Alserkal Avenue, Dubai’s industrial arts district, was originally a marble factory and is tucked away in the city’s least tourist friendly area, near labor camps, auto repair shops, cheap cafeterias, and makeshift mosques—a far cry from the five star hotel lobbies and glitzy skyscrapers the city is most often associated with abroad. In the wake of the first Christie’s auction of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art in 2006, and the launch of Art Dubai as an annual fair platform for the region the following year, precocious regional galleries including Ayyam, Green Art, and Grey Noise, began to open up warehouse spaces and hold openings at Alserkal as early as 2007 under the patronage of Abdelmonem Alserkal. In a few short years, the district has blossomed into a surprisingly free-spirited enclave, with strong regional galleries, experimental spaces, open-air art nights, indie music performances, and perhaps most importantly, an everyday meeting point for artists and start up types.
In September, Alserkal Avenue is set to double in size and will roll out 20 new galleries and creative spaces. While the art scene in Dubai has always grown organically and experimentally, the expansion will mark the first time that a group of galleries have taken residence in a planned community, a move that further signals the stability of Dubai as a regional arts hub. A few big names in the Middle Eastern art circuit such as Leila Heller Gallery will be opening branches on Alserkal, while long time Dubai heavy The Third Line, will be moving camp to take advantage of the community feel of the area. Also intriguing is Alserkal’s announcement that public art and artist residencies will be a big part of programming.
Dubai insiders were undoubtedly hoping for established London or New York galleries without any association to the Arab world to set up shop, as a way to signify that the city can be regarded as the global art center Art Dubai has consistently pushed for since the beginning. Solid curatorial focus, an upswing in critical publications, and a more consistent UAE collector base are needed for that inevitable leap to take place, and Alserkal is at the forefront of the movement.
(Images: Alserkal Avenue, 2015. Courtesy Lindsay Kirkcaldy)
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