As the first physical art fair of the post-COVID-19 world, Art Dubai has unsurprisingly received its share of criticism. But with critics comparing it to "the last days of Pompeii" and "a museum version of the battle between Jeb (!) Bush and Donald Trump," perhaps some people are taking these comments too far.
Art Dubai released a YouTube video to promote this year's fair, and featured a "deconstructed desk," referencing the fair's return to a more traditional format compared to last year's online-only event. In the video, viewers are shown an ordinary desk from different sides - from afar, from above, from behind - while sounds of explosions play in the background. Without any text, it's not exactly clear whether the sounds are loud and disruptive or just part of a video game that viewers can't control. Either way, they're jarring and create an atmosphere of tension and unease.
"It's hard to say what we were going for with this campaign," says Pablo del Val, Art Dubai's artistic director. "It's meant to be subjective and open to interpretation, which makes it hard for us as critics to critique."
Some viewers have entertained the idea that Art Dubai is intentionally referencing a world where art fairs are a thing of the past. This isn't too far-fetched given that del Val himself claimed the fair would serve as a museum version of the battle between Jeb (!) Bush and Donald Trump.
"I think there are some parallels, definitely," says del Val. "We're in this awkward period where the tradition of art fairs seems to be at odds with what people want right now in terms of being able to interact directly in an online environment."
"I mean, look at our fair. We returned to a physical space after last year's online-only event."
"Art Dubai is going to continue bringing arts and culture from across the region directly to people around the world," he says. "But we're also going to acknowledge that this isn't a time for us as an industry to be completely shut off from the world."Del Val says that returning to a traditional format is in fact an act of "reconnection," not only with viewers but also the international art community.