x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Expert advice for the first-time art buyer

The establishment of Abu Dhabi Art has been a major step towards embedding the emirate's cultural credentials in the international public consciousness.

Gallery owner Rami Farook with the work of James Clar at Traffic art gallery.
Gallery owner Rami Farook with the work of James Clar at Traffic art gallery.

The establishment of Abu Dhabi Art has been a major step towards embedding the emirate's cultural credentials in the international public consciousness. Last year, some of the world's most high-profile galleries came to sell their artworks to an increasingly hungry buyers' market. Meanwhile, an extensive programme of educational talks, lectures and workshops sought to include the wider public in the "art fair experience".

A year on, and the programme for the 2010 edition is no less expansive. Again, there are talks and workshops aplenty, as well as an exhibition of Middle Eastern art. The real draw, though, is the 48 world-class galleries that will once again set up shop in the halls of the Emirates Palace in the hope of attracting buyers.

The great and good of the art world will be there, along with works by some of the most exciting artists of the moment. All well and good, you might say, for an experienced collector with an eye for a profit. But what about the less experienced among us? The people who would dearly love to start a collection but are unsure, when dazzled by gallery names such as Gagosian, White Cube and Hauser & Wirth, how to go about it?

To help guide you through the maze that is the art fair, we have quizzed some of the UAE's most experienced and ardent collectors about their thoughts on everything from the origins of their own collections to the current state of the art market in the UAE and the kind of preparations that need to be made in order to avoid being landed with a dud.

All you need now is your cheque book.


Bashar Alshroogi

A businessman and the director of Cuadro Fine Art Gallery in Dubai

"I was fortunate to be born into a family that appreciated and collected art, so I was exposed to it from a young age. My parents involved us in their collecting decisions very early on so I was used to the process.

"I usually acquire artworks that I think can add value to the collection as a whole in terms of completing a story or strengthening a curatory thread. Although I do not buy artworks with the idea of reselling them for a profit, I am not hesitant to sell a piece if my taste changes or if I feel I need to replace it with another artwork that would fit better into the collection. It is always a bonus to know that your artworks have appreciated in value but ultimately when buying you need to love the artwork.

"We are lucky in the UAE because we have a very diverse group of galleries, from which you can get your hands on almost any artist.

"I don't think there is ever a right or wrong time to buy art. You need to do your research and make sure you are buying the right artist at the right price. It is a lifetime journey, and it needs to be enjoyable. Remember that as a collector, research, reading, and learning are just as important as acquiring, holding and selling.

"If you can, identify a consultant whom you trust and who can give you solid, unbiased advice. Do your homework before you buy. Buy the best piece you can afford. One great work by an artist or from a period is much better than two or more lesser works."

Ramin Salsali

A consultant for the petrochemical industry, he is also a patron of the arts and hosts collecting evenings where he introduces people to artists and galleries in order to encourage people to start collecting. He lives in Dubai

"I started to collect art at the age of 21, when I was studying in Germany. I lent money to an artist called Kiddy Citny and he paid me back with two paintings. I collect what I like and what interests me. It is 100 per cent personal choice. When I do not like it, even if there was the potential to increase its value by 100 per cent, I cannot buy it. I want to wake up every morning and enjoy the art.

"If one is looking to increase the value of art, in particular of works from the Middle East, Iran, India and Turkey, now is a very good time to buy. There are unique talents and ideas, such as Sara Rahbar, and a collector should try to maximise on that now rather than in the next five or 10 years at an auction once the artist is well known."

Rami Farook

The owner of Traffic Gallery in Dubai

"I started collecting in 2007 after seeing In the Darkest Hour There May Be Light, a show curated by Damien Hirst from his collection that was a mix of works by Bacon, Banksy, Prince and 21 other artists. Two months later, we got the first instalment of what is now called Art Dubai and the Sotheby's Institute was giving an intensive course on collecting, so I took it. I've been hooked since then.

"I focus on gaps I'd like to fill in the collection for potential shows, with artists I greatly admire or works that relate to certain moments in my life. As for return on investment, it is in mind especially for the more expensive pieces.

"We've got a young crowd that appreciates visual culture and has walls to fill. I also see that as wealth and education start moving through generations we will see a surge in collecting. Also, we've been exposed to so many changes over the last decade so art is being viewed as a documentation of our times.

"It's always a good time to collect if you find something you like and can afford it. Buy what you like - don't only think of it as an investment. Find ways to share it, make sure you have the right storage, prioritise your buying and stick to a budget."

Salwa Zeidan

An artist, curator and the co-owner of Salwa Zeidan Gallery in Abu Dhabi

"I started collecting in 1973. I fell in love with a painting by an unknown Italian artist while having lunch in a restaurant in Milan and I ended up buying three paintings from them. Since then I have always collected only what I like and feel comfortable with.

"I care about personal taste more than the potential value, but eventually the value of my choice always comes up. I think I have a good eye and what I choose today generally turns out to be a good buy tomorrow.

"The UAE market is full of good opportunities. We have the auction houses and the art fairs where you can see the most established galleries from around the world. Art fairs are a very good place to start because there is plenty of variety."

Farbod Dowlatshahi

The owner of Delwood, an events consultancy company in Dubai. He was previously a partner in B21 Gallery (now Isabelle van den Eynde Gallery) in Dubai

"When I was 18 I started collecting French 18th-century art. Then I moved on to Impressionism. When I came to the UAE I came across contemporary Iranian art, and since then I have concentrated only on that.

"I'm originally from Iran, but I've lived in France for 30 years. I come from a family who, in the revolution, lost everything. But all my life I have seen my father and mother buying things and liking art. I rarely sell. In all my life I sold maybe 20 pieces.

"I have about 1,900 pieces of Iranian art, which are spread between my office, my house and my mother's and brother's houses. The most valuable piece and the one I have paid the most for is not the one I would save in a fire.

"Ninety-five per cent of the things I buy, I love. The other five per cent I buy because I want to support the artist or the gallery.

"I don't believe in the concept of it being a good or bad time to buy art. It's a market with a very difficult secondary market and you only have the auction houses and the galleries through which to sell.

"If you like it and you can afford it, it's a good time to buy. If you can't afford it and you don't like it, it's a very bad time to buy. It's as simple as that. If you leave it for your kids it may be a great investment, but if you want to sell it six months from now it will never happen.

"My advice is don't rush into things. Go to exhibitions, museums, to talks from curators. Train your eye and then if you want to buy it and can afford it, hold your breath and jump."

Mohammed Kanoo

A businessman, artist and co-owner of Ghaf Gallery in Abu Dhabi

"There's more than one reason for collecting art: one is to support the artist and gallery; another is that if you fall in love with a work and you must have it.

"Of late, my wife and I have been focusing more on contemporary Arab artists as a way of showing support. Potential value is not an important factor. We mainly buy from here because we like to see the artwork.

"The UAE has become a wholesale type of place for art coming and going; certainly for Iranian art, modern and contemporary Arab art, and art from the sub-continent. You'll always be able to find interesting pieces here that have investment potential.

"If you have the opportunity, always meet the artist. When you talk to him or her about an artwork, it adds so many layers of interest.

"Young people should go to auctions to learn the process and if they really like something then they should try to buy it. However, they should do their homework. If there's something they like in the catalogue then they should do research on the artist and on other work he has done. It's all on the internet.

"Contemporary Arab and Iranian art is still bargain prices. Some of them, even with inflation, still have tremendous potential for growth in the future. Whatever you buy now, if you like it and feel this artist has potential in the future, then by all means buy it. If you keep it for 10 to 15 years, it won't go down in value."