Sep 17 2018

Abraaj Group Will No Longer Sponsor Art Dubai

by HG Masters

*Last updated October 16, 2018.

Art Dubai has lost its lead sponsor, the Abraaj Group, following the private equity firm’s liquidation. Courtesy Art Dubai and Photo Solutions, Dubai.

The collapse of the private-equity firm Abraaj Group (formerly Abraaj Capital Limited), and the court-supervised liquidation of its assets in June, means that Art Dubai art fair has lost its lead sponsor, the Art Newspaper reports. ArtAsiaPacific confirmed this with a spokesperson for Art Dubai. 

The Abraaj Group had maintained a partnership with Art Dubai since its second edition in 2008 (in its inaugural year the fair was named the DIFC Gulf Art Fair and was supported by the Dubai International Financial Centre). Additionally, the Dubai-based firm had committed to a ten-year sponsorship for an art prize, beginning in 2009. Winners of the Abraaj Group Art Prize received USD 100,000 to create a new project with other shortlisted artists being awarded USD 10,000. The commissioned works were revealed every year in March at Art Dubai. 

The partnership with Art Dubai and the sponsorship of the art prize were incredible boons to the regional art scene, transforming Art Dubai into the region’s most vital art fair and, in turn, fueling the UAE’s gallery and commercial art scene. The 44 prize winners from the MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) region have included Kutlu─č Ataman, Kader Attia, Wael Shawky, and Nadia Kaabi-Linke. The prize has also involved 14 curators, including Sharmini Pereira, Omar Berrada, Nat Muller and Murtaza Vali, who worked with the award recipients to develop their artworks. 

The Abraaj Group Art Prize Collection, which comprises 30 major works, has been loaned to more than 68 institutions, galleries and museums worldwide. The collection was originally slated to be on long-term loan to the Jameel Arts Centre, which opens its doors in Dubai in November, but that arrangement has also been canceled.

On October 9, the National reported that the corporation’s entire art collection was being put up for sale across auction houses in London, including Bonhams. Some of the confirmed lots have estimates far below market value and what the firm had paid to acquire them, the National found. Mohammed Ehsai’s calligraphic, oil-on-canvas He Is Merciful (2007), for instance, is being offered by Bonhams in its Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern Art sale on October 24, with estimates between GBP 50,000 and 100,000 (USD 66,000–132,000). The same work last surfaced at auction in 2008 at Christie’s Dubai, where it sold for USD 1 million.

In February, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that investors—including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank—had inquired as to why the more than USD 200 million that they had provided to the Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund had not been spent. They subsequently commissioned an audit, which revealed that Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi had misused the funds to cover its losses. Naqvi ultimately stepped aside in June, after the revelations came to light. The firm owed lenders more than USD 1 billion and began liquidation to repay its debts. At its peak, the Abraaj Group managed more than USD 14 billion, and was one of the most influential investors in emerging markets, mirroring its lavish support for the art scene in Dubai and the wider MENASA region.

HG Masters is ArtAsiaPacific’s editor-at-large.

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