There has never been such a high level of international interest in the Middle Eastern art scene. And one of the forces behind this shift is Antonia Carver, who has garnered reputation as one of the leading advocates of contemporary Middle Eastern artists – first as a journalist (with major art publications, Art Newspaper and Bidoun), then as a director of art commissions, exhibits and awareness campaigns (Bidoun Projects). For many, her influence has been integral to the Middle East’s step into the artistic limelight.
Arguably, that influence has never been greater. Now Fair Director of the internationally renowned Art Dubai, she is charged with marrying the world’s most dedicated and dynamic Dubai art galleries with the most exciting Middle Eastern artists from the region and beyond.
Art Dubai is both a catalyst and a symbol of the buzz surrounding Middle Eastern art. Entering its sixth edition, the second under Carver’s stewardship, the 2012 fair takes place on March 21-24 at Madinat Jumeirah. Over 20,000 visitors will see works – valued between $5,000 to $1 million – from 75 galleries hailing from 31 countries.
In a brief respite from final preparations, she tells us about Middle Eastern art, Art Dubai and the city that has been her home since 2001…
How will the 2012 edition of Art Dubai differ from previous years?
We’re welcoming around 25 new galleries, including five taking part in a focus on Indonesia, and top international galleries such as PACE, Perrotin, Rodolphe Janssen and Arndt. Many are bringing seminal works. Don’t miss, for example, works by the brilliant Pier Paolo Calzolari, the Italian Arte Povera artist, at the New York gallery Marianne Boesky – they incorporate ice and fire, and are spectacular.
Where would you send culture-hungry hedonists on a more typical day in Dubai?
On a typical arty day in Dubai, I’d start in DIFC Gate Village where we have our offices, near to eclectic Cuadro, the slick and superbly curated Empty Quarter gallery, and a branch of the Middle Eastern behemoth Ayyam Gallery. Then grab the metro to the other end of town — to Al Quoz, the industrial district full of mechanics, laundries, factories, that’s also home to around 25 galleries. I’d start at Serkal Avenue: don’t miss Green Art Gallery, IVDE, Gulf Photo Plus, Carbon 12, and keep fortified with a coffee from Shelter. End the day at Traffic Dubai, a not-for-profit with a fantastic programme sourced from owner Rami Farook’s collection and beyond, and often featuring new commissions, experimental happenings, debate and band nights.
Recent years have seen Middle Eastern art gaining more international popularity. What do you think has sparked this shift?
Organisations like Ashkal Alwan in Beirut and Townhouse in Cairo, ACAF in Alexandria and Amman’s Darat Al Funun have been producing great exhibitions and events for years – it’s just the rest of the world woke up to the creativity and dynamism that existed in the region. International institutions started engaging with art from the region post-9/11. But luckily their initial forays have on the whole deepened and proved long lasting.
You’ve lived and worked within the art community in the UAE for over a decade now. Which Middle Eastern artists and works of art have really stood out for you during this time?
Hassan Sharif, the father of conceptual art in the UAE, is consistently challenging. Three young artists taking part in our residency programme (a collaboration with London’s Delfina Foundation, Tashkeel and the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority) – Hadeyah Badri, Zeinab Al Hashimi and Nasir Nasrallah – are ones to watch.
Art Dubai features 75 galleries from 32 countries – what are you most excited about seeing and why?
Athr Gallery for Jeddah in Saudi has a fantastic programme; don’t miss Bolsa de Arte from Brazil, bringing great sculpture by Saint Clair Cemin; Cardi Black Box is one of the most dynamic of Milanese galleries, bringing Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi among a group of Italian and international conceptualists including Flavio Favelli; Mirchandani and Steinruecke, coming for the first time from Mumbai, are bringing great sculpture, photography and paintings by Manish Nai, Parul Thacker and Aji V.N.
Dubai tourism is a popular business but what would be your top choices for sleeping, eating and partying in the city?
Sleeping: Camp one night in the desert under the stars and then get some real sleep at desert resort Bab Al Shams, which has the best swimming pool
Eating: It’s cheesy but a must-do: gawp at the Dubai Fountain dancing to Thriller from the outside terrace of the funky British restaurant Rivington Grill Dubai in Souk Al Bahar
Partying: I’m biased, but the best parties of the year are those thrown by our fabulous patrons and friends of Art Dubai during Dubai Art Week each March