Anastasia Nysten speaks with Benedetta Ghione, Executive Director of Art Dubai about the fair’s new location and plans for 2021
Anastasia Nysten: Congratulations on the new venue for Art Dubai 2021!
Benedetta Ghione: Thank you. It has definitely been a complicated year and for an event all the more. Canceling last year was hard for us and the community of galleries and artists we represent. They have all been so supportive all throughout. We though a year seemed like forever so we were convinced that we will be absolutely fine. We even started planning for a slightly different but mostly the same Art Dubai 2021. Then, things changed for everyone including Art Dubai. We kept reorganizing all aspect of the event including choice of venue and dates which were bold decisions but necessary given the circumstances.
AN: It’s inspiring to see your level of excitement!
BG: YES, I am excited! Our position has always been centered around the immediate experience of art, that one can’t virtually replicate it through online viewing rooms and their handsy tools. We feel a responsibility towards our community which include the participating galleries and artists. The sort of ecosystem created around Art Dubai is something to nurture. That’s where the decision to move to the DIFC came from. We were concerned about the visitors experience and how it would compare to the previous venue while giving priority to the health and safety regulations. Art Dubai is the kind of commercial platform that is built on social elements: the collateral programs, the talks, the conferences and the noncommercial programming. We thought, if we can’t have it all, then let’s strip it down to the core and keep the essentials. How are we trying to make a difference here? Ensuring the sustainability of galleries and artists in these difficult times was and is our most essential goal.
So we built it all up accordingly. That’s where the purpose of the built structure comes in. It was a smaller but a more appropriate venue even though we couldn’t include all the galleries that wanted to participate. We have an app launching today. Through it, visitors can book slots to visit the fair. That’s how we can monitor the capacity of visitors at all times. One can also access all of the fair’s programming and other institutions’ calendars.
AN: Are you expecting international collectors to come to the fair?
BG: Yes, we have a lot of interest from various international communities, Dubai has become a haven in these times. There are already some international visitors in town. We don’t expect as many as we normally would though. Some countries travel restrictions and regulations have recently changed like we won’t be receiving the guests who were eager to come from Italy in total lockdown. The short notice RSVPs to come are all granted as to accommodate our presents precarious nature.
AN: Through the app you are launching, could you access the location through viewing room or any 3D presentation of the fair?
BG: We have a digital online catalogue which we also had previous years that will be available on the app but there won’t be any virtual viewing rooms. In terms of digital innovation, we’ve engaged in what we call a remote participation package. First, we restructured our relationship with the galleries through a few key actions: going from a model in which we are sort of the landlords and galleries come to us for rental space to something more collaborative, like a partnership. Even further when we decided to shift to the DIFC, we entered an agreement where galleries won’t pay a standard fee, they will pay upon results and sales after the fair. The percentage Art Dubai receives is also dependent on the value of each booth. The main innovation is the remote participation package. For gallerist participants who are unable to attend the fair, we’ve put in place a number of mechanisms to facilitate the interaction between the galleries and the collectors. It’s a WhatsApp channel allowing collectors to contact the galleries.
AN: We are seeing a lot of changes in our field and this is perfect because you are not taking away from what the physical fair is but using these times to enhance it.
BG: This comes from being continuously in contact with our community and all of the wonderful collectors here who are so willing to support. People are tired of being on zoom. People are missing travel and engaging with life and art. They are missing human encounters, the magical and physical object of connecting through art.
AN: I want to ask you about the galleries themselves, do you think that they are changing the size or the quality or the reach of the artworks that they are presenting?
BG: There were a few things we all needed to do to adapt. Because the place is slightly smaller, some had to rework their booth if someone was bring an enormous work. Otherwise the galleries are presenting their programs and artists so there is a level of consistency in what they will be bringing. What has been wonderful here and everywhere is that people have been spending more time at home, getting involved with their communities and branching out online. We’re seeing a sort of next generation art collectors starting to emerge here. People who maybe didn’t have the time to engage with their local art scene have started to support their neighboring galleries understanding that ultimately having a thriving art scene is really important for all of us who live here.
AN: Do you have any timeline for this model, will you keep on working on that or will you go back to Madinat Jumeirah with another plan?
BG: This is very much a one off edition. We normally have a bigger number of galleries so our plan is to return to Madinat Jumeirah next year. Despite the fact that the world has changed, art is a train that can’t be stopped or traversed. As a consequence of the pandemic, our collaborative model with the galleries is more flexible. I think we will keep that model going forward and we will continue making improvements wherever we can. I can’t tell you what that might look like because there is much that will be learnt by what we are doing now.
Art Dubai returns for its 14th edition from 29 March to 3 April, 2021.