Founding director of the art galleries and chief curator at New York University Abu Dhabi Art Gallery
Harper’s Bazaar Art: How would you like to see ADA evolve this year and in the future?
Maya Allison: The appointment of Dyala Nusseibeh captured my imagination, as she comes to us from a diverse and international arts background. Already she has initiated a decisive, clear direction for the fair, one that has a distinctly collaborative, self-aware character, with an eye to where we are in Abu Dhabi. For example, Abu Dhabi has a newly growing art collector base. Supporting artists and galleries are critical to a healthy art ecosystem. One example of growing this support came when TCA Abu Dhabi partnered with Warehouse421 on a pop-up event for galleries selling affordable art last spring.
I anticipate that this fair will help visitors see Abu Dhabi specifically as it is situated in an international art scene. In order to do so, one has to start with Abu Dhabi, and this is where Dyala took surprising and interesting steps. Through her curatorial invitations, she emphasises local activity, both emerging and established, alongside international commercial activity — and this is new — both emerging and established galleries. My hope is that the fair will continue to dialogue with museum-quality collections, while finding its unique voice centered on Abu Dhabi and the growing cultural sector here.
HBA: In what ways, in your experience, has the UAE public evolved in relation to ADA?
MA: I’ve attended almost every ADA since 2010, when it was held at the Emirates Palace. In that time, I’ve watched ADA adapt to, and participate in, the fast-evolving cultural landscape of the UAE. TCA has steered it toward a particularly important role in the broadening of our local art audiences. In the last few editions I’ve observed a growing family audience attending on the weekend, and this commitment to all-ages creates a potential for conversations that transcend the ‘art world talking to itself’ problem that can plague art fairs.
HBA: How do you keep your curatorial inspiration and approach fresh?
MA: Reading, reading, reading. Studio visits. Train rides.
HBA: What are you bringing to ADA this year?
MA: For the Gateway section, I’ll be drawing connections among established artists from the UAE and abroad. Many curators and art historians may not be aware the extent to which the UAE has been home to several very serious art communities, dating back to as early as the 1960s, and particularly since the 1980s. However, our lack of knowledge about them does not mean they were operating in a vacuum. They were in active dialogue with contemporary art, from both “the West” and “the East” while developing a very Gulf-specific set of formal, political, and conceptual practices. I hope to draw out these mutual influences, and contextualise their practice alongside their international peers, whether from England or New York, India or Korea.
HBA: How is ADA this year in dialogue with global contemporary art trends and developments?
MA: Many ways, but particularly the inclusion of a curated art galleries section generated by the wonderful Omar Kholeif. It is in that type of section that one sees what the future of art might hold.
HBA: Are there any special insights you can provide us with?
MA: You can get some hints if you’ve seen our exhibition, still on view at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008, which surveys the two decades leading up to the UAE’s announcement of the Saadiyat Museum projects. It’s on view through the end of August…
Next week, hear from Omar Kholeif.
For more information visit abudhabiart.ae