Art Dubai heightens its flourishing scene amidst the urban desert: This 12th edition presents 105 galleries — 28 of whom are first-time exhibitors, including participants from Iceland, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan — coming from 48 countries altogether. In addition to the respective Modern and Contemporary showcases, the fair also features various talks (from the heritage influences on Iraq’s Baghdad Group For Modern Art to a panel about the development and influence of Artificial Intelligence); there is also the 10th edition of the Abraaj Group Art Prize (headed up by curator and collector Dana Farouki), and the launch of Residents, a new residency program for artists to create locally-inspired work during their time in the United Arab Emirates.
Art Dubai is directed by Myrna Ayad, a Beirut-born arts writer, editor and consultant who has been based in the United Arab Emirates for more than three decades. One of the region’s foremost cultural commentators, she has contributed to various international media, written books on major collections and art movements in the Arabian peninsula, and edited Canvas, a leading Middle Eastern culture magazine, for eight years.
BLOUIN ARTINFO spoke with Ayad about her favorite Dubai go-tos, from the most stunning overlooks to the best quick-delivery digital platform for impulse purchases.
How long have you been living in Dubai?
Thirty seven years. This is my home.
What are your “must-see, can't-leave-without” recommendations?
Deira and Khor Dubai are incredibly charming: this is where the pulse of the city can be felt. Take a trip on a traditional abra (dhow), visit Sheikh Saeed House in Shindagha and the Al Fahidi historical neighborhood, which are all relatively close by. You must spend a day at a Dubai beach and have some seafood, and two great restaurants are Sammach and Flooka. On the subject of fish, go the Fish Market — it’s fascinating.
What is the most overrated thing people advise visitors to do?
They may be “overrated,” but they are musts all the same: See the incredible view from Burj Khalifa, watch the Dubai Fountain at Dubai Mall, go dune driving in the desert and slide down Wild Wadi.
What restaurants and/or cafés would you recommend, and what makes them unique?
The Lighthouse at the Dubai Design District is a little over a year old; fantastic music and ambiance aside, it’s got a great bookstore and gift shop, and pretty much everything on the menu is delicious.
Teatro is a recognized Dubai institution with delectable cuisine from Asia and its manager, Pat, is a delight.
Cabin has recently opened and the venue is super charming with healthy food options in a creative setting.
If you had a free morning or afternoon, how would you spend it?
With my family, anywhere.
Where would you head for the best shopping, and what would you buy?
I would recommend browsing international Dubai-bred online platform themodist.com, which has an incredible variety of clothes and accessories on offer, and delivers in record time.
Where would you recommend people stay when they visit, i.e. favorite neighborhood, and/or favorite specific hotel?
Anywhere with a sea view.
What are the best venues for seeing—and buying—art?
Art Dubai to see and buy art!
If you’re not in Dubai in March, visit the industrial area of Al Quoz, which is home to a majority of Dubai’s galleries.
What are the ideal spots to see live music or performance?
I love Q’s at Palazzo Versace, and the Blue Bar at Novotel.
What are your favorite places to relax after spending the day at the art fair?
The trademark finale is Mina A’Salam’s Bahri Bar.
What are you especially looking forward to about Art Dubai?
So many things. In no particular order: seeing the artworks in real life (after being viewed as JPEGs), watching the performances at The Room, attending the sessions at the Modern Symposium, visiting the museum-quality show “That Feverish Leap into the Fierceness of Life,” [a curated show presenting works from modernist art groups from five Arab cities] learning more about automation at the Global Art Forum’s “I am not a Robot” and, lastly, seeing the Art Dubai team feel happy about what we’ve all achieved after our hard work.
What projects are you currently working on?
Believe it or not, but I’m working on the next edition of Art Dubai in addition to the current one. I’m also working on a travel schedule for 2018-2019 that will take me to the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and parts of Europe.
— Click on the slideshow for a sneak peek at Dubai's attractions.