Art in the Emirates

Dubai plans to lure billionaires with an international exhibition and sale. Andrew Johnson reports
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The Independent Culture

Dubai, which has spent the past two decades turning itself into an international playground for Premiership footballers and billionaire businessmen, is now launching a drive to give its wealthy visitors something significant to spend their money on.

Having built an artificial island stuffed with luxury homes and entertainments to attract big spenders, the leaders of the tiny United Arab Emirates are hoping to turn Dubai into an international art centre to rival London and New York.

Later this month, Dubai will hold its second international art fair hosting more than 70 of the world's leading galleries, including several from London, double the size of last year's inaugural event. It will also host a global art forum: five days of discussions about contemporary art from the world's leading experts and artists, including Britain's Anish Kapoor, the Tate Modern curator Francis Morris and the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Glenn Lowry.

The British Museum is currently holding its first exhibition in the Middle East in Dubai, and the V&A plans to take its ceramics exhibition to Abu Dhabi next January. The Louvre and Guggenheim opened outposts there last year.

The big auction houses, including Christie's and Bonhams, are becoming more interested in the region. In January, Mohammad Khalaf Al Mazrouei, director general of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, announced plans to build a Bedouin museum.

Anna Haughton, of the prestigious London firm Haughton Antiques Fair, said her first event in Dubai at the end of February saw many members of the region's royal families turn up with their cheque books open. "Dubai is electric at the moment and full of energy," she said.