What's particularly attractive about Art Dubai is its smaller size (93 galleries) compared to many of the bigger art fairs. It also strikes a good balance between local, regional and international, giving a different feel from the majority of international art fairs that strive so hard to adopt the 'global' art gallery format. All too often you end up seeing the same cluster of galleries with the same artists whether you are in London, New York, Hong Kong, Sao Paolo or Singapore. This format, I believe, is sustainable for two or maybe three of the top art fairs, but is increasingly becoming an outdated strategy for smaller, regional fairs. There is nothing wrong with being regionally or locally focused; in fact, this is exactly the identity these art fairs should adopt if they want to attract international collectors and buyers. Without this focus, I see few reasons to travel to art fairs anymore, particularly as our research suggests that a growing number of people are likely to both preview and buy art fair works online in the future.

MEAuctionMar15_aIn this respect, Art Dubai is different: it has managed to carve out its own niche and this is a positive sign for the development of the Middle Eastern art market. Since its inception in 2007 (a year after Christie's decided to hold its first auction in Dubai), Dubai has managed to build an increasingly diverse art eco-system at the centre of a region troubled by conflict and geo-political uncertainty. The Fair proves that Dubai is not only about commerce and consumption, as the majority perceive this state, but is actually becoming a destination and home for regional artists and galleries. One of the most encouraging signs of this new eco-system is the emergence of initiatives such as the Alserkal Avenue, a regenerated former marble factory site in the neighbourhood of Al Quoz Dubai. This has already become home to around 20 art galleries and cultural organisations, and is currently undergoing further expansion to double its size. These are very encouraging signs indeed.

MEAuctionMar15_cSo to what degree are these positive developments reflected in the Middle Eastern auction market? Christie's has been a pioneer and loyal operator in the region with their biannual sales since 2006 becoming a litmus test for the state of the commercial art market in the region. Another positive development is Sotheby's renewed commitment to a regular auction schedule in Doha following a 3 year hiatus. After a meteoric rise of the Middle Eastern auction market between October 2006 and March 2008, fuelled by speculation and indiscriminate buying, it looked increasingly likely in 2009 that this new art market was going to be a 'fly-by-night' event. However, perseverance from key market players, such as Christie's and Art Dubai, allowed the market to ride through a volatile period between 2009 and 2012. In 2013, the Middle-Eastern Modern and Contemporary market began to recover, with 86% auction sale growth from the previous year, and a further 22% sales growth in 2014. The recent Christie's sale saw a further 8% growth compared to 12 months ago. So all in all, the Middle-Eastern art market is continuing to demonstrate positive signs of growth, particularly for contemporary Middle-Eastern art, which saw a 25.8% increase in sales from March 2014, and average auction prices up 78.2% in the last 12 months.

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This year is going to be an important one for the Middle-Eastern market; it needs to prove that it can find a unique voice in an increasingly competitive global art trade and, based on last month's events, it looks very promising.

ArtTactic Report: Middle East: Modern & Contemporary Art Auction Analysis – March 2015. 

 

Next auction on Arab, Iranian and Turkish Modern & Contemporary Art: Sotheby's Doha, 21.April 2015

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