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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

First ever Moroccan art fair to launch in October

Posted by artradar on August 24, 2010


MARRAKECH MOROCCO ART FAIRS ARAB ART

In October this year, the tourist hotspot Marrakech, Morocco, will host the country’s first modern and contemporary art fair. The fair points towards a growing trend of interest and investment in art in the Middle East where Dubai, currently the top art city in the Middle East, is facing increasing competition from upcoming art ventures in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. (Read our report on this recent trend.)

Gjdn Neshat's 'Untitled96'. Neshat is a participant at this year's Marrakech Art Fair.

Gjdn Neshat's 'Untitled96'. Neshat is a participant in this year's Marrakech Art Fair.

Morocco, characteristically, is a country that culturally and geographically straddles the “east meets west” junction. That the Marrakech Art Fair shares some of these characteristics make it all the more special. Out of the thirty galleries exhibiting at the fair, half come from the Arab world, primarily North Africa while the other half come from Europe. For art lovers, this could provide an incredible opportunity to sample international contemporary art.

The city also plans to host simultaneous art events throughout the days of the fair. Some of these are special exhibitions at select museums and galleries in Marrakech. The idea behind engaging the city as a giant art fair in itself is to offer rare insights into Moroccan heritage and its contemporary art world.

The Marrakech Museum, for example, is hosting “Resonance: Contemporary Moroccan artists across the world”, which showcases fifteen artists of Moroccan origin who are based outside of Morocco. Inventing and re-thinking ideas of identity versus the global, these artists will work through various mediums such as painting, installation and video art to map new thoughts about the reality of art in Morocco. Another interesting intervention looks at the culmination of popular culture and art. Six graffiti artists will create spontaneous art to the music of Moroccan rapper BIGG over the period of one night.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah's 'Love'. Bouabdellah is a participant in this year's Marrakech Art Fair.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah's 'Love'. Bouabdellah is a participant in this year's Marrakech Art Fair.

Other events include talks such as the panel discussions led by Roxana Azimi, a specialist in the international art market, that will deal with the twin issues of “Art market in the Arab world” and “The role of patrons and collectors.” Pascel Amel, a writer and director, will lead a debate on “Art in Morocco at the dawn of globalization.” The talks seem to be marked with hope and enthusiasm for the place of Moroccan art in the world market as well as a belief in the possibility of internal development.

Fifteen of the galleries invited to the fair will respond to a set theme of “From Orientalism to nowadays.” The Jean Brolly gallery is one such participant that intends to showcase work by two artists of different origins – Mahjoud Ben Bella and Francois Morellet. Local galleries are active participants at the fair. The Tindouf Gallery and the Galerie 127 are based in Marrakech itself. Other galleries that are showing at the fair come from Tunisia, the UAE, France and Morocco. The fair will be held from 9 to 11 October this year. For more details, visit the fair’s website.

AM/KN

Related Topics: art fairs, Middle Eastern art, promoting art

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Posted in Africa, Asia expands, Business of art, Crossover art, Fairs, Globalisation, Middle East, Promoting art, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sheikh Sultan opens private collection to public putting Sharjah on the UAE art map

Posted by artradar on August 18, 2010


PRIVATE COLLECTIONS PUBLIC GALLERIES SHARJAH

In Arabic, the word “barjeel”, from which the Barjeel Art Foundation, Sharjah, takes its name, means “wind tower”. For collector and owner Sheikh Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, the euphemism does very little to hide his vision – that of an art space where ideas, like air, circulate freely and create a dynamic where art can breathe.

Sheikh Sultan, Barjeel Art Foundation

Sheikh Sultan, Barjeel Art Foundation

Housing close to four-hundred and eighty works of art from the Arab world or by Arab artists living elsewhere, the Barjeel Art Foundation’s collection is originally the collection of Sheikh Sultan. In an interview with The National Daily Newspaper in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Sheikh Sultan said that,

Artists are the conscience of society. It is essential for their work to be seen and appreciated.

Another article on Real Estate Channel, recounts Professor Alma Kadragic’s VIP tour of the gallery space led by the Sheikh himself. Kadragic says,

Many people have visited the gallery over the first five months since it opened, and Sheikh Sultan has personally guided VIPs and others through the collection. The day I visited with a friend, we were joined by two other women, and Sheikh Sultan treated us to descriptions of the works on display and even opened locked doors to show some others kept out of sight in storerooms.

The first exhibition at the Barjeel Art Foundation is called “Peripheral Vision” and features contemporary work made later than 2007 by Arab artists. The show is on until the end of August this year, after which new selections from the Sheikh’s collection will be mounted for show. The foundation is currently not selling any of the works. The premise of the foundation is summed up by Sheikh Sultan:

Layan Shawabkeh, 'Ladies of Gaza', acrylic on canvas.

Layan Shawabkeh, 'Ladies of Gaza', acrylic on canvas.

We want to show how art of the Arab world is nuanced and in a constant state of transformation and renewal. Our mission is to expose different aspects of social, political and geographical landscapes that may be obstructed and out of focus.The works can however be borrowed for exhibition locally or internationally by institutions that will pay for transportation and insurance.

The objective behind the Barjeel Art Foundation is, in Sheikh Sultan’s words,

A foremost goal of Barjeel has been to give the artworks in the collection greater public exposure; making the space accessible for people to come and view a selection of art in rotating exhibitions seemed to be the ideal starting point.

The collection houses some masterpieces of Arab art. Considered a national treasure, artist Abdul Qader Al Rais’s works are so important that they are only handled by the Ministry of Culture of Sharjah, the Sheikh being an exception.

The gallery is not averse to showing political art, like that of Layan Shawabkeh, a Palestinian artist who died in 2009 at the age of 23. In a work called Ladies of Gaza, Shawabkeh takes inspiration from many of Picasso’s works that deal with women and post World War II trauma.

The Barjeel Art Foundation comes at a time when governments world over are cutting funds for art institutions and the market is relying on trusted modern, rather than contemporary artists for returns. Additionally, the art world of the UAE is fragmented, with only a few galleries in Abu Dhabi where the Louvre and the Guggenheim have yet to be built. Dubai seems to be at the forefront of cultural and financial investment in art although Arab art altogether has a long way to go.

AM/KN

Related Topics: Middle Eastern artists, collectorsgallery showsnon-profit

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Posted in Art spaces, Business of art, Collector nationality, Collectors, Gallery shows, Middle Eastern, Nonprofit, Oil, Painting, Palestinian, Promoting art, Sharjah, UAE | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Antonia Carver named Art Dubai director, lends Middle Eastern art insight to fair

Posted by artradar on July 22, 2010


ART PROFESSIONALS ART INDUSTRY APPOINTMENTS MIDDLE EASTERN ART INDUSTRY

Antonia Carver, an arts writer and administrator who is often credited with pushing contemporary Middle Eastern art into the limelight, has been named Fair Director of Art Dubai. She succeeds co-founder John Martin, who remains on the fair’s board.

Carver has been living in Dubai for the past eight years and is currently editor-at-large of Bidoun Magazine and director of Bidoun Projects. She has been a member of this renowned Middle Eastern arts organisation since its founding in 2004 and will remain on their board.

Antonia Carver at the 2009 Dubai International Film Festival.

Antonia Carver at the 2009 Dubai International Film Festival. Taken from zimbio.com.

The fifth edition of Art Dubai takes place in March 2011, coinciding with Sharjah Biennial 10, and as quoted on ARTINFO,

Officials from the fair say that they plan to work closely with the Sharjah Biennale to raise the international awareness of artists from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia as they expand into those regions. Recently there has been a surge in contemporary art in the Middle East, as wealthy locals have flocked to international and regional art fairs, snapping up works along the way.

So what changes, if any, does new Fair Director Antonia Carver aim to make to Art Dubai? As she points out in an interview with Time Out Dubai,

“Any fair is ultimately a place to do business, but Art Dubai is also one of the city’s premier cultural events. We’re continuing with the Global Art Forum and projects, as well as educational events, and there’s more to come. At the last fair I was the director of Bidoun Projects: we commissioned projects such as artist Daniel Bozhkov’s ‘World’s Fastest Tour of Art Dubai’. We want to continue with these types of events – they’re different to what other fairs do and they’re a way to help audiences interact with the work.”

She has a deep knowledge and understanding of Middle Eastern contemporary art although, as she states in a 2008 interview with ForYourArt, this is a term only recently coined:

“Dubai has – dramatically – established itself as a commercial art capital in the last 2-3 years. This has meant that for the first time, in commercial terms at least, it’s possible to refer to ‘Middle Eastern art,’ and compare this nascent market with India, China, Latin America, and so on.”

On the Middle Eastern art market she is quoted as saying in The Art Newspaper that…

“There’s never been such a level of international interest in the region and its art and culture. There is a new maturity in the market with a group of young Emirati and UAE-based collectors who are interested in how the market works and are looking at international as well as regional artists.”

Carver graduated in 1994 and since then has worked in publishing and the arts in Sydney, Australia and London. She was a correspondent for The Art Newspaper and has contributed to journals, newspapers and exhibition catalogues worldwide. As a film curator, she is a member of the programming teams for the Dubai International Film Festival and Edinburgh International Film Festival, specialising in Arab and Iranian cinema.

KN

Related Topics: Middle Eastern artists, events – fairs, art professionals

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Posted in Antonia Carver, Business of art, Directors, Events, Fairs, Middle East, Professionals, Promoting art, Venues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conflicting views about Chinese impact on art market

Posted by artradar on June 2, 2010


CHINA ART MARKET TRENDS ART COLLECTORS

A recent article published on English.news.cn by the Xinhua News Agency has highlighted the emergence of Chinese mainland buyers of high-priced modern and contemporary Western art.

The article reports that top art dealers and auctioneers in the West have seen their high profile works go to mainland collectors, many of whom are newly rich entrepreneurs. A number of these art professionals believe China has the potential to become a huge market for Western art.

Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) was recently sold at a Christie's sale in New York for a record $106.4 million. It is believed to have been purchased by a Chinese collector.

Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) was recently sold at a Christie's sale in New York for a record $106.4 million. It is believed to have been purchased by a Chinese collector.

“I think the potential for Western art in China is huge, just massive. There have been a very few people buying impressionist modern paintings since 2004 and 2005 but suddenly, since last year, there has been almost a surge.” Ken Yeh, chairman of Christie’s Asia in Hong Kong (as quoted on English.new.cn)

“Mei Jianping, professor of finance at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, Beijing… believes what is happing is similar to the Japanese art spending spree in the late 1980s, which saw the impressionist art index increase by more than 200 percent.” English.new.cn

“To capture this interest in art,” the article mentions, “China may actually be getting its own first traded art fund. The Shenzhen Culture Equity Exchange is later this year expected to launch one. It will be open to investors who want an alternative to investing in individual works of art.” Many believe these new Chinese buyers are making “sensible investment decisions and not bumping up prices by paying silly money.”

“They are buying art because they like it but also for investment. If they spend $1m, $2m or $10m for a painting they want to make sure they will get a return five, six, seven years down the road.” Ken Yeh, Christie’s (as quoted on English.new.cn)

Of course, as the article relates, there are some art professionals that believe this trend is pure hype.

“I think there may actually be more of a market right now for major works in the Flemish part of Belgium than in the whole of China. I think mainland buying of significant Western art is a long way off.” Ben Brown, owner of Ben Brown Fine Arts (as quoted on English.new.cn)

Brown believes that this trend will only benefit auction houses where prices for high profile art are being pushed up by Chinese underbidders.

Read the full article here.

KN

Related Topics: collectors, business of art, market watch

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Posted in Collector nationality, Definitions, Land art, Middle East, New Media, Paris, Uzbekistani, West Asian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Christies in Dubai sets record for most pricey Arab artwork

Posted by artradar on November 4, 2009


CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE EASTERN ART

Christies

DUBAI- Christies auctions Ahmed Mustafa's diptych "Remembrance and Gratitude" on October 24, 2009 for a record breaking $662,500.

A Christies auction in Dubai set a new record for the price of a contemporary Arab artwork, fetching $662,500 for a double calligraphy piece by Egyptian artist Ahmed Mustafa titled “Remembrance and Gratitude.” Matoob Business reports Mustafa already held the record for the highest selling Arab artwork, and broke his own auction sales record set with a different artwork in 2007.

Christies not surprised

The record breaking sale was little surprise to Christies, however. The Daily Star reveals Christies had given the work the highest-ever guide price, valuing Mustafa’s diptych at $600,000-$800,000. Christies Middle East and Europe president Jussi Phylkkanen notes:

“Expectations were high, especially with regards to the exhibited works of exceptional quality”

Other high sellers

The second highest selling artwork at $578,500 dollars was “Untitled (Yellow Heads)” painting by India’s Tyeb Metha. Turkish artist Burhan Dogancay’s “Rift” sold for $242,500, and Iranian Charles Hossein Zenderoudi’s “Kharjee Spirit” fetched $218,500 dollars.

Middle Eastern market shows growth

The October 24th auction in total sold 6.7 million dollars worth of artworks, twice the value reached in the last auction that was held in April. The October sale was being viewed by experts as a test for the Middle Eastern art market, which has struggled in the recession as the mega rich expressed less interest in purchasing artworks.

Regarding the sale, AFP reports that Michael Jeha, Christies Middle East managing director commented:

“Despite the global economic crisis… the appetite for art in the Middle East continues to grow, and also the appetite for Middle Eastern arts.”

Jeha continued by saying that since the first auction in 2006, Christies sales in Dubai have risen by 400%.

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Posted in Auctions, Business of art, Dubai, Egyptian, Indian, Iranian, Market watch, Middle East, Turkish, Uncategorised | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Abraaj Capital Art Prize fills a void in the art prize world

Posted by artradar on May 4, 2009


ABRAAJ CAPITAL ART

Unlike other art prizes, the Abraaj Capital Art Prize is awarded for art project proposals rather than work already produced.

By recognising the latent potential of ideas and providing funding for the winners, the Abraaj Art Prize which is open to artists from MENASA (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia) helps to bring into being works that may otherwise never have been made.

Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Walk on the Sky, installation, 2009

Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Walk on the Sky, installation, 2009

In its inaugural year the winning projects were on show for the first time at the Art Dubai art fair in March 2009.

Zoulika Bouabdellah

The winning piece by Algerian video and installation artist Zoulika Bouabdellah (b.1977) and curator Carol Solomon was a stunning three dimensional space called Walk on Sky, Pisces 2009.

The piece recreates the night sky with a system of light-emitting diodes mounted on an aluminium ceiling to form a constellation of of stars. The viewer is invited to walk on the  stainless steel floor which mirrors the pulsing pattern of coloured stars 3 meters above thus creating an experience of walking on the sky.

Multiple sources inform the work including the polygon star (a key geometric configuration in Islamic art), the influential tenth-century treatise, Book of Fixed Stars by the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi and the story of the legendary glass floor erected in front of King Solomon’s throne which the Queen of Sheba was led to believe was water. (note 1)

Bouabdellah’s work demands the involvement of the spectator, who must physically enter the installation in order to be able to experience it .

“It is not interesting from afar; you have to walk on it. When you walk on it, it becomes art.” explains Bouabdellah to the Gulf News.

When Art Radar viewed the piece out of doors at Art Dubai, the floor was covered in desert sand footprints and fascinated children played games of flying and sliding across the sky floor. As dusk fell the viewers became shadows and the coloured star patterns above and their reflections below grew more dominant, becoming intricate patterns of colour piercing the gloom. 

The work of the 10th century Persian astronomer Abd Al Rahman Al Sufi has provided a key source of inspiration for the piece. “My work is a homage to science, to global intelligence.”

Speaking of the influence of Islamic culture in her work, Bouabdellah points to a period between the 9th and 15th centuries, an era to which she would like to return in terms of the expansiveness and inclusivity of Islamic culture.

 “Islamic culture during that period was like bridges between spaces. We cannot talk about Islamic culture without talking about Africa, India, Southern Spain, China.” The era represents for her a time when the yearning for knowledge transcended boundaries and cultural categories, when the Caliph would invite scholars, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to the Maison du Savoir in Baghdad. (note 2)

It seemed to us in the failing light as the echos of playing children reverberated inside the space, that the piece was more than a bridge linking spaces. Children showed us it was also a bridge across generations and a magic carpet of possibility. Just one warning….best to wear trousers if you want to take a walk across the mirrored floor of magic.

The other winners were:

Nazgal Ansarinia

Nazgol Ansarinia, Rhyme and Reason, carpet 2009

Nazgol Ansarinia, Rhyme and Reason, carpet 2009

Iranian artist Nazgal Ansarinia (b 1979) with curator Leyla Fakhr for her carpet piece Rhyme and Reason 2009 in which she transforms the traditional floral motifs of the Persian carpet into scenes of contemporary life from Iran. The work prompts us to take a closer look at what is being taken for granted.

Nazgol Ansarinia, Rhyme and Reason detail

Nazgol Ansarinia, Rhyme and Reason detail

Kutlug Ataman

Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman (b 1961) with Italian curator Cristiana Perrella for his video Strange Space in which the artist is filmed crossing a sulphorous desert land with bare feet and blinded eyes.  The piece is inspired by a classical folk story in which the hero blinded by the love of the heroine is condemned to wander in the desert trying to find her just to burn in flames when they finally meet. Ataman’s work is a metaphor for the relationship of attraction and trauma created when tradition and modernity meet.

Kutlug Ataman, Strange Space, video, 2009

Kutlug Ataman, Strange Space, video, 2009

Notes:

1.  Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2009 pamphlet distributed at Fort Island, Madinat Jumeirah at Art Dubai 18-21 March 2009

2.  Gulf News

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Posted in Carpet art, Classic/Contemporary, Dubai, Emerging artists, Installation, Iranian, Islamic art, Light, Middle East, Middle Eastern, Participatory, Prizes, Space, Turkish, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Art Dubai 2009 – who sold what to whom? 15 galleries talk to Art Radar

Posted by artradar on March 23, 2009


MIDDLE EAST ART FAIR

Which artists were favourites? 15 exhibitor galleries talk to Art Radar in the final day of the fair about sales, attendance and some new collector trends.

art-dubai

Summary:

  • Middle Eastern collectors showing first signs of interest in East Asian art
  • Pieces in the price range US$20-30000 sell best
  • Sales down compared with last year; booths have mixed results
  • More art fair visitors from institutions
  • Russian collector base changing

Set out below is a round-up of comments from a selection of galleries participating in the fair.

Triumph Gallery – Russia

Ruth Addison: “The fair is going OK rather than fast in terms of sales but it is great in terms of contacts and opportunities. Some of our artists have been invited on residencies. We did not expect too much because of 1) the recession 2) Russian artists are new to the Middle East and 3) this is the first time for Triumph at the fair. Most interest has been shown in AES+F.”

Aidan Gallery – Russia

Aidan Salakhova, Director: “Sales have been slower, much as we expected. We have sold 2-3 pieces. We may come back next year but we don’t plan to attend any art fairs in the next 5-6 months. We were the first private gallery in the USSR when we opened 17 yeas ago. In Russia now there is so much change happening to the local collector base, many people are losing money and other new collectors who are making money – perhaps from the government – are entering the market and replacing them. Our aim is to survive the next couple of years and wait for the market to settle”

Grosvenor Gallery London

Connor Macklin “The fair has been better than expected for us. The mood is different this year but we have made sales in the range of US$2,000 to US$100,000 per piece”.

Haunch of Venison – London, Berlin, Zurich, New York

Adrian Sutton, Senior Sales Director “We have had a successful fair. We have sold one piece and are close with two other pieces and if they come off, sales ( of Indian artist Jitish Kallat and Wim Wenders ) will be over a quarter of a million US dollars in total.”

October Gallery London

Elizabeth Lalouschek Artistic Director: “We have found that there has been more interest in larger works. We have sold 10 works with prices varying from US$2,500 to US$90,000 including two El Anatsui works. This fair we have noticed more of an international attendance and more museum directors than in previous years. Perhaps this is because the art fair is being held at the same time as the Sharjah Biennale.”

El Anatsui at October Gallery

El Anatsui at October Gallery

Mario Mauroner Vienna Austria

“This is our third time here and it has been very quiet. Most interest has been shown in Barthelmy Toguo from Cameroon. We did well at Bologna and Arco so Art Dubai has been disappointing . But we set up in 1972 and have survived recessions dating back to the 1973 oil crisis so I don’t doubt we will survive this too.”

Galerie Kashya Hildebrand  Switzerland

Kashya Hildebrand “This is our third trip and we are very happy because members of the Royal Family have bought Asian art for the first time – a Korean artist….a major development.

There is a also a group of serious Dubai-based Iranian collectors who come to the fair. They take their purchases very seriously, pore over the pieces, ask lots of questions and return each day. Last year this group also began to buy Asian art for the first time which is very exciting.”

Korean artist Ran Hwang purchased by Royal Family

Korean artist Ran Hwang purchased by Royal Family

Galerie Volker Diehl Moscow, Berlin

Monica F. Eulitz International Director:  “The fair has been very well attended and we have seen buyers from the entire Gulf region this year not just local participants. We have sold a few pieces in the US$20,000-30,000 range.”

 Kalfayan Galleries  Greece

Roupen Kalfayan: ” Sales have been so-so but it has been wonderful for contacts. Business is slower than last year. This is our second year.. We have had a lot of interest in the Syrian photographer Hrair Sarkissianwho will be exhibiting at the Istanbul Biennale. He started to receive attention from collectors last year and we have placed his work with European collectors at the fair this year. Also Tarek Al Ghoussein.”

B21 Dubai

Tessa de Caters: “We have made some sales and the video and digital Iranian artist Leila Pazooki has been receiving attention.

Pyo Gallery  Korean

Jeong Yim Gho, Chief curator “It is slow compared with last year. Last year was pretty good but not this year though we have made a few sales in the US$20-30,000 range” Most interest was shown in Park, Sung-Tae.

Hakgojae Gallery, Seoul

Kim Jyon director “This is our first visit and sales have not been good. U Fan has sold and there has been a lot of interest in Lee Lee Nam but no sales yet of this artist’s work.”

Aicon GalleryNew York, Palo Alto, London

“Sales are reasonable but much slower than last year”

Bodhi Art Mumbai

Puneet Shah Asst Gallery Manager: “It has been slow fair for us. We have made no sales. The artist which has attracted most attention is Subodh Gupta.

Edwynn Houk Gallery New York  US

Edwynn Houk “This is our first year and we have made a good beginning. We have sold 6 pieces, all photographs by Lalla Essaydi. We have found that Western artists seem to have less resonance with local collectors this year but perhaps interest will develop over time. We would like to come back to Art Dubai”

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Posted in AES+F, Dubai, El Anatsui, Fairs, Gallerists/dealers, Indian, Jitish Kallat, Korean, Market watch, Middle East, Museum collectors, Overviews, Russian, Subodh Gupta, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Dubai art market and its future – Nation, Guardian

Posted by artradar on December 25, 2008


Farhad Moshiri

Farhad Moshiri

ART MARKET DUBAI

A spate of new gallery openings mostly in the city’s financial hub – the Dubai International Financial Centre – goes ahead despite the recent turmoil amongst financial institutions reports the Nation.

The global turmoil certainly hasn’t affected the number of art galleries in Dubai. Cuadro, Opera Gallery, Art Sawa and Art Space (which relocated), all opened their doors in the weeks directly following the liquidations, bail outs and nationalisations of some of the world’s most trusted financial institutions.

Each of the new galleries are attempting to carve out their own niche in the increasingly crowded Dubai scene. They flaunt their belief in art as an investment and all but Art Sawa are located within less than a minute’s walk from one another, in the heart of the Dubai International Financial Centre.

Being close to monied clientele is undoubtedly one of the biggest advantages of the DIFC location.

“Typically, the people who buy from us are the kind that can definitely afford it,” says Palestinian-born Maliha Tabari, the managing director of the Art Space gallery. “I have to admit, mostly they are people in the banking industry.”

In a little over half a decade, Tabari has witnessed a phenomenal growth in the Dubai market.

“I’ve been in Dubai for six years and I came when there was almost no art,” Tabari says.”At the time, if a painting was $3,000 (Dh11,000), it was like, ‘That’s so expensive’. Nothing could sell at that price. We were trying hard to sell pieces by Farhad Moshiri for about $2,000 (Dh7,500) or $3,000 (Dh11,000) – now his work is worth $200,000 (Dh740,000) or $300,000 (Dh1.1million),” she says. “We are talking about a five-year period, so it really happened fast.”

The last five years have seen a massive proliferation in commercial art galleries in the city.

From just two names to around 30, the list includes international sellers and high-end spaces showcasing masterpieces with million-dollar price tags.

Opera Gallery’s new space in Dubai is the company’s 10th global outlet and specialises in high-end works. Its walls currently host pieces by Picasso, Dali, Monet and Renoir, as well as other contemporary and Middle Eastern artists.

Auction houses have been catalysts in building the market for Middle Eastern art.

In April, Christie’s  set a record for the sale of an individual piece of Middle East art, the $2.8million (Dh10.3m) sale of Praviz Tanavoli’s sculpture, The Wall (Oh Persepolis). Will Lawrie, the head of sales for Arab and Iranian contemporary art at Christie’s Middle East, says the sale was “the single most flabbergasting figure” of the year.

“The Parviz Tanavoli sculpture was unique, really a one off thing from the 1970s. An unbelievable thing.” Standing almost two metres tall, the bronze monolith is covered with calligraphic engravings. Although the sculpture would look at home in ancient Babylon, the figures upon it resemble robotic, space age beings.

The commercial market activity has helped stimulate local artist production and the creation of non-profit space to support them.

“There has never been a recognition of being an artist as a profession [in the Emirates]. But there is now a glimmer that people are realising that they could do this for a living,” says Jill Hoyle, the manager of Tashkeel.

A hub for young artists and designers, Tashkeel opened in January 2008. It is supported by the avid artist and photographer Lateefa bint Maktoum, the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

The non-profit organisation tries to encourage artists on the ground level by offering free studio space.

She says that the proliferation of galleries and growing investment market has made art much more high profile. “People are more aware of the role that art plays in life. I think now it is being taken more seriously.”

Still, the UAE is not a place for starving artists displaying in abandoned warehouses. The blurry-eyed, caffeine-addicted conceptualists of Paris and New York are probably in no rush to move here. For artists who are not selling in six figures, rent is a major obstacle and prohibitively expensive studio space make the UAE “scene” more of a marketplace than a breeding ground.

Parviz Tanavoli The Wall (Oh Persepolis)

Parviz Tanavoli The Wall (Oh Persepolis)

But confidence in the art market is waning alongside tumbling asset prices. Dubai’s stock market has lost close to 70% of its value since the summer. Two of the UAE’s largest mortgage firms, Amlak Finance and Tamweel, were nationalised last week. What is the future for the economy of Dubai? The Guardian reports that

“Dubai’s free zones, real estate and tourism are all highly susceptible to a global downturn. Real estate is the flagship and if confidence has been knocked, which it clearly has been, it’s in trouble. Now the confidence has gone, credit worthiness has taken a knock,” said Christopher Davidson, a Gulf expert at Durham University.

Nakheel, the developer of man-made palm tree-shaped islands on which celebrities such as David Beckham have bought homes, announced earlier this week that it had cut 500 jobs -15% of its workforce – and was scaling back projects.

Though thousands of expatriate professionals are expected to lose their jobs, Dubai’s optimism may not be entirely misplaced. A survey by a leading financial services firm this week predicted that the Gulf as a whole would escape recession, with a growth rate of 3.6% next year.

And this is not the only voice expressing optimisim for the longer term. Former HSBC chairman David Eldon who has  long term and continuing professional ties with Dubai notes in his blog Eldon-Online

The reality now is that any hopes of economic immunity from the global meltdown, and any talk of decoupling are now firmly consigned to the fantasy file. All economies are being affected by the global downturn, and that includes Dubai.

Of course, the other reality is that Dubai has some underlying strengths that have spawned its growth to date. Underlying strengths that remain intact despite the current economic environment. Underlying strengths such as an excellent, if still incomplete, infrastructure a well regulated financial sector and an inherent openness to people, companies and capital from elsewhere. All tied in to solid macroeconomic fundamentals.

He counters concerns about Dubai’s future growth due to tight credit arguing that the perception of some rating agencies that Dubai lacks the “financial muscle to cover its debt”  is misplaced and that some reporting has been “misleading”. 

The reality is Dubai has already publicly declared it can cover repayments for the next seven quarters. But the media have a hard time believing senior officials, and reports are grudging in the extreme.

I wouldn’t write-off Dubai’s resilience, or its future.

For more reports from Dubai, Middle Eastern art, market watch reports from around the world.

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