Dubai is building an art collection – without buying any artwork

Written by Stephanie Bailey, CNN

Positioned between Africa, Europe and Asia, Dubai is open to artistic and cultural influences from around the world. This has led to a vibrant and emerging local art scene.

Until recently, this scene was run by private galleries showcasing local artists, but now the government of Dubai is building its first institutional art collection from scratch – and there’s a twist.

Dubai will not buy any artwork, it will borrow it. National art collections and museums were popularized in Europe in the 18th and late 19th centuries, and typically these collections are built up over long periods of time by buying or donating works. But Dubai aims to speed up the process.

The initiative was developed by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and Art Dubai and will include a digital museum, as well as annual physical exhibitions of selected works, the first of which will be held at the Etihad Museum in Dubai later this year.

The idea is to foster a collective culture and create a canon of art history that has not been present in the Middle East, according to Art Dubai – without having to depend on government funding.

“Dubai Collection is the first such initiative on a global scale,” said Benedetta Ghione, Executive Director of Art Dubai. “Patrons (contributors) are invited to lend their works to the Dubai Collection for a period of 10 years, while remaining the legal owners of their pieces.” However, physical works of art will only be loaned for the duration of their exhibition.

A new model

To date, 87 works have been selected through the first curation process. Most of them come from Emirati artists or artists from the wider Arab world. Ghione says a curatorial committee, made up of experts, selects the works of art chosen to best represent the art of the region.

The latest Tashahhud, by Moath Alofi, shows the mosques “scattered along the winding roads leading to the holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia”. Credit: Courtesy of ARM Holding

The collection includes works by Emirati artists such as abstract painter Abdul Qadar Al Rais, known for combining geometric shapes with Arabic calligraphy, and conceptual artist Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim.

“The Dubai Collection will constitute a comprehensive database of works of art, artists and art collectors, and will help document what is still a relatively young contemporary art scene,” said Muna Al Gurg, Chairman of the Dubai Collection Conservation Committee.

Al Gurg believes that by borrowing works of art, Dubai will be able to develop a collection faster than by buying them.

“Building a national collection is often a long process of navigating an ever-changing art market and diplomatic negotiations with stakeholders … but thanks to our loan-based model, we hope to be able to develop several exhibition concepts during the first years of launching the initiative, ”said Al Gurg.

She adds that having temporary exhibits, rather than a permanent exhibit, can be an inspiring way to show off a collection. “At this stage of the initiative’s development, we see the temporary exhibit as the preferred format for engaging audiences in person,” she said.

This untitled piece is by Algerian-born artist Baya Mahieddine (1931-1998) who was simply known as "Baya."

This untitled piece is by Algerian-born artist Baya Mahieddine (1931-1998) who was simply known as “Baya”. Credit: Courtesy of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Janet Rady, a specialist in modern and contemporary art from the Middle East, says the Dubai collection is likely a response to others in the region, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, promoting art at the government level.

While Dubai is home to the non-profit Jameel Arts Center, as well as shopping galleries, such as those at Alserkal Avenue Art Center, the city lacks institutional collections.

“It’s a nascent art scene, it’s still pretty private,” Rady said. “There isn’t a real museum as such that is always open to show modern and contemporary Arab art, so in that sense I think that definitely fills a gap. It’s perfectly standard on the market to validate your works by exhibiting them in a museum. “

A digital museum

Part of the Dubai Collection initiative is a digital museum, which will allow more people to see art, and will include educational material.

Rady says the digital museum could help provide international exposure. “One of the problems is the visibility of the Middle Eastern art world for people outside the Middle East,” she said, adding that the collection could encourage young people to embark on the arts. arts.

Al Gurg adds that while the digital museum is an important part of the collection, works of art usually have the most impact when seen in person.

“Although Dubai’s art scene appears relatively young, its vibrant, multicultural and innovative nature reflects well the spirit and identity of its home country,” said Al Gurg. “Looking further ahead, we hope to further develop the Dubai collection with the aim of showcasing even more artists and stories.”

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