It’s a familiar story happening in cities all over the world: artists move into rundown areas for the cheap rents, which begins a process of regeneration and – to use a dirtier word – gentrification.
Dubai is a city that doesn’t need any help with either of those things.
I mean, why would it need artists to help regenerate areas of the city when it can simply build the living daylights out of anything that isn’t already spectacular?
But anyone who loves art and the effect it can have on a place ought to be pleased that Dubai does have its own art scene, and just like in other cities, it’s a grass-roots movement rather than an installation from above.
Dubai’s Al Quoz district started blossoming as an artistic haven around the same time as East London and Brooklyn, New York City.
Like those hubs of creativity, Al Quoz is a formerly rundown area which still looks like an industrial no man’s land.
Old factories and warehouses, which have barely changed in appearance on the outside, are now home to art galleries and studios – the basis of the Middle East’s groovy new arts scene.
Trawling down its streets, there are vantages where you could confuse Al Quoz for the industrial zones of London and Brooklyn, where young artists have migrated in search of cheap rent and studio space.
It looks, feels, and mostly is a world away from the glitz and hubris of central Dubai.
The nucleus of the Middle East’s avant-garde is the Third Line gallery, an ultra-modernist white cube where the UAE meets the west coast of the USA.
From the outside, you could be staring at a piece of California pop art – a scene from Ruscha, Hopper or early Hockney.
But inside, a western template is given over to supporting mostly up-and-coming and established artists from the Middle East.
Step into the Third Line on any given day, and you could be treated to an exhibition or a talk by one of the region’s many accomplished artists, and a book shop supporting their growing body of fantastic contemporary art.
Make no mistake, Dubai isn’t a pale imitation of a western gallery. It holds its own on the international stage, as do the many other relatively new galleries in Al Quoz.
Middle Eastern artists are increasingly breaking out into the international art scene – and it appears to be taking notice.
If you attend one of the private views or exhibition openings in Al Quoz, you won’t just find Arabian art dealers scouting for pieces from the local talent.
You’ll hear art connoisseurs from London, New York and Paris come to take a look at what Dubai has to offer.
And like me, they’re usually very impressed.
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