‘Oh no,’ says Dima Abdul Kader. ‘I don’t think affordable art is an oxymoron.’
The co-founder, with Nikki Meftah, of Emergeast, an online gallery promoting and selling artwork by emerging Middle Eastern artists, admits there is a perception that ‘art is very expensive and inaccessible and that it’s only for the 1 per cent of society or for collectors.
‘But that’s very misleading,’ she says. ‘There is art that’s affordable and today art doesn’t equal expensive price tags.’
Dima, who with Nikki has years of expertise in curating, art investing and marketing, is not alone.
An increasing number of art experts and aficionados readily agree that work has become much more accessible and affordable – and not just for the well-heeled.
Myrna Ayad is one such expert. The fair director of Art Dubai, which kicks off on March 15 and runs until the 18th, believes that art is a democratic concept. ‘It’s definitely something that’s easily accessible to everybody,’ she says.
Excited about the fair, the art expert and journalist says, ‘One of the things Art Dubai has done [over the years] is to make art democratic, especially for local and regional audiences. In fact, one of the fundamental elements to this art fair’s identity and mission is to contribute to the development of the art scene locally and regionally, not just by holding an art fair for a few days every March but by offering education programmes and other initiatives to artists and art lovers.’
That it’s becoming popular is evident from the fact that the 11th edition of Art Dubai will feature 93 galleries from 43 countries, up from 34 countries last year. Said to be one of the most global of art fairs, it’s a platform for discovering new artists, galleries and emerging trends.
It will also have a dedicated section showcasing museum-quality works by modern masters from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia and plenty of options for collectors to pick up affordable pieces of art.
Zaahirah Muthy is another expert who says ‘art is no longer exclusive to those with deep pockets’.
An award-winning artist and curator of World Art Dubai, which takes place from April 12 to 15 at Dubai World Trade Centre, Zaahirah says, ‘Half of all affordable art transactions across the globe are concluded below the $1,200 [Dh4,400] mark.
‘Worldwide, the art market has seen a 210 per cent growth over the last decade with art fair sales accounting for $8.7 billion of all global gallery sales.’
That the market for affordable art is burgeoning cannot be brushed aside.
Get this: While last year’s World Art Dubai – a hugely popular event that showcases accessible and affordable art to Middle Eastern art lovers – featured 140 exhibitors, this year’s edition is expected to host more than 300 galleries and artists from more than 50 countries.
Art lovers have the chance to view and buy a diverse collection of contemporary art works, paintings, prints, sculptures, and multimedia ranging from $100 to $20,000.
So is that the range for affordable art?
‘In my book,’ says Salma Shaheem, head of Middle Eastern Markets at The Fine Art Group, ‘affordable art, would be anything between $8,000 and $10,000. That kind of money can fetch you a piece by a respectable young artist who is being collected by prominent collectors and who is being exhibited at well-known galleries.’
Dubai, she says, has a slew of galleries that offer truly collectible pieces.
Salma deals in high-value artwork and advises clients, both private and corporate, to create significant art collections that increase in value and gain historical significance over time. She’s pleased with the burgeoning demand for art. ‘The galleries opening up in Alserkal Avenue and elsewhere are a reflection of the surge in the art market in the region.’
Dima of Emergeast agrees with the affordable art figure. ‘Worldwide it’s acknowledged that affordable art is anywhere in the range of $500 to $10,000,’ she says. ‘And the artwork on our website ranges from $500 to $5,000.’
Dima insists that art need not be expensive, particularly if you pick up pieces by artists who are in the early stages of their career. ‘You can easily find artwork in the $300 to $2,000 range when the artist’s career is still taking off.
‘We, Nikki and I, go to great lengths to choose works of an artist that are not in the very expensive category. We also constantly keep monitoring the artists, making sure they are continually developing and working hard on their art.’ This means collectors can rest assured their purchases will increase in value over time.
Art Dubai’s Myrna, however, has a different view of what’s affordable. ‘That’s such a relative term. I’d say people buy what they can afford. Only a collector can define how much he can afford.’
According to Myrna, while you can find blue chip pieces of art that run into millions of dollars, you can also find pieces by young emerging artists and works on paper by established artists that are relatively cheaper.
‘For instance in the Modern Masters section [of Art Dubai] you’d find pieces by an established artist that are a bit expensive but you could also pick up a painting on paper by the same artist for a much lower price,’ she says.
With a plethora of festivals – from Art Dubai and World Art Dubai to the Sikka Art Fair, Design Days Dubai and regular art-related events presented by the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah, among others – dotting the UAE’s art calendar, it’s clear the art scene is thriving in the region.
‘Today we have six or seven very important galleries in Dubai alone that represent artists who are featured in museums and institutions in the West,’ says Salma.
The other factors that have raised the art stakes in the region are the Sharjah Biennial and the Barjeel Art Foundation. ‘They are art for art’s sake and do a lot to support and encourage artists in the region and outside,’ she says.
‘Dubai can be seen to be the cultural hub because of the number of galleries; when we move to Sharjah we see a lot of intellectual, academic and very serious collectors there. That’s a wonderful balance. And all this has happened over the last 10 to 15 years.’
Dima is quick to agree.
‘The Dubai art scene is growing and we are happy to be part of it,’ she says.
She and Nikki set up the online gallery after their friends ‘used to ask us for Middle Eastern art as a collectible but not too expensive.
‘So we thought we could come together and create a platform for art collectors and lovers of our generation to provide them with that vehicle... a one-stop-shop to see the shapers of the Middle Eastern art scene who are coming up now and making an impact’, says Dima who is of Palestinian origin; Nikki is Iranian.
For would-be collectors, Dima suggests that the first step is to cultivate a connection with a piece of art. ‘Find your style, what sticks in your mind, what genre of art attracts you, what kind of art you are in love with. Read more about the artist, their inspirations.’
Salma adds: ‘Training your eye is important. Visiting art galleries and viewing art is the best way to learn about art and get to know it better. Art is a visual object so you need to go out there, look at it and digest it,’ she says.
Myrna, too, is all for learning more about art from all available avenues. ‘The first thing you would need to do is learn to love art – because you are going to be living with it,’ she says, with a laugh.
‘Before deciding on a piece, learn more about the artist, his life, career, the gallery where you are going to acquire it from… learn more about the artist’s exhibition history, whether he was acquired by other galleries, museums, his production. This will help you better appreciate art.’
Nasr Warour, art director of öolchi, an online art store (e-oolchi.com), believes ‘art is very subjective, but it should have an emotional quality to it that makes you want to spend time in a space, to feel comfortable and inspired. The artwork we sell on e-öolchi are pieces the buyer would enjoy living with because art can be a positive, uplifting experience.’
Zaahirah of World Art Dubai offers more tips when choosing a piece of art: ‘Keep in mind the dimensions of the space you’re looking to fill and remember bigger is not always better,’ she says. Tempting as it is to head off to eye-catching mega canvases or installations when at a fair, sometimes smaller pieces will be better suited to your needs. ‘Imagine returning home with a 13-foot canvas to cover the five-foot space above the dining table,’ she says.
‘Also, have an open mind. If you think it will give you joy to see in your home every day, then this is the best kind of return on investment you can hope for.’
So do you need to have different mindsets when considering art as an investment and as a collection?
‘You can’t have one without the other,’ says Salma. ‘If you are acquiring art to enjoy it every day of your life that’s wonderful. But it can still be an asset because if you have bought the right pieces it will very likely go up in price over the years.’
Dima of Emergeast agrees. ‘They are not really one or the other,’ she says. ‘They are not separate concepts. Art is not purely a piece of decoration. It is a form of creative expression [which has value].’
She also believes the next big trend in art is going to be new media. ‘The digital forms of art – such as digital collages and video art – are going to be the new oil on canvas or the acrylic on canvas of the future,’ she says. ‘Digital media has pushed the boundaries of what can be put on a canvas.’
Salma, however, takes a different tack. ‘Twenty years ago it was all about Italian masters and impressionists. To be considered a serious collector you had to have a few of their works. Today it has shifted dramatically towards contemporary art; evidence that Middle Eastern art is becoming very important globally,’ she says.
Some experts, though, prefer to adopt a wait-and-watch stance. Myrna believes new trends could be set during the Art Dubai event. ‘It’s been a launch pad for several artists and galleries and it’s the place to see and feel the pulse of the times. We need to wait and see what Art Dubai is offering and what trends will be set.’
Art Dubai is on from March 15-18, 2017, at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai. World Art Dubai takes place from April 12 to 15 at Dubai World Trade Centre. Sikka Art Fair is from March 11 to 21 at Al Fahidi Historic District , Dubai Design Days Dubai kicks off on Mar 14 and is on until Mar 17 at Dubai Design District.