Fair survival – Art Dubai’s artistic director shares his personal tips

Does this sound like a familiar scenario? With the floor plan in your hand, you push through the crowd, along brightly lit corridors, gallery booths and artworks. You have almost reached your destination. Wait. Or is North in this direction? And this artwork over there looks interesting…Before you realise it, you are lost in the hustle and bustle of the fair again. Art Dubai’s artistic director Pablo del Val tells us how to arrive prepared.

Please explain your role at Art Dubai.

Pablo del Val: “As artistic director I direct the artistic content of the fair and oversee all the galleries’ participation. Throughout the year I travel extensively to promote Art Dubai and to engage galleries to participate; working alongside our several selection committees, advisory boards and curators, to shape the focus of the fair and to ensure that every artistic aspect of the fair is interconnected. I feel this sense of interconnectedness will really be apparent throughout the 2019 edition.”

What is your vision for Art Dubai?

“A truly successful art fair should be a reflection of the city in which it takes place. Art Dubai is that; held in Dubai, a dynamic, cosmopolitan and multiracial city. It’s a place of innovation were more than 250 nationalities work in harmony. We envision Art Dubai as a unique gathering place were the energies from the Global South (geographically, Africa, Middle East, Latin America, Central Asia and South Asia) are represented and are able to discuss ways of creating and working that are not present in a world that is mainly dominated by Eurocentric and North American points of view.

We believe that there is life beyond the West.

Pablo del Val

Also we are interested in discussing all these concepts and addressing the Global South beyond the geographical regions previously mentioned; how minorities of those regions interrelate in the world’s main art centres.”

Do you have a personal ritual to start a long fair day the best way possible?

“The ritual begins three months in advance. I train in the gym as if I was going to run the New York marathon. We once calculated that the team and I clock more than 25 km daily during fair hours. As a normal visitor you will obviously not go to these extremes, but it is not a mistake to be fit or at least wear shoes that will carry you through the day. Also don’t forget that there are the dinners and parties that follow. I stick to Anna Wintour´s rule of ‘20 minutes maximum at a party’. This way I’m in bed at 11 to allow my body – and mind – to rest and prepare for the following day.”

How do you navigate international ‘mega art fairs’ such as for example Art Basel?

“As a regular to these things, I have to say I’m a little programmed for fair survival. Maybe the key to truly appreciate the richness of an art fair is to schedule enough time to enjoy its different aspects. If you do not have a lot of time on your hands: prioritise. Schedule the opening day (or hours) for conversations with galleries you are considering to buy from. After this, you are free to simply enjoy the conversations in the aisles. I also recommend to take some time for yourself: walk around as incognito as you can, to let the artworks speak to you.”

How can visitors make the most out of only one day?

“The full fair programme is always available online, so I recommend preparing the day in advance. Talks, performances, special events and activations happen at specific times – plan ahead to avoid disappointment!”

Which items should smart fair visitors carry on themselves?

“If I give just one piece of advice, it is this: bring a power bank to keep your mobile charged. Two even – it’s a conversation opener and a way to make new friends! Be prepared to take a lot of photos to remind yourself of the artworks you liked, special moments during the fair – and who doesn’t seek the perfect Instagram shot? I often use my phone to snap names of new galleries, artist information and business cards  – to jog my memory at a later date and because I have a habit of losing them.”

What are your negotiation tips for purchasing an artwork at a fair?

“Fall in love with the work, show your passion to the gallerist, be straightforward and don’t push too much for extreme discounts.”

The fair is over but we still didn’t have enough of cultural activities. Which hidden gems exist in Dubai?

“You’ve come to the right place. Dubai has so many exciting cultural offerings: wander through Alserkal Avenue and its galleries; the new Jameel Arts Centre is a must; a walk around the Creek to get the pulse of the old city is always so inspiring; and I love the Women’s Museum as it is somewhere a little off-radar and thoroughly unique.”

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