|THE COMMERCE OF ART|
March signals the arrival of the Dubai Art Season, a celebration and support of art and culture in the city and across the region. A governmental initiative that developed under the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, each year of the season has led to development and growth. Capital Business met with three different individuals who work behind-the-scenes in the various avenues of art and help make it a thriving and successful element of the economy.
The Gallerist - Guillaume Cuiry, La Galerie Nationale.
"I can honestly say that today I sense a true emerging interest in art and design here, exactly how I felt it all those years ago in Paris.”
How did you get your start here in Dubai?
I more or less created the market here, largely by importing from France. The challenge was that we were doing it in the midst of the global economic crisis. We sold absolutely nothing in the first year, but believe it or not, that was part of our business plan. The market here was still unfamiliar with sensibilities that existed abroad for centuries. It almost felt like we were educating people on the history, aesthetic, and for some, the benefits of investing in design. Being the first is never easy but I am proud to have done so. It helped us earn the respect of the local people because we didn’t abandon them in harsh economic times and instead helped them recover. I can honestly say that today I sense a true emerging interest in art and design here, exactly how I felt it all those years ago in Paris.
But things must be different in some ways over here when compared to another city and time.
Yes of course. There was no internet and social media back then and that facilitated a lot of dishonesty and fraud. Today, people have all the research on their fingertips. You can verify prices and credibility on Artnet and it’s no hassle. It’s much easier to detect which merchant is genuine and which isn’t. But interestingly, one of the ways we declare success of the market is when we see copies. We don’t like it, but it’s how we know that something was successful enough to be imitated.
Another difference is that the contemporary art of the 60’s is the vintage of today. There is no longer a risk to invest in Le Corbusier, Monet, or Warhol because of their legacies and younger artists are able to have a famous point of reference which helps them sell.
What’s your clientele like today?
When I started, my clients were mainly European expatriates. But today the local clientele has caught on and their numbers are increasing. In Dubai, the prices are exclusive of VAT so I sell for lesser than somewhere like Paris or London. It’s not a discount, it’s just the economics of the place.
In Paris, the same piece with prices inclusive of 20% VAT, tax revenue, and even a charge for having your space in posh areas like Rue de Seine or Quartier de Saint-Michel. Here, the market is still in its infancy and I have to keep that in mind when it comes to charges. But because there’s no taxation, I can sell at s lesser price here with a higher profit. It’s one the reason the UAE is now attracting art investors from abroad.
How do you locate these hard-to-find items and how are they bought and sold?
We have full-time employees in place whose job is to investigate all over the world and try to find where a certain piece is. We can make deals with collectors, auctioneers, families, or flea markets. It’s also coincidental at times. People don’t know what they have sometimes as it’s been in their families for generations and they never got to know of its value. If I spot it in their house, I can inform them of its history and perhaps ask if they would want to sell it. Sometimes it’s a yes and sometimes it’s no but that’s understandable.
Is there a lot of negotiation involved when that happens?
We have to buy at an appropriate price, firstly out of respect for the seller and secondly because there are certain laws in place. If I buy something for a certain sum of money but soon it is revealed that I’m reselling it for an explicitly higher value, I get into trouble. I will have to immediately return the money and the piece to seller. Plus, I have to pay a penalty fine to the concerned governing body for art galleries.
How do you maintain your gallery space?
A gallery runs differently than a regular retail space. Like in any business, we have maintenance cost in our budget. We have to change our lighting and set-up every two weeks to display new works, and we have to pay for shipping costs. We need to keep selling and profiting to continue that and luckily we’ve been doing that well so far.
Guillaume Cuiry is an art-furniture dealer, collector, and expert with35 years of experience. He is the founder of La Galerie Nationale, one of the earliest art spaces in AlSerkal Avenue. He worked for a long time in Europe and Paris on the original vintage art furniture design of the 20th century from famous furniture designers. Inspired by his best friend who wanted to open an art furniture space, Guillaume dedicated his free time studying the 20th century design and designers and eventually setting up his own galley in the UAE. He has made a name in the art scene here in the region and in Europe. La Galerie Nationale is an independent company based in Alserkal Avenue in Dubai with local representative arms in Paris.
The Promoter – Hetal Pawani, Artinthecity
"Making it easy for people to take the first step and get familiar was a big motivation. Here they can ask their questions, train their eye, and figure how to make engaging with art a part of their lifestyles.”
How aware do you think the average person in Dubai is about the city’s burgeoning art sphere? What can be done to raise more awareness?
I think there is curiosity and art seems to have become a part of most major public events in the city. We have four art fairs, street art festivals, and more. Corporate patronage and more public spending on well thought out and relevant art projects will increase the visibility and accessibility to Dubai’s audience.
How do you run the business side of your organization?
We have an advertising model and rely on sponsorships. We have also been invested in by Oasis500 from Jordan to go MENA-wide with our publishing and online platforms.
What was the motivation behind creating ArtintheCity? What’s the process behind what you do?
We were born under thejamjar (a prominent art and performance space in Dubai) as a non-for-profit project to create awareness about the arts in the UAE. It was part of thejamjar’s mandate to increase accessibility to the arts, build audiences, and create a community. Now, we’ve grown into a separate organization. It was and is intended to be a guide telling you what is available and how to find it and get involved. We took on a role of supporting galleries and institutions to get word out about them, which ultimately benefits the artists and the city.
What inspired the creation of ArtBus?
Making it easy for people to take the first step and get familiar was a big motivation. Here they can ask their questions, train their eye, and figure how to make engaging with art a part of their lifestyles. In partnership with the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, we also commission 3 artists every year from the UAE to create artwork for the ArtBus. It has become a mobile platform to showcase the UAE’s talent.
How important would you say your work is for both artists and art lovers?
We are a dedicated support tool and many visitors and residents use the ArtMap and ArtintheCity.com as their go-to guide. The ArtBus is also a great hassle free experience and is very popular. All of that validates what we do and benefits the audience and artists ultimately too.
How much has the art scene grown here in the last few years? Is there potential to grow even further and how?
It has grown four to five times its initial size as entrepreneurs from all over the world have made Dubai home and a place to invest in an art business. There can almost never be enough art and each gallery has its own dedicated program and selection of artists. Over the years, a small audience existed but a sizeable one was cultivated. On the commercial side, the galleries are international and don’t rely on just a local clientele. Collecting art is not yet a culture in the city with just a handful of people investing. This can be a limiting factor in the city’s potential. Although, there is a new wave of young collectors we have been seeing recently.
What are some of your favorite parts about what you do? Conversely, what’s the most challenging part?
Our favorite part is that we have built a brand that has become an integral part of the cultural scene in the UAE. We have been documenting and mapping the growth of the scene since 2007. We’re lucky enough to witness firsthand the growth of the UAE’s arts and cultural community, and we enjoy interacting with both residents and visitors to the country who aren’t always acquainted with the numerous art spaces available. Commercially sustaining such initiatives always remains a challenge.
Born and raised in Dubai, Hetal Pawani, founder of thejamjar, 17A Art Consultants, and ArtintheCity.com, plays a strong role in artist and community development through a diverse arts program involving professional artists, schools, universities, corporate organizations, and the public, thereby contributing to city’s flourishing art and culture scene.
The Organizer – Lubna Alshamsi, Dubai Culture and Arts Authority
"I have always said we are interested in making Dubai known as a hotspot for artistic activity. We have our tourism, we have our commercial and financial stronghold, but we are much more than that.”
How did you become a part of this initiative?
The idea was pitched to me by the by the Dubai Culture management at the time. It started out as Art Week which grew organically into what it is now. It’s a uniform platform where we can promote art but also market the region. We want to attract people to Dubai as well. There’s also the mandate of bringing art to the people with Art Everywhere initiative. This year, we also spread out the events across dates so that’s it’s not condensed and people don’t have to miss out on anything due to scheduling conflicts.
How many months in advance do you start working on Dubai Art Season?
Once we close the season, we deep-dive into the feedback we received from everyone. We talk to our partners and see what worked and what didn’t. July-August is usually when the commotion kicks in and we start filling in the framework of the following year’s festival.
Are there any other events happening in the rest of the year that compliment Dubai Art Season?
Every year, we have events such as the Sikka Art Fair and the Middle East International Comic-Con (MEICC) that fall in the season. Whenever anything new comes up and displays the same magnitude as our current lineup, we incorporate that into our season, either through a partnership or a sponsorship. For example, this year we start a bit early since we added the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature (EAFOL) to our attractions. Regarding community events, we do conduct research according to feedback from the previous year and what the public liked. A lot effort goes into it and we make sure that we cater to all the people.
Why does it feel at times that it’s just the same niche of people who attend these events?
The highlight events have their own crowd for sure, which is probably why they all seem like familiar faces. We appreciate that art enthusiasts have their own events but we keep the general community in mind too. For example, Art Dubai has numerous workshops that engage families. We also partner up with Real Estate companies such as Emaar, and send installation pieces to their properties as part of the promotion.
How much growth have you seen in the attendance as well as Dubai’s awareness of the arts ever since you started out?
I think year after year we are seeing growth. The Sikka Art Fair for instance has seen an unprecedented increase of attendees in the past six years. And it’s not just difference in numbers, there’s a different set of people attending as well. We only used to see young, artistic minded people, but now we also see a lot of families who love to spend time at the events as a unit. During the first edition, probably because it was a new idea, we were struggling to find venues. But now venues contact us and want to be part of the season. It’s a more sustainable model now.
The Middle East still does not really have a definitive arts hub as yet. Does your work help solidify that position for Dubai?
I have always said we are interested in making Dubai known as a hotspot for artistic activity. We have our tourism, we have our commercial and financial stronghold, but we are much more than that. We’ve been very fortunate to be able to expand the Art Season year after year, because the bigger it gets, the more attention it draws. That helps the world notice Dubai as a thriving place for the arts. There are even more projects in the pipeline that will build upon that. Plus, EXPO 2020 is just a few years away which makes it doubly important for us to portray an image of Dubai that’s supportive its arts and culture sphere.
Lubna Ahmed Mohamed Alshamsi has been working as Executive with the Projects & Events Department at Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) for the past two years. Her primary focus is on strengthening the visual arts initiatives led by Dubai Culture, and is the Project Lead of the Dubai Art Season and SIKKA Art Fair. Under her team leadership, Dubai Culture successfully hosted the first edition of Dubai Art Season, the umbrella arts initiative that brings together diverse art-oriented activities in Dubai. She has also been instrumental in hosting the SIKKA Art Fair in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, presenting an entirely commissioned visual arts programme featuring works by emerging Emirati and UAE-based artists. Working closely with the management team on visual arts initiatives, Lubna engages with artists and other stakeholders in identifying and organizing the various events held as part of the Dubai Art Season. An accomplished sculptor with a vivid eye for details, Lubna is hands-on involved in fine arts and is passionate about sculpting. She is currently also pursuing Japanese language studies as a third language. Recently, she won the Visual & Digital Arts Awards presented by Dubai Culture for exceptional creativity in visual and digital art works. The awards were evaluated by an eminent jury of artists and cultural thought leaders.