities for global investors, according to John Martin, head of the region’s only major international contemporary art show.

As co-founder and director of Art Dubai, which runs from March 19 to 22, Martin believes the emirate has a chance to attract Western investors looking to profit from the art sector as they struggle to cope with their faltering financial markets. “A more contemporary and vibrant art scene gives more depth to a city for a visitor, for sure. You can only have so much of shopping malls and adventure parks and beaches,” said Martin.

“With financial markets a bit wobbly we might see the art market in the West possibly falling off a little bit, but I think that will be more than compensated for by the growing Asian art market. If Dubai can capture a large chunk of that, within five to 10 years you could see it equalling London or New York.”

The launch of the new Dubai Culture and Arts Authority by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, earlier this month, is one move aimed at bolstering the city’s culture and arts infrastructure, by establishing a creative atmosphere in visual arts, theatre, music, poetry, arts and heritage. The authority, headed by Sheikh Mayed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will support Dubai’s arts scene and help position the city on the world’s cultural map, said managing director Omar Mohammad Ahmad bin Sulaiman. 

Martin estimates that Dubai’s art sector generates up to $80 million, with the potential to triple during 2008. “This year with the auction houses and with Art Dubai and more galleries setting up, I could easily see that [figure] reaching well over $100 million, doubling and even trebling,” he said.

Now in its second year, Art Dubai (formerly the DIFC Gulf Art Fair) will host galleries from cities around the world, including Seoul, Tehran and Sao Paolo. The fair has nearly doubled in size this year to feature 70 international galleries from 30 countries, and is expected to attract 15,000 visitors – up from around 10,000 visitors last year.

Martin said the number of visitors to Dubai’s budding art scene is small but still growing. “As those numbers grow, the benefits of the [Dubai Art] fair will be more and more apparent. Instead of just being a five-day event there will be other events to make Dubai a cultural destination throughout the year,” he said. “In terms of the art market, nowhere [in the region] has really captured that yet,” he said. “Because of its location and because there’s zero tax, Dubai might easily capture a large chunk of the South Asian and Far Eastern art market.”

According to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), hosting art exhibitions is a significant part of attracting cultural tourists to the city. “Visitors travel from one part of the world to the other to find new aspects of art and influences of cultural diversification,” a spokesperson for Dubai Tourism said.

“Gathering art experts and critics helps create awareness about the emirate and gives first-hand experience that is ultimately beneficial in branding Dubai across the globe as a destination that offers all you can have anywhere else in the world, in addition to its charms and attractions,” the spokesperson added. However, the department has said it has no data related to forecasts of tourism inflows to the city from art fairs.



According to art market research company Art Tactic, auction sales are the best indicator of the scale of the Middle East art market as it is very difficult to assess its exact size.

Based on Christie’s Dubai and Sotheby’s London’s auction sales last year, the Middle East modern and contemporary art market stands at about $26m, compared to $96m in India, $153m in Latin America and $260m in Russia. The London-based firm added that the Middle Eastern art market is likely to grow further in 2008.

Christie’s third auction of International Modern and Contemporary Art held in Dubai in October eclipsed pre-sale expectations, selling for a total of about $15m and reinforcing the strength and vibrancy of the Middle East art market, Art Tactic said.

Martin put the global contemporary art market somewhere between $1-10bn, adding that this is a rough estimate considering the private nature of much of the business in the art world.

Art Dubai 2008 expects to see sales at least double from last year’s event, where an estimated $8-10m worth of pieces were sold to institutional buyers, mainly private collectors from the Middle East and India.

But Martin said that figure could have been a lot higher. “A lot of the sales happen after the fair closes its door. It may happen six months later, there are long negotiations, or for bigger pieces there is the cost of installation, so it is really difficult to give an exact figure,” he said.

The fair has its sights set on becoming one of the top five globally. “It’s ambitious but I believe Dubai will sustain that, and I think it’s the right place at the right time,” Martin said. “We’re taking the fair to Paris in October, as our cultural export at the Louvre.”



Art Dubai is only one of a new collection of art fairs aimed at tapping into an up-and-coming art market, underpinned by wealthy and avid collectors of contemporary Middle Eastern and Indian art. Last month Art and Antiques Dubai, run by the British fair organisers Anna and Brian Haughton, made its debut at the Madinat Jumeirah.

Speaking to Emirates Business before the fair opening, Brian Haughton said: “We really do want to make this a destination of art – the fair is not just a one-off this year, it will be here every year. Now is the time for art to be dispersed [in Dubai] in the right way.

“Building museums here to house collections sends a strong signal to collectors and sets a benchmark. Dubai will become a centre for culture with the building of these museums and art exhibitions.” The event featured an opportunity to view and buy some of the world’s finest art and antiques, totalling more than $215m in value, and attracted buyers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. On display were Islamic artworks, porcelain, silver, antique jewellery, furniture, decorative arts and fine art.

A group of acclaimed French artists also bring their talents to the UAE this month as part of the first French Art Festival. The event, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, displays sculptures, tapestries and photographs.

And JPMorgan are exhibiting master artworks from the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection at the Collected Visions event, hosted jointly with the DIFC that started on Monday and runs through to May 1. The exhibition features 70 modern and contemporary works by leading artists of the 20th century – including Milton Avery, Andy Warhol and Zaha Hadid – and marks the first time the firm has displayed museum-quality pieces from its modern and contemporary collection in the Middle East.

According to Martin, the choice of Dubai as a regional platform for the lucrative art market comes down to the collectors. “Those collectors come from a wide variety of places. I imagine it’s not too different from other markets that have established themselves, like the financial market in Dubai. It’s an easy place to get to,” he says.

Being a financial centre also means finding people who tend to collect art, or are more interested in art, he adds. “They tend to go together – if you think of London, New York, Hong Kong or Shanghai, they’ve all got vibrant art scenes. And obviously money fuels the art market.”



Colour by numbers


15,000 The number of visitors Art Dubai expects to attract this year


$80m The estimated size of Dubai’s art market, say Art Dubai organisers


$26m The value of the Middle East modern and contemporary art market, based on auction sales last year


$100m The size Dubai’s art market could reach, say Art Dubai organisers


$96m The value of the modern and contemporary art market in India last year, based on auction sales



How to get there


TAKE THE BUS - Get from one place to another on the Jam Jar’s Art Bus, a convoy of dedicated vehicles that link key event venues and art galleries in Dubai. Hetal Pawani, director of The Jam Jar describes the concept as an enchanting and convenient way to take in the sights of Dubai during the fair.

“We have had two motives in developing this concept: to make a meaningful contribution to UAE’s vibrant and burgeoning cultural palette, and to offer visitors an unprecendented treat,” she says.


FIND IT ON THE ART MAP - A unique map that has been created to raise awareness about all the artistic and cultural points across the UAE, the Art Map seeks to highlight every local art gallery, their exhibitions, events and activities, as well as any local and international art fairs taking place in the UAE.

For more information call
04 341 7303