An interview with Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad

An interview with Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad

By Rasha Eleyan

Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad: her vision for the region’s most important art fair

Art Dubai, running from the 21st to the 24th of March this year, highlighted some of the best visual artwork from modern and contemporary artists around the globe. For just over a decade this international art fair has consistently brought refreshing modern art and new perspectives to an eager audience of art lovers, artists, critics, and collectors. In today’s interview we spoke to Myrna Ayad, the Director of Art Dubai, about this amazing fair’s role in the world of art and culture.
Myrna Ayad, Director Art Dubai, Courtesy Art Dubai

Myrna Ayad, Director Art Dubai, Courtesy Art Dubai

Can you tell us about the significance of the city of Dubai as the home for UAE’s, and the region’s, most important fairs?

Art Dubai mirrors the multiculturalism of its host city – Dubai is cosmopolitan, a main cultural hub, home to a multitude of nationalities and its geographic position also allows it to be a gateway in the Middle East between Asia and Europe – these are all attributes that Art Dubai reflects. The fair has been and will continue to be a platform for artists and galleries, particularly from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, to launch themselves onto the international scene; it is also a platform where trends are set and is very much a fair of discovery. Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad We are the most global of art fairs and what attests to this is 105 galleries coming from 48 countries to our 12th edition. Art Dubai activates a robust community programme both, at the fair, and year-round through the Global Art Forum, Campus Art Dubai and The Room. Over the years, our programming has diversified and allowed us to redefine an art fair’s role so that we extend to more than just a moment in March, but rather an institution that activates programming on a year-round basis. We are committed to continuing to act as a catalyst in the local and regional art scenes. Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad

How do you, as fair director, ensure that the event stays contemporary and current in the fast-paced world that is the art market?

We believe in offering our visitors an experience; of course, our participating galleries are at the core of this, and in addition, we present an active programme that includes talks, book launches, a seminal Prize, a symposium and so much more. Among the elements that make Art Dubai stand out among other fairs is that we are an art fair that is the preeminent platform for one to discover modern and contemporary art from the MENASA. Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad We are also the world’s only venue that showcases modernist art from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia through Art Dubai Modern (established 2014) and which presents museum quality works. Moreover, we are the most global of art fairs. Among the aspects that make this year’s edition different is our size and diversity. While it is not our intention to become a bigger fair, it is our constant mission to be a better fair and one that exhibits the very best from around the world with a particular emphasis on art from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Diversity is key and we are keen on reflecting this at the fair. From Peru and Buenos Aires, Beirut to Jeddah, Egypt to Ethiopia, India to Pakistan and more, the world is present at Art Dubai. Just as diverse as the fair is in its gallery representation, so too in its programming with multiple projects, initiatives and events. We hope to continue to ‘showcase the world’ at Art Dubai and support artists and initiatives through our community programming. Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad We welcome new aspects to our programming – we inaugurated Residents, a novel feature of the fair through which we have invited 11 artists from around the world to spend 4-8 weeks in the UAE. The works produced during this time were exhibited at the fair. Also for the first time this year, Art Dubai presented a non-selling exhibition in the Modern hall; this seminal show, curated by Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, surveyed various modern movements in five Arab nations and is supported by the MiSK Art Institute. We celebrated 10 years of the Abraaj Group Art Prize and the unveiling of Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s winning work this year. We’re delighted with The Room, an immersive, engaging space at which artists are invited to create an environment that includes performances, installation, gastronomy etc. In the name of allowing artists to negotiate spaces and explore their practices, the third iteration of The Room saw artist collective GCC present an immersive, interactive installation inspired by a TV studio, entitled Good Morning GCC. Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad

What did the artworks and booths being presented at this year’s fair reveal about current trends and tastes in the Middle East art market and the direction in which it is heading?

Art Dubai is very much a platform where trends are set and made; it is a venue where one can take the cultural pulse of the region. We saw a fair amount of galleries present sculptural works created in various ceramic techniques; as well as a sense of figuration in paintings exhibited throughout. We will continue to rely on artists as documentarians, archivists and historians to tell us more about the times that we live in.
Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad, Photography by Abbi Kemp

Art Dubai Director Myrna Ayad, Photography by Abbi Kemp

Art Salon is a private collectors club that was Launched in 2014 by Art Dubai Group as an engaging platform that provides MENASA based collectors and patrons guidance. What advice do you have for the collectors that attended ART SALON this year?

Art Salon is a collectors-only group that is operated by Art Dubai and for which we host monthly events. These individuals are close to the fair and form a core group of supporters. In a sense, they act as ambassadors of Art Dubai. We have been delighted to see many of our members begin their collections at Art Dubai, and others transition into patrons and now sit on the acquisitions and advisory committees of major cultural institutions. We help facilitate introductions, and make sure that above all, they enjoy Art Dubai and walk away having made a new discovery, whether that’s meeting someone or exploring the work of an artist or attending a stimulating talk.

In the 21st Century what problems are plaguing the Art Industry Globally? And as a director what changes would you want to make?

A congested art calendar!
Behind Art Dubai 2018. The celebration of a city

Behind Art Dubai 2018. The celebration of a city

By Rasha Eleyan

Art and culture are an intrinsic aspect of the human experience

All people, from all walks of life, appreciate abstract creations in some form or another, from simple drawings in the sand, to elaborate portraits and symphonies. Likewise, art is what bonds our modern cultures, connecting people who a few hundred or thousand years ago would have considered one another too strange for friendship to be possible.
Portrait of GCC, 2017. Courtesy the artists

Portrait of GCC, 2017. Courtesy the artists

This year, from the 21st to the 24th of March, an event is taking place that is unique in much of human history. Artists, art lovers, and critics gather in Dubai to see contemporary and modern art from all across the globe, attend workshops and exhibitions, and generally experience the intricate connections between modern cultures first hand.
Hiromi Tango, Imaginarium at Singapore Art Museum, 2017. Courtesy the Artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

Hiromi Tango, Imaginarium at Singapore Art Museum, 2017. Courtesy the Artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

For the last decade and a bit, the Art Dubai Group has been working tirelessly to transform Dubai into a desirable destination for art lovers, artist and critics. A huge part of this had been through their internationally recognized art and design fairs, which bring affordable exhibitions and artwork to the people, sales and exposure to the artists, and new artists to galleries, studios and patrons. This brings us back to that primal connection our ancestors once shared, painting cave walls together by firelight. It brings the humanity back to art. Art Dubai always collaborates with a studio or company invested in the world of art. These collaborations showcase a broad spectrum of cultural experience in a modern context, highlighting creativity and ensuring that the fairs never become too niche, pretentious, or stale. You never know quite what you are going to see at an Art Dubai Group event.
Hiromi Tango, Hiromi Hotel, Peformance Installation, 2017. Photography Sarah Malone. Courtesy the Artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

Hiromi Tango, Hiromi Hotel, Peformance Installation, 2017. Photography Sarah Malone. Courtesy the Artist and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney

As is always the case with anything creative, the art world has changed and evolved much since Art Dubai first began, and this year they are seeing more diversity than ever before. They have a contemporary gallery that features 78 galleries from 42 different countries, featuring young artists alongside established professionals. The contemporary galleries feature all sorts of artistic disciplines, from painting and drawing to installations and performances, including video, photography and sculpture. Their modern gallery, refreshingly, includes museum-quality works from artists from across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. These artists are highly influential individuals who may not be commonly known named in the West, but are nevertheless a crucial part of global art history that all art lovers need to know about.
Rashed al Shashai, Artist featured in Reframe Saudi.

Rashed al Shashai, Artist featured in Reframe Saudi.

Finally, this year they have a new addition in the form of a gallery program dedicated to solo presentations from a group of artists who will reside with Art Dubai for 4-8 weeks, creating new work. This encourages the artists to immerse themselves in the local culture and art scene and create a body of work which truly represents Dubai. These 11 intimate presentations are central to this year’s theme. This willingness to encompass the whole of the artistic experience, no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what your medium is, is what makes Art Dubai such a valuable addition to the world of art.
Raed Yassin, Manual for Disasters, 2017. Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries

Raed Yassin, Manual for Disasters, 2017. Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries

What is more, Art Dubai has developed and currently runs the largest non-commercial education and commissioning art program. Thousands of people, more than half of them children, have benefited from their education schemes, and hundreds of artists have received the exposure, recognition, and employment possibilities that they deserve. Art Dubai understands the importance of fostering love and respect for art early on, and of encouraging children to make the most of this wonderful age we live in, when being an artist can open so many doors for you. And what better way than by holding the world’s most connected, diverse art fair? What is more, Art Dubai creates a melting pot of international talent and culture that a wide range of people have access to. Children and students get in for free, encouraging access to the arts, and persuading students to take the art world more seriously in general. They are offered bespoke Education Guides to support them in their discovery of the exhibits. Entry also includes educational workshops, courses, and talks, which encourage people of all ages to learn more about art, culture, and the modern world. This is a quality of education you would expect to get at a university lecture, all available for anyone who is interested.
Global Art Forum

Global Art Forum

And if you want to buy an item? Let’s say a painting or a sculpture steals your heart and you simply have to have it. There are thousands of items on display, and most of the artists are interested in selling. Some up and coming artists are happy to sell their works for a little less, to cover their stay in Dubai. In the age of the internet and advanced printing software, the thrill of wishing to possess original artwork is often dampened by frauds, the risk of unethical labour, and the concern that you will not receive a product as advertised. At Art Dubai you will be able to see the work in front of you, admire it, and work out if it truly is right for you. You will be guaranteed that this is an original work (or, in some cases, an original print) by the artist, who worked hard to produce something singular and beautiful for you to enjoy. For less money than most of us spend on a weekly shop, or a nice pair of shoes, you could support an up and coming artist and own something truly unique.
Global Art Forum

Global Art Forum

But how does this treat the artists? Is it ethical? The artists know up front how much they will be paying to exhibit their works. These costs are actually lower than you find at most exhibitions, allowing artists from more varied backgrounds to participate. They may do this on their own, or join several other artists under a studio to display their work together, saving money on space. Then, they can choose how much to charge for their works. The artist sets the price, so even if you feel you are getting an absolute bargain, you can rest assured that the artist is getting what they think their work is worth. Even if the artist does not sell any work at the fair, they invariably get contacts and receive commission work, making the exhibition worth it for them. Most other art fairs only allow artists to display their pieces through established galleries, creating an element of exclusivity, and a filtering process, which may favour people who have the right connections, and work against people whose tastes are unusual. On the other hand, Art Dubai allows small, new studios and individual artists to display, removing that elitism and encouraging consumers, critics, and creators to interact on a level with one another.
Art Dubai Modern Symposium - Day 1 -Opening Courtesy of Photo Solutions (8)

Art Dubai Modern Symposium – Day 1 -Opening Courtesy of Photo Solutions (8)

All in all, Art Dubai is carefully constructed to ensure that everyone gets the most out of it, making art into less of a consumer-frenzy, or a snobby pastime for the elite, and bringing it back to its roots as an essential aspect of human abstract thought and socializing. You do not need to be a massively famous artist to display there, and you do not need to be a great magnate or art critic to visit and have a look. The fair executive in 2015, Arjun Verma, explicitly said that they wished to remove the intimidation that exists in some other art fairs, to encourage people who might not otherwise get involved to do so. In 2018 they are collaborating with the award-winning design studio: Moloobhoy & Brown. Moloobhoy & Brown are a design and brand communication studio that emphasizes creative thinking above all things. They understand the needs of the modern brand or company, as well as those of the modern consumer. They are in touch with the nuances of social media and other internet platforms. They understand how the world we live in interacts with art.
Mario Merz, Untitled, 1987. Courtesy Giorgio Persano Gallery

Mario Merz, Untitled, 1987. Courtesy Giorgio Persano Gallery

Every year the theme of the collaboration changes slightly, to suit the company Art Dubai is collaborating with, as well as to reflect on current events, and to inspire originality. This will be Art Dubai‘s twelfth year in existence, and something suitably special needs to take place. The theme of the collaboration this year focuses on the story of Dubai itself and its growth throughout time. Besides the theme of the talks and workshops, this year Art Dubai boasts another unique feature: an interactive installation called The Room, constructed by a collective of GCC artists. This feature was introduced to great success last year. As the name suggests, this installation all takes place within the room, featuring its own special daytime talk show, performances, demonstrations, and even some celebrities. This sort of medley of displays, from film to photography, from painting to sculpture, is not entirely unusual in a gallery setting, but is rarely quite so rich at any other art fair. From its approach to local talent to its care for artists, from the affordable price tags to the free admission for students, from conventional media to modern trends, Art Dubai truly celebrates everything that is new and unique in the art world. And it has great potential to unite the world through art.