(DENNIS B MALLARI)
That the real estate boom in the UAE has been good for the interiors business is borne out by all the new furniture shops opening across the emirate. What the trend has also created, however, is a strong demand for art and antiques.
For after the average high-powered executive has dropped a few hundred thousand dirhams on fitting out his living room, never mind the couple of million he has put down on the beautiful apartment itself, he isn’t averse to digging a little deeper into his pocket for a nice Jamal Abdul Rahim oil of Fairouz for his walls.
And everyone from galleries and art fair organisers to Sunday painters are tapping into this trend, says Manisha Koshy, Editor of Middle East Interiors magazine. “We’ve already seen Art Dubai and Art-Paris Abu Dhabi bring some of the finest art in the world to the region. And the galleries that attend are actually moving substantial portions of their inventories on these outings, so clearly, the market is on the up and up.”
Already, key international art and antique dealers are looking at expanding into the region. Matthew Girling, European and Middle East Chief Executive at international auction house Bonham’s, which has opened a new office in the UAE and is set to hold its first auction next month, says, “The UAE is definitely destined to become one of the world’s leading art markets, which is why we’re here. We’ve studied the market intensely before entering the region and believe we have something special to add.”
And all this wall space has been made available by an estimated five million new housing units that are under construction across the Gulf to meet the needs of the growing number of nationals and the rising influx of expatriates. The UAE alone has seen 44,000 new housing units completed in 2007.
The vast majority of the homes are priced in excess of $500,000 (Dh1.8 million), with up to 20 per cent of new homes priced at or beyond the $3m mark, according to figures from the organisers of next month’s Art and Antiques Dubai.
“After all of the extraordinary architectural development, the focus on interiors will be next, making this an ideal time to launch Art and Antiques Dubai,” said event director Giles Haughton.
Haughton (pictured above left, with Emma Jane, and Brian and Anna Haughton) says that the Middle East offers enormous possibilities for decorative and fine art dealers.
Art and Antiques Dubai is being held next month at the Madinat Jumeirah. “It is an exciting part of the world with its proximity to rapidly developing GCC neighbours, as well as the Subcontinent. The decision to host an art and antiques fair in the Middle East has received overwhelming support from the international art world and we are pleased that many of the world’s top dealers will be participating.”
Among the galleries at the show looking to attract this new affluent class of art buyers and high-end decorators is New York gallery Cristina Grajales, specialists in 20th century decorative arts, contemporary art, design, and residential and commercial furniture.
Several top United Kingdom dealers are also attending, including antiques dealers Ronald Phillips, specialists in finest 18th and 19th century English furnishings; Koopman Rare Art (London), leading international dealers in antique silver and works of art; Orientalist specialists Mathaf Gallery (London); Waterhouse and Dodd (London), with paintings from 1870 onwards, including works by Picasso, Joan Miro, Paul Signac and Henry Moore.
“We have traded at the top level in this market for many years and are excited to get the opportunity to bring a fine selection of top quality silver to Dubai,” says Koopman Rare Art’s Timo Koopman, who will bring in the best of his stock, which includes work by England’s greatest silversmiths, Paul Storr (1771-1844) and Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751), responsible for some of the most important and valuable silverware ever produced.
“The show affords us an ideal opportunity to meet more intimately with new and existing buyers,” said Simon Phillips of Ronald Phillips about Art and Antiques Dubai. The firm will bring in antiques priced between $50,000 and $4m.
Certainly, there’s enough money in the region for all these big-ticket prizes and art and antiques fairs are big business. More than $16m worth of paintings were sold at the inaugural Art-Paris Abu Dhabi in November, which drew 47 galleries from 17 countries representing more than 700 artists. The annual Art Dubai fair, set for March, expects to host 70 galleries.
Regional art investors are distinguished by a preference for rare objects d’art that are unique in design and of world-class quality, according to a statement from the organisers of Art and Antiques Dubai. Indeed, brands such as Fabergé have long created bespoke pieces for Middle Eastern clients.
Going by past events, however, works that reference the area’s history are popular. At the most sought-after end of the spectrum, this gives rise to an endless procession of camels, but discerning investors should look beyond these pieces, particularly to Egyptian and Iranian artists whose works have consistently set auction records. Popular names in the region are Ahmed Moustafa, Ghass Rouzkhosh, Nja Mahdaoui, Farhad Moshiri, Chafic Abboud, Louay Kayyali and UAE artist Abdul Kadir Al Rais, but their works command prices close to or more than half a million dirhams at auction.
If you’re not sure of what to put your money in, several series of lectures over the next few weeks could help you brush up on what sort of works you should be buying.
Christie’s Middle East, in association with Canvas magazine, is organising lectures all this week (until Friday) in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain on smart collecting and art appreciation. For more details call +971 4 367 1693.
Meanwhile, Collector’s Circle, an event on the sidelines of the Art Dubai fair in March, will discuss Art Patronage in the Business Age on March 17 and March 18. It is aimed at both seasoned and new collectors of contemporary art. More information is available at www.artdubai.ae.
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