A young woman in an embroidered burqa giggled and adjusted a virtual reality headset perched uneasily on her head. Her companion, an elegant man in a long dishdasha, smiled but politely refused to join her. She was watching Reframe Saudi, a lavish VR film that features contemporary Saudi Arabian artists guiding viewers around their workspaces and their home cities, all while basking in the sunshine of a new era of social reform, liberalization, and embrace of the outside world.

Both virtual reality and Saudi Arabia dominated the 12th edition of the Art Dubai fair this week, which runs through March 24. Two years ago, the idea that Saudi Arabian entities such as Art Jameel, the Misk Art Foundation, and Culturunners would be anchoring substantial portions of the 2018 program would itself seem like virtual reality. But the current burst of artistic energy emanating from Saudi Arabia under the aegis of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has galvanized an Arab art scene that has been in danger of subsiding into self-congratulatory torpor in recent years. The sluggishness of recent underwhelming editions of Art Dubai seems to now be changing for the better.

The fair itself was in good health this year. The event, the second edition under the directorship of Dubai-raised Myrna Ayad, featured 78 galleries from 42 countries. There were much-hyped initiatives, such as “Residents,” a new program dedicated to solo presentations from artist residents in Dubai who created (somewhat unremarkable) work that “merge[d] their distinct artistic practice with their surroundings.” Read more