Artistic Unity: Art in the UAE: Interview with Art Dubai’s Pablo Del Val

This article appeared in The Artistic Unity Issue #67 that was dedicated to the art scene in the UAE in which we unravel the threads of unity by exploring the perspectives of various stakeholders within the UAE’s art community. Through insightful interviews with galleries, art institutions, and auction houses, a vivid mosaic emerged, depicting how unity has been woven into the fabric of the art scene.

Rima Nasser: Pablo, as the Artistic Director at Art Dubai since 2015, could you share some key initiatives or strategies you’ve implemented to contribute to the growth and international prominence of the fair?

Avafstudio, Parada Vertical, 2023, Acrylic on duplex corrugated kraft paper, 203 x 172 x 4 cm. © avafstudio.

Pablo Del Val: I have always thought that providing the visitor with a structured fair helps them navigate it in a more comprehensive way. Creating sections where you give visitors a certain focus allows them not to get lost in the immense gallery halls.

For example, at Art Dubai 2019 we introduced Bawwaba, meaning ‘gateway’ in Arabic, which is a section devoted to solo presentations of artists from the Global South. Each year, we invite a curator from one of the regions that are part of the Global South to make the selection and each time, the curator’s sensibility, knowledge and geographical origin shapes the selection in beautiful ways. In 2024, Emiliano Valdes, who is the Chief Curator at the Medellín Museum of Modern Art (MAMM) in Medellín, Colombia since 2015, is curating the section. Titled Sanación, it will be an exciting dialogue between Latin America and South Asia, exploring the concept of healing and fostering hope in navigating these challenging times.

Dia al- Azzawi, Figures in Red, 1968. Copyright of the artist. Courtesy of Meem Gallery.

This year, we also decided to turn Art Dubai Modern into a more thematically curated section. Brought together under the scholarly eye of Dr. Christianna Bonin, the focus for this year is a clear example of how we can highlight lesser-known connections and revisit historical readings of modernism. Thirdly, was the addition of a first-of-its-kind section devoted to digital art – Art Dubai Digital. It’s now in its third year and is being curated by Auronda Scalera and Alfredo Cramerotti, who promise to bring curation and conversation around art and advanced technologies.

In some ways, this evolution is a culmination of the work we’ve been doing over the past eight years— promoting, raising and bringing on board a very specific profile of galleries. The ultimate goal has always been to differentiate ourselves from other fairs and to bring together artists and energies not commonly seen in the main Western forums. In other fairs, art from these places makes up 5%, for Art Dubai, it’s over 60%.

This year, we are proud to say that we’re come closest to this goal. We are the window to the Global South. Now, how do we define the Global South? Where is it? This is an exciting question that the presence of proposals from artists in cities spanning Cairo, Tehran, Beirut, New Delhi, and cultural minorities and diasporic communities in centres like New York, Paris, Los Angeles, and London will help to answer.”

RN: In your role at Art Dubai, how have you worked to expand gallery exhibitions and collector programmes? What impact has this had on the fair’s global recognition within the art community?

Debashish Paul, Me with My Pet, 2022-23, 9 Archival print on 350 gsm Hahnemuhle paper, 20 x 30.5 cm, Varanasi Unsigned Edition 1 of 10 + 1 AP. Courtesy of the artist and Emami Art.

PV: Art fairs have a much larger social responsibility; we are more than just marketplaces. What is exhibited, seen and acquired shapes different communities of collectors, institutions and artists. The quality of the collections in a city reflects the nature of the art fair held there.

Our VIP team has a distinct approach to caring for our galleries and collectors. Our manageable size enables us to cultivate close relationships, facilitating personal introductions and providing everyone with a unique and special experience. We go beyond renting floor space, we ensure that galleries connect with the right people and vice versa.

Each year, we extend invitations to collectors, curators, and museum directors from around the world. It’s incredibly satisfying for us when we witness young artists showcased at Art Dubai being discovered and subsequently featured in major biennales, solo exhibitions and museum shows. We take pride in being a platform for discoveries and success stories.

RN: Coming from ZONA MACO, known as a significant meeting point in Latin America, how have you applied your experience to enhance Art Dubai’s outreach across various global markets?

PV: Mexico and Latin America have more in common with the Middle East than people might think, from social and cultural structures, sensibilities, as well as migrations and displacements. My most significant lesson has been that a fair’s identity must be unique. Judging its quality based on the number of well-known Western galleries doesn’t necessarily reflect its excellence. It’s possible to build a high-quality fair without relying on the usual suspects. Why visit Mexico City or Dubai to see the same exhibitors as in London, Paris, Basel, or Los Angeles? Plus, our commitment extends beyond hosting a once-a-year event. Art Dubai has an extensive and dedicated educational non-profit programme, from the Global Art Forum and Campus Art Dubai, to the ever- expanding Children’s Programme we have developed in partnership with A.R.M. Holding to working with the government on the Dubai Collection and Public Art Strategy, all aimed at providing a continuous and enriching experience.

RN: During your tenure at ‘La Conservera’ Centre of Contemporary Art in Murcia, Spain, from 2009 to 2012, how did your curation of solo exhibitions shape the Centre’s identity and standing in the contemporary art scene?

Farhad Khalilov, Evening in the Buzovny, 1979-2000, Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 140 cm. Courtesy of Gazelli Art House.

PV: La Conservera was a unique experience and place— an old canned food factory converted into a thematic dinosaur park and later transformed into an exhibition production Centre. Every three months, a new cycle of four exhibitions was curated to illustrate a specific subject. Renowned artists such as Lily van Der Stocker, Elena del Rivero, Xavier Veilhan, Valentin Carron, Eva Rothschild and Diana Al Hadid held impressive exhibitions there.

Reflecting on your directorship at Expoarte Guadalajara from 1994 to 1998, how did this early experience influence your later roles, particularly at ZONA MACO and Art Dubai?
This was the beginning of everything—not only the internationalisation of the Mexican art scene but also the first instance where various initiatives converged simultaneously. Expoarte Guadalajara hosted FITAC (International Forum on Contemporary Art Theory), similar to the Global Art Forum we host at Art Dubai, but in the 90s. I’ll never forget the passionate discussions among participants, including the ‘fight’ between Achile Bonito Oliva and Catherine David, with microphones flying! We also pioneered the first proper collectors’ programme, inviting enthusiasts from all over the world. The generosity of local collectors remains unforgettable, with sophisticated dinners and parties in the most amazing locations. In the short life of Expoarte Guadalajara, we set the stage for many fairs to come.

 


About Pablo Del Val

Pablo Del Val the Artistic Director at Art Dubai brings decades of experience as a cultural manager, curator and director of contemporary art galleries worldwide. Since joining Art Dubai in 2015, he oversees the curatorial vision of the fair and the international collectors programme, contributing significantly to Dubai’s prominence in the global contemporary art scene.  Del Val’s extensive career includes founding, directing, and curating at La Conservera, managing international Art fairs such as Expoarte Guadalajara, and serving as the Artistic Director at Zona Maco for five years.

Caption featured image: Pablo del Val, Artistic Director, Art Dubai, Image Courtesy Augustine Paredes.

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