A decade ago, it all was so rosy. Flush with wealth amidst a city with seemingly unstoppable economic growth, the DIFC Gulf Art Fair launched in 2007—and was immediately not a hit. Scores of art world names were jetted in alongside a small clutch of global gallery brands to a mainly curious, but tepid local response. It seemed the fair was destined to become a short-lived bauble in the city’s hectic development. One of those who witnessed it from the start is Mohammed Hafiz, the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Athr Gallery, for whom the fair has provided a consistent launchpad to expose and promote the rather under-appreciated artists from the Kingdom.
“When Art Dubai launched in 2006, [contemporary] art in the Arab world was a novelty. And when it was very new, everyone was jumping on this, latest craze, they didn’t know much about it. But then after the economic crisis in 2009, people started getting much more smarter about what they were buying. And you can’t just look at Dubai in isolation from the other emirates, it’s all interconnected—the Sharjah Biennale, the museum projects in Abu Dhabi, and so on…”