Art Dubai is held under the Patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai. An international art fair with roots in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the eleventh edition of Art Dubai takes place March 15-18, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
In April 2016 Myrna Ayad was appointed to be the new Director of Art Dubai. Both in Lebanon, she is an independent arts writer, and was previously Editor of ‘Canvas’, a magazine focused on arts and culture in the Middle East and the Arab world, as well as writing for international art journals. Richard Noyce interviewed Myrna Ayad for artBahrain.

What is your view on the evolving nature of the international art world, the ways in which it is changing, and the sometimes fraught relationship between the artist, the curator, art collectors, museums/galleries, the art media and the international art market?

I do appreciate and delight in a heaving art calendar packed with events around the world — in many ways, it is a reflection of the need to express, to communicate, to be discovered and to be inspired. In my experience, this has increased in the last few years and it is now impossible to see everything. There may be major stops on the calendar but it is a congested calendar all the same. The relationship between the different entities and individuals in the art world is, to say the least, a colourful one and some such relationships might be fraught as you say. I think today artists are both given new opportunities but are also encouraged and pushed, so they dare both in their execution and messaging; I think curators are conceiving new ways of telling stories through exhibitions; art writers have many more platforms to communicate in. I see greater possibility and I think that is wonderful.

Is there a danger of art becoming increasingly a commodity rather than an original creative work that is a reflection of the culture from which it comes? How do you see the role of educational institutions in this process?
Furthermore, do you see Art Dubai, a maturing cyclical event, as being reflective of this evolution, or reactive to it? Do art fairs, in general, play a supportive role to the broad range of participants in the art world, or have they become the drivers of change, favouring established artists to the detriment of struggling new artists?

Educational institutions as well as cultural organisations such as Art Dubai and non profit entities in the region are all working towards building a greater appreciation for the arts. They are doing this through various mechanisms and strategies; as far as the fair is concerned, it continues to diversify, all in the name of cultivating this appreciation. Our robust non profit programming attests to this.
Concerning the evolution — Art Dubai is the most global of art fairs, which is wholly representative in the fact that galleries from 44 countries will come together for the 11th edition. We are all about a broader range and a holistic representation of art from around the world; we are also keen on showing emerging trends by young artists through to the work of modern masters, showcased in our Modern hall. We are concerned with the contemporary moment, but also with the significance of art produced in the last century.

How do you hope to balance the various functions of Art Dubai, the commercial role and the more general roles of extending the knowledge of the art world to a growing number of people through information, consciousness raising and (in broad terms) education? Do you see Art Dubai widening its various roles in future years?

It is true that Art Dubai is an art fair, but it is also an institution, an arts academy and acts as a non-profit organisation too. We are keen on strengthening that positioning and that role as an educator, facilitator, platform and patron of the arts. A decade ago, we were an art fair with 40 galleries and 8000 visitors. Today we are so much more. Though our participating galleries serve the commercial role of the fair, there is a lot of curatorial effort that goes into those halls; our selection process is stringent and we work very closely with our galleries to present tightly curated shows. On the non-profit side, we’ve initiated several projects – within the year, we present Campus Art Dubai courses for enthusiasts; the AiR programme; the Art Dubai Commissions; the Global Art Forum is a critically acclaimed series of talks, presentations and debates that tackle a different theme every year. There is more non profit programming that is yet to be announced, and yes, I do see the fair widening its remit so to speak. We’ve done so from the start and will continue to do so; the Group’s remit extends to design as well and we consider ourselves to be a nucleus of the regional art industry.

To what extent do you consider Art Dubai, and other international art fairs, having the function of reflecting and mediating the current challenges to the world in a time of profound socio-economic-political change?

I think, inevitably, that art platforms such as art fairs mirror the times in more ways than one. And they also act as vehicles through which these ideas are processed and communicated. Primarily, they are a visual presentation of the current moment (as far as Art Dubai is concerned) but also of a preceding time, i.e. modernity which we showcase through Art Dubai Modern and which presents art produced by modern masters in the 20th century, specifically in the 1940s-1980s. That hall is where the recent history of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia is visually told and I think there is something fundamental to be said about artists as historians and documentarians. In our Contemporary hall, audiences feel the pulse of the now – what media artists are using now, what they’re saying, what issues are dominant and so on and so forth.

The Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia have played an increasingly important part in the international arts world for some years now. Do you see this continuing or increasing, and do you see this as a self-referential and exclusive group of regions with a high degree of self-sufficiency and sustainability, or as being a vital force that seeks to build connections with the art worlds of Europe, the Americas and Australasia, to the mutual benefit of all?

I definitely see the MENASA regions as the latter, i.e. a vital force that seeks to build connections with the art worlds of Europe, the Americas and Australasia to the mutual benefit of all. I do see this as increasing and nowhere more so than at the region’s capital of culture, Dubai, and its global cultural powerhouse, Art Dubai. This is where the art world congregates – 90+ galleries from 44 countries will gather at Art Dubai this year, as will collectors, patrons, institutions, curators and enthusiasts from all over the world. I think it’s important to consider Diaspora when discussing the MENASA regions and connections to the West; and this extends to all ‘professions’ in the art world, so from artist and curator through to collector and institution. Art from the MENASA is where it is today for several reasons, one of which is the power of the Diaspora who all supported and contributed to its standing today.