Talk about buying art for the home and many people think about the millions of dollars paid for famous works, or the high sticker prices they see at exhibitions, and dismiss the idea as being only for specialist collectors with large cheque books.
Yet art, in its broadest sense, has the capacity to elevate a home from dull to delicious, from ordinary to oomph. With the right guidance art, however it is defined, can determine the tone and texture of a home. It is as much about its emotional impact as pure aesthetics. And it does not have to come with a beg-your-bank-manager price tag. The definition of art in the context of transforming your home may be your favourite photograph, a craft from some place you've visited, a sculpture, a ceramic piece or even - and here is where the purists gasp - an inexpensive print. It's all a question of what you do with it. This is particularly relevant in a place such as the UAE, where most residents have set up home with the knowledge that they are here only temporarily.
Marc Laurenti, an art dealer who has been a collector for many years, while dividing his time between Abu Dhabi and France, believes that a peripatetic lifestyle is no barrier to buying what he terms "investment art" - which he defines as having an established value, rather than being purely decorative. "Art is one of the most easily portable items of value," he asserts, adding: "Art needs to travel; in order to live it has to move. When you spend time with a painting in different places you see it in a new way and that gives it a new life."
While Laurenti insists that high quality art is what he needs to make his house feel like home, others take a different view of art - yet arrive at much the same conclusion. "We have some beautiful pieces in storage and with my parents at home in the US," says one Abu Dhabi expat. "We didn't bring it over here as we didn't know how long we would be staying or even where we would be living." So when it came to dealing with the bare walls of her large villa, she enlarged photographs from some of her favourite places around the world and had them framed in stunning, heavy wood. "Now it looks more like a home," she says.
Terri Bukartek, an interior redesigner (her term) who specialises in working around clients' existing spaces and possessions, has even hung large musical instruments for a client. "It can be fun to have something really unexpected on a wall," she says. For Bukartek, from the US and now living in Abu Dhabi, the first question to a client is how they want a particular space to "feel". "It's not just about covering a wall or filling a space it's about bringing a room to life and using the objects to make a home."
The British interior designer, Simon Hamilton, agrees that bare walls can make a space look unfinished, temporary or impersonal. However, he says that while art is often viewed as the finishing touch to a space, it should actually be considered from the outset of a project. This has been his approach in the various London homes he has handled, as well as in the recently completed boutique hotel 947 Rooms in Venice, where he used artwork in prominent positions as an integral aspect of the design from the start.
Kourosh Nouri, the co-owner of Dubai's Carbon12 gallery, is a hardliner about art in the home, adamant that it should be the focus of an interior scheme. "Art works are the soul of the space in my mind," he asserts, adding that art "is not defined by individual taste; there is art and garbage, nothing in between - although liking or disliking the art work is different from a person to person. With a few thousand dollars you can buy amazing art works from young emerging artists, and this can become a great buy in the long term. Even an Italian designer sofa costing several thousand euros is produced in thousands of pieces. Real artworks are always unique (or in editions of two to 10, for photography, sculpture, media and video art). Prints will one day end up in the trash. Art works, never".
Not all agree entirely with him. Aine MacDermott, the head of interior design at Aldar in Abu Dhabi, concurs that art should be honoured and should usually be allowed to stand alone, uncluttered, as the focus of a space. However, for those who are not yet in the market for high-end fine art, pieces such as prints do have a place, she says, although ideally one would "upscale" them through creative framing or installation.
Arts and crafts pieces such as carvings or lovely pieces of glass sculpture also have a place, she believes. For example, she says, she is seeing the emergence of some beautiful photography and sculpture from Emiratis, and adds that there is some excellent art to be bought from showings by recent graduates. "These are inexpensive, they will have memory-value for expats and hopefully will also appreciate in value over time. "But edit your collection as the years progress, as your taste - and your budget - evolves."
Some creative tension enters the "art as décor" debate over the extent to which art should "match" décor. The mere existence of this question troubles Nouri: "There is no such thing as matching, in my opinion. Fine art is an extremely powerful visual element, and deserves due respect. At the same time as a painting by Markus Oehlen shouldn't be bothered by a flowery sofa in front of it, if the art blends too much into the décor, then there is something wrong. Either it is misplaced, or wrongly lit, or the piece is overcharged by the surroundings."
Hamilton says that while he may advise clients on their selection of art, he has never chosen art to go with the upholstery, walls and furniture. "Art should be seen as an integral part of the design, enhancing the space and adding personality. And with more and more people collecting art, it is becoming increasingly frequent that I am asked to develop a scheme with a particular piece of art in mind. So while it won't be matched with the décor, if it has sentimental value it can dictate the mood and colours of a room."
For Ian Mulville of Emorarts.com, art is so subjective that only the home-owner can decide what its role should be - whether it is there for interior design, investment value or simply because it is good to look at. Emorarts, an online supplier of affordable paintings in a variety of genres and styles, supports this approach by enabling would-be buyers to go online to see a painting on a virtual wall, changing the size and background colour to gain a sense of how it might look in their own space. "Art can send a message," says Mulville. "People might wish to project sophistication, design taste, or just fun."
No matter the debate over what constitutes art, all agree that the placement and lighting of a work are critical. As MacDermott says, use the art to create a "vista". Laurenti stresses that he is not a designer or decorator but simply "an art lover", yet he believes strongly that every piece of art has its right place. Partly this is aesthetics - due to the physical attributes of the room and the work of art - but it is also about living happily with your art. "Serious collectors usually have someone who advises them on what to hang where. But a good advisor knows that the most important thing is that the owner of the art feels in harmony with where it is; that the place it is hung will encourage him to spend time looking at it, feeling its emotional impact, and constantly finding new things in it."
There are certain basic rules of thumb: large paintings need enough viewing distance, usually three times the width of the work, while small sculptures should stand alone on their own pedestals. Lighting (white light) must be specific to each piece; get the light wrong and it may prevent accurate rendition or wash out a more delicate piece. But even Nouri, the hardliner, stresses that there are no unbreakable rules. "I believe there is no such a thing as universal good taste, but there is universal common sense." And in essence, this should apply as much in the installation of your art as in its selection.
If, as the late American author John Updike said, "what art offers is space - a certain breathing room for the spirit", we owe it both to art and ourselves to ensure that we create just the right place for it in our lives. Paris Abu Dhabi Art Gallery 050 641 7278