Over the years, Dubai has gained increasing popularity especially among us contemporary art lovers. With its thriving gallery scene and a growing number of museums, Dubai is now one of the major international centers for contemporary art and definitely the biggest one for the United Arab Emirates. Contemporary art in Dubai is both international and regional, with museums and galleries promoting artists from the Middle East, but also exhibiting international artists.
And with the upcoming Art Dubai art fair (the only one confirmed so far for 2021) and the Dubai Expo later this year, it seems pretty clear to me that the city should be on everyone’s bucket list.

I have contrasting feelings about Dubai though. I find it extremely fascinating how it is an almost entirely man-built city in the middle of a desert. The futuristic look of the city, with its skyscrapers and massive highways, reminds me of Blade Runner 2049, minus the toxic air and creepy people. And although I don’t think I would spend there many days, Dubai definitely seems like a place I could visit on a long weekend, to enjoy the contemporary art galleries and museums, go shopping, and overall enjoy the vibes of this peculiar city.

But, as we are all still stranded at home in this never-ending pandemic, I decided to take a virtual tour of the city and start exploring what it has to offer to us art lovers. So, let’s pack our digital suitcase and let’s discover four destinations in Dubai for contemporary art.

Jameel Arts Centre

One of the latest addition to the Dubai offer, Jameel Arts Centre is already a must for all the art lovers in town and a leading institution for contemporary art not only in Dubai but more broadly throughout the Middle East.
Located in Jaddaf Waterfront, the center was opened in 2018 by Art Jameel, an independent organization that fosters contemporary art practice, cultural heritage protection, and creative entrepreneurship across the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond.
The center offers rotating exhibitions of emerging & established artists, both Arab and international. They also host lectures and events, and the complex is further enriched by a library and a landscaped garden.
Moreover, in addition to the scenic location and rich program, they also have a stunning sculpture garden, the first open-air art and sculpture park in UAE. Designed as an active and lively outdoor gallery space that welcomes community engagement, the garden also features a playground and an amphitheater for film screenings, performances, and talks. Sounds like the perfect place to enjoy a sunset in Dubai!

Jameel Arts Centre
Jaddaf Waterfront – Dubai – United Arab Emirates

Info, tickets and opening hours

Contemporary Art Dubai - Salsali Private Museum
Khashy21, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Salsali Private Museum

The Salsali Private Museum, also known as SPM, is the first private museum in the region for contemporary Middle Eastern and international art. It was founded in November 2011 by Ramin Salsali and is located in the industrial area of Al Quoz in Alserkal Avenue, a complex with the highest concentration of galleries and creative spaces in the region.
Exhibitions at Salsali Private Museum showcase artworks from the Salsali’s collection, predominantly dedicated to Arab artists. Together with the permanent collection, the museum also hosts exhibitions from across the globe, showcasing both local and international artists.
In addition to the exhibitions, SPM serves as an independent center for art collectors, and provides an insight into contemporary Middle Eastern and international art. The museum is equipped with a dedicated space – the so-called Collector Lounge – where emerging, established and traveling collectors can showcase their works. Here collectors are free to meet one another to discuss ideas within the museum as well as draw on their knowledge bank.
What better place can you imagine starting your own collection?

Salsali Private Museum
Al Quoz 1, Street 8 Alserkal Avenue Complex, Dubai

Info, tickets and opening hours

Jean-Paul Najar Foundation

Another private museum, this time dedicated to presenting abstract European and American art from the 1960s to the present days, is the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation.
The foundation hosts around three different exhibitions every year, along with the collection of its founder and an archive tracing forty years of artist-collector exchanges.
The institution, located on Alserkal Avenue, the heart of Dubai’s art quarter, opened its doors to the public in 2016, thanks to Jean-Paul Najar, an economist, photographer, sculptor, and curator. The museum is hosted in a Bauhaus-inspired building, designed by architect Mario Jossa, that came out of retirement just to design this building.
The foundation offers workshops for kids and events, alongside its rich program of temporary exhibitions. Definitely a spot to visit while in the area, gallery hopping and soaking in the best Dubai’s contemporary art scene has to offer.
And if you can’t visit the museum now, jump on their website and enjoy a 360 virtual visit to their latest exhibitions.

Jean-Paul Najar Foundation
Warehouse 45 Alserkal Avenue – Dubai – United Arab Emirates

Info, tickets and opening hours

Contemporary art Dubai - Tabari Artspace
Fabric of Memory – Exhibition view at Tabari Artspace Gallery | Photo courtesy Tabari Artspace Gallery

Tabari Artspace Gallery

Among the many galleries that over the years open in Dubai, I chose Tabari Artspace for its pivotal role in drawing international attention towards Middle Eastern art.
Opened in 2003, Tabari Artspace aims at fostering fresh dialogues between the artists of the Middle East and an international audience.
The name ‘Tabari’ stems from ‘Lake Tiberias’ and foregrounds notions of borders, space, place, and identity – some of the universal topics that are tackled by the Middle Eastern artists of the contemporary moment. As a reflection of the Founder’s belief that art is a powerful tool to dismantle social boundaries and ignite greater cultural understanding, Tabari Artspace continues to honor the Masters it built in the past while introducing a new generation of artists that are deeply engaged with the present and push forward perspectives – male and female – from far-reaching social and cultural contexts.
Tabari Artspace rocks an ambitious program of exhibitions and special projects, as well as talks, publishing, workshops, and community events. Lastly, 2021 will witness the inauguration of the Tabari Artspace global residency program, Home from Home, which encourages the artists of the region to develop their practice amid new communities and environments.

Tabari Art Space
Podium level, DIC Building @3 – DIFC, Building 3 Gate Village – Dubai

Info and opening hours

Follow the gallery on Artsy here

Did you like this article on Dubai? The why not checking other articles on Asian cities, like Tokyo or Seoul?
And if you are planning to visit Asia, then you should take a look at all my articles on Asia here.

Cover image by Salman Sidheek on Unsplash