Dubai postcard

Dubai.jpgThe opening night of this year’s Art Dubai fair culminated in a sit-down dinner for 250 VIPs under a tent at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, hosted by Canvas magazine, a glossy local art publication. The invitation called for “lounge suit/national dress.” The smell of pungent flowers from the hotel’s garden mixed with the aroma of the sea just below. The feast of yellow fin tuna and beef tenderloin was paired with generous pourings of American Zinfandel and, after dessert, sweet Tokaj wine from Hungary. It was at that point that some of the guests approached the stage to perform cover songs of Italian pop tunes from the sixties. Shortly after midnight, as the jazz band launched into a hearty rendition of “Parole, parole, parole,” it was time to go.

Read more of my report in Men’s Vogue about the immense cultural projects in the United Arab Emirates here.

4 thoughts on “Dubai postcard”

  1. From Mark Sandelson, in LA

    The reviewer did precisely what should be done with his review of the opening of the Dubai Art Market. He noted the extensive menu of foods the kitsch of singing Italian pop songs after the meal and the sweet fragrance of the flowers. All this is totally riveting but man, any word on the art. Or is the writer a dining critic. I expect little from Dubai but ostentation and consumption and it appears that all is in order.

  2. In András’s defense (not that he would need to enlist anyone else’s help in this matter), not only should one take note of the ‘Glossy’ in which his piece was published–to go trolling for strict art criticism in the pages of Men’s Vogue is ill advised–but also the very title of the article, ‘A Surreal Art Scene’, would suggest that in Dubai, it’s not exactly the art that is drawing people in, but the scene itself.

    Dubai is an urban experiment, which Koolhaus’s comments at least acknowledge, though I’m convinced his analytical curiosity is wholly without critical remainder. Rem is undoubtedly ready to milk Sheikh Mo’s urban experiment for all of its self-serving worth. If you want a far more trenchant and damning criticism of the place, take a look at Mike Davis’s ‘Fear and Money in Dubai’, republished in Evil Paradises: The Dreamworlds of Neo-Liberalism.

  3. A few points about Dubai, art, and criticism. While there is a superficial sybaritic aspect to Dubai in general and Art Dubai in particular — and which art fair doesn’t have such an aspect? — if you actually read the MV piece you will see that I report that that there is much to take seriously there as well. Dubai and Abu Dhabi raise, by virtue of their sheer existence and scale of ambition, a lot of meaty topics for the Artworldsalon reader.

    In the dozens of conversations I have had about Dubai so far, I have been confronted with a general tone of suspicion, disbelief, and fairly overt cultural condescension. “The Vegas of the Gulf” is the term that I keep hearing. This is contradicted by the quality of the conversations and the seriousness of the projects I witnessed in Dubai itself. What I find ironic about this tone of condescension and ridicule is that it echoes exactly the kind of ridicule leveled at America by Europeans about a century ago. The sight of skyscrapers going up was certainly awesome, but a culture so nakedly dynamic and commercial could only be vulgar — or so it was believed at the time.

    The question is not what we see now, but what we will see decades from now. As for Mike Davis, if it were up to him, Los Angeles would be a burning tar pit by now.

  4. The kitsch or glitz factor does not particularly annoy me. Las Vegas hyper reality has become a resonant setting for art in the age of Dave Hickey. Miami is also a place where warm climate, ostentation and consumption have nurtured a local scene, above and beyond the seasonal invasions of Art Basel.

    What I do find unfortunate in Dubai is that oil money is buying Western culture left and right, irrespective of the fact that official UAE policy bans entry to holders of Israeli passports or stamps, that homosexuality and prostitution are subject to corporal punishment as per Shariah law, and that all this can lead to a de facto censorship in art that can be exhibited and discussed. Intellectual freedom seems an ill fit with medieval Islamic proscriptions. I wonder whether Andras, on the basis of his trip, might venture whether this ostensible climate of repression in the Emirates has lessened due to a new generation taking power there, fresh from European and American universities, often with a more cosmopolitan, international viewpoint than what is actually on the books. In other words, are the Emirates undergoing a revision of morals and mores to mirror their recent exponential growth, their huge scale of construction, and their massive importation of Western cultural and educational institutions?

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