Pablo del Val
PABLO DEL VAL
Artistic Director, Art Dubai
How should visitors plan and navigate a visit to the gallery halls at Art Dubai?
How you navigate an art fair depends on the amount of knowledge you have, because what are your expectations?
If you take people who just love art but are not that familiar with how an art fair works, they may need some guidance. If we are discussing people who are professionals, have gone to several editions, and know how an art fair works, it’s a completely different story.
When you’re a newcomer, I think the most important thing is to leave any prior judgements at home. Arrive with a blank mind and start to form questions about what you are looking at. When you’re looking at art, you need to be a good observer. Why is the artist using certain materials and not others? Why are the surfaces the way they are? It’s very exciting when you look at a work of art and you start to ask these questions. Where does it come from? You need to think about it. It’s not about ‘I understand it’ or ‘I don’t understand it’. It’s about putting together symbols, iconographies and materials that give you some answers.
Most people don’t realise that contemporary art is art that is writing the current history. Artists are like journalists in a way. So, when you look at works, most of the time they refer to issues that are close to you, your personal experiences. Contemporary art is about bridges and discussions and dialogues. You need to make a connection and because contemporary artists are often your contemporaries, that will happen and you will get hooked.
So, you have a good experience in an art fair when you start questioning things, digesting what you see and making your own conclusions. Naturally your eye is drawn to what you know and you dismiss what you don’t know. You tend to go to the galleries you know and spend time with works that you’ve seen beforw. To get the best experience you have to do precisely the opposite. You have to go and see what you’ve never seen before. That’s my exercise: avoid what you know, because if you don’t then you spend the whole time affirming what you already know, which is a waste of time. Break your comfort zone and your eye changes completely.
What makes Art Dubai different to other art fairs and are there different energies in its different areas?
For someone who regularly visits art fairs around the world, Art Dubai is a place that really shocks you in the beginning. The list of galleries and percentage of geographies represented is different from anywhere else – usually artists from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia take up 0.51% of an art fair. Not so at Art Dubai. In the contemporary halls an African artist can be discussing an issue that a Latin American artist and an Arab artist are also addressing close by, you can jump from one nationality to another and think ‘wow, there’s a connection between this. Why?’ You need to take the time to build bridges between the things that you are looking at. There are fresh voices commenting on what is going on in the world.
The important thing about the Modern section is that it’s taking place within a history that has not been written. It’s being written now. Artworks from the 1980s and 1990s aren’t Modern in other places in the world; in the Middle East it came later, Africa even later. It’s very exciting in this sense: we have to rewrite history.
Why is the new Residents segment of the fair particularly exciting?
I was impressed when I came to Dubai with the residency structures in the country, and I thought there is no better therapy than bringing an artist to a place that is being ruled by preconceived ideas. So, the experience is about them coming here and learning. The work is produced here, and the artist has an amazing experience. But, it’s very exciting not knowing what is going to happen. You don’t really know the final results or what’s going to be in the booth. To see them living in this community, learning local traditions, what the Middle East and Gulf in particular is about and hopefully going home with a completely different perspective of what this is.
When you walk through the Residents section, you will see Dubai. It’s the most Dubai thing you can do in Dubai. Everything is produced here, it doesn’t matter if the works are very straightforward or in line with what the artist has been doing all his life – there will be something there that will address you. It’s going to be like walking in the zoo, not aesthetically, but it’ll be like walking through eleven spaces with that spirit. You are going to breathe Dubai and see how they see us.