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An interview with Art Dubai’s Pablo del Val

The artistic director of Art Dubai, one of the leading art fairs in the region, shares some of his favourite places and spaces in Dubai

As someone who works in contemporary art and collects it, I don’t have a “coffee table” in the traditional sense of the word...

The sight that inspires me the most in Dubai is... any mall in the city. When I moved to Dubai, it was my first time ever in the Middle East. Westerners are full of preconceived ideas of what this part of the world is like. So, at the beginning I spent every weekend in malls, sitting and observing, and it has been such an amazing journey. A mall is like any Mediterranean plaza, but indoors. And us Mediterraneans (I’m a Spaniard), we sit, we drink and we observe... People like me who work in the cultural industry have a very trained eye, and a trained eye is our tool to learn.

The building I feel most connected to in the city is... I know this might sound like the obvious answer but for sure the Burj Khalifa. It’s one of the most beautiful and elegant buildings constructed in recent times. It’s my lighthouse in Dubai. I call it Excalibur. It’s full of poetry, a sword of steel pointing towards the sky.

A recent “find” is... There is this restaurant in Jumeirah that has been an amazing discovery. It’s called Heat — the healthiest restaurant I’ve ever been to.

An object from outside my city that sits in my home is... my collection of white German porcelain vases dating from 1959 to 1970. Besides collecting contemporary art, I have a passion for porcelain, so some time ago I started this collection of vases produced during the decade around my birth. Now it has grown to more than 60 pieces and I don’t know how many sets of tableware. I can serve coffee or tea not repeating the same tableware for weeks.

As someone who works in contemporary art and collects it, I don’t have a “coffee table” in the traditional sense of the word...

Pablo del Val

On my coffee table you’ll always find... As someone who works in contemporary art and collects it, I don’t have a “coffee table” in the traditional sense of the word... So, I just forget the table and focus on the coffee. It’s simple, good coffee and us Mediterraneans relate to coffee in a completely different way, far from this annoying hipster fashion that has invaded our lives.

My favourite space in my city is... I love d3, where Art Dubai’s headquarters are. It’s vibrant, with nice shops and restaurants including one of my favourite restaurants in town, The Lighthouse, which also has a beautiful and fantastically designed objects shop.

The last gift I received from someone in the city was... friendship!

My next investment... will be quality time. I’m working hard on learning how to disconnect from work. The best investment ever is yourself, your health and your inner peace. If you manage to do so you relate to others in a different way and learn to be more generous with others. With age you manage to understand the importance of things, to focus on what is really important. Material investments? Working on finding a magical place to end my days.

My last memorable trip was to... I visited São Paulo this September for the Biennale for the first time after 10 years. Besides galleries and private collections, I managed to spend time visiting the buildings by one of the best architects in recent history, Italian-born Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. Her works range from the brutality of the MASP museum (1957-68) to the magic of The Glass House (1951), the residency she designed for her and her husband.

The thing I most look forward to coming back to is... the art scene here. Going to galleries makes me realise how lucky we are to have such exciting and challenging spaces to see and buy art.

The last thing that surprised me about the city was... Dubai is a city in continuous growth and, for me, a laboratory of ideas. Every time I come back from a trip I discover something new. Now I can’t wait for the opening of the Jameel Arts Centre, the first contemporary museum in town. I’ve already visited the construction site and the final building is going to be so amazing.

If I didn’t live in my city I would live in... I’m based between Dubai and London, two amazing, vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, but Madrid — my home town — will be the choice for this question and I know I will spend my final days there.

The 2019 edition of Art Dubai will take place at Madinat Jumeirah March 20-23.

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