But Dubai as a whole still has a way to go before rivaling the world’s major art hubs. Knotzer estimates the number of “significant” collectors based in town at “about 10.” According to The Art Market | 2017, a report by Clare McAndrew underwritten by Art Basel and UBS, Middle Eastern collectors accounted for only two percent of the buyers at the top-tier auction houses. Locally, the middle market relies heavily on expats, many of whom leave after a few years.
What’s more, art publishing, particularly in Arabic, “is still sorely needed,” according to Jameel Arts Centre’s Carver, who also deplores the slim art coverage in the UAE mainstream media. And I heard again and again that Dubai was suffering from the lack of a contemporary art museum of international stature. Art Dubai’s Ayad gets bored of the latter criticism.
“We’ve come this far without a museum,” she said. “This country was unified in 1971, and what we have managed to achieve in such a short amount of time is really admirable.”
As long as the fair, the galleries, and Alserkal remains as committed as they are now—and culture continues to be at top of the emirates’ economic diversification agenda—chances are the art scene will continue to grow. In a country still uncomfortably caught between rigid tradition and innovation, the art world, and its intrinsically global outlook, has a vital role to play.
“With what's going on around the world, the only table we can all sit around and discuss, is the table of art and culture,” said Alserkal. At this table, he certainly is an enlightened host.