Art Dubai explores modern Middle Eastern art and the mysterious world of NFTs

We know the future is a concern. To welcome visitors, we have created an avatar that accompanies them on their journey. Brendan McGitrick is the creative director of the just-opened museum in Dubai: the Museum of the Future. It would have cost between 200 million and 300 million dollars, according to local newspapers. Its unique design, signed by local architecture firm, Killa, is instantly recognizable: a metal structure in the form of a giant oval buoy covered in Arabic calligraphy that accommodates the words of Dubai’s leader, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Taming the worries of the future

A sign of the times and spirit of the Emirati city, there are no artworks inside this museum. Designed to anticipate and tame future fears, it essentially offers immersive interactive installations that tell us about the main challenges (environmental, etc.). If we talk about anguish, then the most powerful of them at the moment, at the global level, is the armed conflict in the Ukrainian lands after the Russian aggression. But the situation in Dubai is unique because you meet a lot of Russians and Ukrainians there, who used to come to this pleasant and coastal area less than six hours by plane from their homes.


Dedicated digital art stands at 114 of the Art Dubai Gallery.

In this context, the 15th edition of Art Dubai opens, taking place from 11 to 13 March 2022. The artistic director of the event, Pablo del Val, noted that “unfortunately, the region, with the struggles of people in the Middle East are already accustomed to hearing Wars and Conflicts.

This year, in an innovative way, Art Dubai is the first exhibition that delves into the mysterious world of NFTs. Of the 114 pavilions in the gallery, 17 are dedicated to digital art, the vast majority of them to this new artistic phenomenon. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are not a new form of art but a means of inserting secure and irremovable data on the blockchain relating to the shape of a currency (which may or may not be art) and its successive holders. The least noticeable is that the range of screens shown in the digital section is of varying quality. There are a number of proposals more like animated illustrations.

UAE-based Jennifer Stelko created the metaverse (a virtual world accessible online) a year ago with her partners from Morrow Creative, an art gallery that offers to help tame NFTs. She realizes that it is a world of fickle values.

Payable works in Ethereums

For its part, the business, payable in Ether (a digital currency approved by the Ethereum blockchain) is selling for the equivalent of $1,300-25,000. Sponsor of Digital Arts division ByBit, a leading Singaporean cryptocurrency exchange for national currencies. Bybit’s director of communications, Igneus Terrenus, admitted that the majority of NFT’s technical offerings are not yet satisfactory. “Many of the things offered in the NFT market are probably not art and may be purely speculative. But the technology is good,” he says.

The most interesting part of the “traditional” section of Art Dubai is the section devoted to modern art. For Benedetta Ghion, the exhibition’s executive director, the event is a fertile ground in which to discover discoveries that are then displayed in the rest of the world. She gives the example of the Lebanese artist and poet Etel Adnan (1925-2021), who lived in Paris and was the subject of many exhibitions in recent years.

“It was at Art Dubai that Hans-Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, first saw it. This year, the section dedicated to modern art has been curated by those who are certainly the best connoisseurs of creativity since the beginning of the 20th century.And The Century in the Middle East, Sam Bardawil and Till Fellrath.

The latter were also appointed directors of the great museum of contemporary art in Berlin, Hamburger Bahnhof. For educational purposes, they asked exhibitors at the exhibition to dedicate their stand to one artist.

Great job by Aref Al Rayes

The art history of Middle Eastern artists has not been accurately written since the turn of the century. The Sfeir-Semler Gallery in Beirut and Hamburg showcases the remarkable work of Lebanese Aref Al Rayes (1928-2005), while in the neighboring city of Sharjah, the Sharjah Art Foundation is dedicating a retrospective to it. Rais, an unknown talent, the market was not interested in until the representation of his legacy by Andre Sfeir-Semler, a year earlier, he was an abstract painter.

At auction, his record price for a 1982 painting was $130,000 at Christie’s in 2015. In the 1960s, the artist was interested in issues of space and particle representation. Thus, he depicted cells hovering on the canvas with great color coordination. His paintings are on sale at Art Dubai for between $40,000 and $100,000.

Contemporary African figurative art is currently in fashion internationally and seven African galleries participate in Art Dubai.

The Comptoir de Mines exhibition in Marrakesh displays one of the greatest classics of post-war Moroccan art, Mohamed Kassemi (1942-2003). In his abstractions from the late 1960s to the 1980s, he symbolically addresses issues of brotherhood and humanity, but also exile and immigration. An exhibition was dedicated to him at Mucem, in Marseille, in 2018 and is part of important permanent collections such as those in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Comptoir des Mines offers business between $15,000 and $90,000. At the auction, the highest prices of all were obtained in Morocco, reaching 231 thousand euros in 2019.

Finally, contemporary African figurative art is currently very fashionable internationally and seven African galleries participate in Art Dubai. Many Western art galleries also defend African artists. This is the case of the Senegalese who lives in Brussels, Omar Ba (born 1977). On the platform of the Templon exhibition in Paris, Brussels and soon New York, he displays, as usual, a painting made of endless touches that create a colorful mosaic. They masterfully make up a composition animated by the characters. “Superman and the Constitution” is up for sale for around 100,000 euros. The artist will benefit from an exhibition in September 2022 at the Baltimore Museum and before that, in April 2022 at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels.

art dubai,11-13 March 2022, Mina Al Salam, Jumeirah Beach Road, Al Sufouh, 1, Dubai (United Arab Emirates)

“Omar Pa Superman and the Constitution 1”, 2021. Acrylic paint, pencil, oil, Indian ink and pen on cardboard, 250 x 150 cm. Templon Gallery

Aref Al Rayes, Untitled, 1963, oil on canvas, 90 x 119 cm.

Aref Al Rayes, Untitled, 1963, oil on canvas, 90 x 119 cm.Courtesy of Gallery Sfeir-Semler Beirut / Hamburg and the Artist’s House

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