There is a gritty sandstorm dancing through the streets of Downtown Dubai. Even the mythically shiny Burj Khalifa is clouded in dust. Inside The Venue, the white caravan-like tent that houses the 3rd edition of Design Days Dubai, it’s another world altogether. Designers, buyers, and press wander slowly down aisles, pausing to take in the 33 galleries’ striking exhibition booths.
Around the corner it is unexpectedly spring. A grove of cherry blossom trees beckon in full bloom—look more closely and it becomes clear that the installation was painstakingly crafted from white polypropylene pipe. Designer Tom Price created PP Trees as a poetic interpretation of an otherwise commonplace material. Fair Director Cyril Zammit remarks that installations like Price’s serve a real purpose at the fair: “We do installations at Design Days to show people that design goes beyond tables and chairs.”
There is no widely accepted definition for design, which can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from art or architecture, but Zammit understands it this way: “Design remains design as long as you give it a function. If you sit on it, it’s design. If you put it on a pedestal, it’s an art piece. It’s up to the buyer to decide how she or he wants to use it.” Thousands of guests will attend Design Days this week to decide for themselves.
Of note are designer Omar Nakkash’s Victory Chairs in the Nakkash Gallery booth. The clean-lined chairs unexpectedly feature the three-fingered Emirati hand gesture for success popularly used by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum upon learning that Dubai had been selected as host city for Expo 2020. Just a few turns and paces away, Carpenters Workshop Gallery has collaborated with anointed Parisian antiques dealer Steinitz to recreate a collector’s apartment from the 17th-19th centuries, complete with wood-paneled walls, high ceilings, and curious details that demand exploration.
It’s noticeable that local and international, contemporary and antique works are curated together rather than being divided up into segments. Zammit is adamant that “This is Dubai where everyone is mixed together seamlessly, and for that reason the galleries are not organized into emerging and established sections.” For a young gallery, being placed beside an international powerhouse can quickly skyrocket quality work to the top, creating a real buzz.
Newcomers Capsule Arts, an Al Quoz-based arts consultancy, present for the first time this year with a booth featuring new light installations by the London-based Giles Miller Studio. Describing the technique behind the design, Miller explains, “More than 10,000 etched pieces are handmade and crafted with hours spent in our studio putting together each light.”
Towards the fair’s entrance, ten talented young designers perch on a group of ten wooden stools commissioned by FN Designs in collaboration with Bloomingdales Home and WTD Magazine. The project, titled #10/100/1000 (is a reinterpretation of Francisco Torres’ undertaking of a similar vain) commissioned regional designers to use unfinished wood to create a stool to be made in a limited edition of ten pieces and sold for $1,000 each. The stools vary wildly in theme yet manage to look wonderfully coherent together as a group.
French jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels partnered with local arts centre Tashkeel and Design Days Dubai to present the annual Middle East Emergent Artist Prize. UAE-based artist Vikram Divecha was selected for his work, “Degenerative Disarrangement”which cleverly repurposes discarded cement blocks from a local train station into a contemporary mosaic in the city’s historic Al Fahidi district.
This year’s fair is remarkably sophisticated and blends the best of regional and local design with top international galleries from as far away as Seoul, Sao Paulo, and Johannesburg. A more robust educational component opens workshops to the public for increased appreciation of the industry. Although it’s the largest design fair in the region, Design Days Dubai can be digested in several concentrated hours, which makes it accessible to everyone.
Showcasing creations by more than 145 designers, Design Days Dubai will be held 17-21 March, 2014 to coincide with Art Week. For ticketing and timings visit: http://www.designdaysdubai.ae/
This post was co-posted on the fabulous Art in the City Blog