This year, Art Basel’s well-heeled visitors will have something new to check out aside from another set of overpriced Damien Hirsts and Richard Princes. For the first time in Art Basel’s 40-year history, a gallery from the Middle East will have a booth at the fair. Dubai’s Third Line Gallery will be showing multimedia work by young emerging artists from across the Middle East at the Art Supernova section of Art Basel Miami Beach. That the committee for this prestigious fair thought it relevant to include a gallery from the region shows how hot the art scene is getting in the Middle East. At last year’s Art Dubai (the Middle East’s only international contemporary art fair), big names like the Louis Vuitton Foundation and the Tate scooped up works by artists of the region.
Over the past several years, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonham’s have opened outposts in Dubai — the New York of the Middle East, in terms of the art world. And last March, Bonham’s broke all regional auction records when it sold Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri’s Eshgh (“Love” in Farsi spelled out with Swarovski crystal and glitter on canvas) for $1 million. Moshiri, who is represented by the Third Line, will have his work on display in Miami along with other up-and-comers like New York-based Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil and Iranian painter Amir H. Fallah, who lives in Los Angeles.
The Third Line (named after a line in a 13th-century Sufi poem) opened its doors in Dubai in 2005, created by American expat Claudia Cellini, UAE national Omar Ghobash, and Iranian-American Sunny Rahbar. All three were heavily involved in the arts before pooling their resources; Claudia worked throughout Asia and founded a small cafe/art space in Lhasa, Tibet, while Sunny, a Parsons School of Design alum, worked at the Guggenheim in New York and Sotheby’s London. Omar has long been involved in the UAE arts and culture scene and was a founding donor of the Arab Fund for Art and Culture. This eclectic combination seems to have magic to it, since they opened a second location in Doha last spring. With a cross-disciplinary viewer-friendly approach and clever shows with titles like “From Egypt with Love,” it’s no wonder they’ve become the go-to gallery in the Middle East.