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For Passion, For Money, or For Both

Why do people collect art? Why do collectors spend so much money on art? Why do art collectors place themselves in such risky situations all for a tableau or a vase? Many would find the answers to these questions completely different from collector to collector and sometimes irrational. But what is curious is the reason why these collectors do what they do; some purely do it in the hope to achieve financial gain, some are driven by their incredible love, passion and curiosity for the world of art, and some to preserve and document their history and culture. To find out more on the motivational factors that affect collectors and just the life of a collector in general, we sat down with a number of people varying from Gallery owners to pure passionate collectors.

Picture courtesy of Art Dubai

Before touching on why collectors collect, it is important to understand the ins and outs of actually starting and managing your own collection, especially in the Middle Eastern region. It is also important to break down and understand the structure of the collector’s society here in the Middle East. After interviewing Sanaz Askari, founder of the Mine Galley, we got to see more of why and how collectors do what they do. When asked about how new collectors go about starting their collections she said, “New collectors have to familiarize themselves with the art world, more specifically the art community around them. It is very important to go to as many galleries, museums, auctions and art related functions as possible. This will help aspiring collectors to get acquainted with various periods, styles, value, players and, most importantly, to establish their preferences. These preferences will help determine which galleries are most in line with the type of artwork they would like to start collecting and build trusted long-term relationships with their gallerists.” Sanaz continues to touch on how there are an abundant of outlets for collectors to venture out into stating, “With close to 30 art galleries in Dubai alone, and nearly all of which holding an exhibition every other month, which art enthusiasts can attend, there is a strong variety available. In our case (The Mine Gallery) we usually have an exhibition or an art event on monthly basis.” Adding onto this, Sylvian Gaillard, director of Opera Gallery mentions that the important part in building a collection is finding the right gallerist, and more generally somebody that understands your objectives as a collector. Establish at the very beginning what your goals are, such as time horizon, frequency of purchases, type of pieces that “talk” to you etc… Most importantly, have fun while doing it. Generally speaking, if you are looking for an artist with a very strong track record, the challenge is to know which piece to buy and at what price. Let’s take Andy Warhol for example. The returns on the Warhol pieces have outperformed global financial indices since 2000. This being said, not all Warhol pieces were created equal, and they do not hold the same appreciation potential. The added value of your gallerist is to advice you on which piece to buy, and more broadly, to maximize the value of your investment (always get the strongest piece a set budget allows for).In the contemporary market, promising artists are a bit more difficult to read, since their success can be affect by a lot of exogenous factors.

Picture courtesy of Art Dubai

When you hear the term art collector, all you think about is a the big shots who run around from gallery to gallery and auction house to auction house collecting their favorite pieces of arts making the market limited only to them, but Askari mentioned something that has surprised us stating: “There is a new wave of young blooming collectors who are interested to learn and invest in art. Today’s occasional young collectors are tomorrow’s serial art collectors.” With the rise of young aspiring collectors who are educating themselves with the art world and collecting what they love and what they believe in, this could witness a regional artist’s growth in recognition over the years. As for advising young collectors out there who thing they want to start a strong collection, Mona Atassi, collector and gallery owner, says that it all depends on the knowledge and the information you have. She also advises that young collectors should not let themselves be taken in or obsessed with big names, instead let them find the right artists for themselves according to what they like and what they have educated themselves with.

During our talk with Gaillard from Opera Gallery he gave us some insight on the regions market for art and its collectors. He describes, ever so eloquently, the development of the art world in the region: “This is a natural progression of the market, and the overall development of a region. It has been observed quite consistently in different parts of the world, once a region has grown economically and secured the basic for its population, there is a natural tendency to focus on cultural and artistic development. The market for art is indeed colossal, weighting more than 60 billion USD in 2014. The world market is driven by New York, China and London, and the rest is quite fragmented, but the region is showing a definitive appetite for art and art-related events.”

A lot of collectors have emotional attachment with their collections while others view their collections as assets that can be a return on investment, much like stocks or bonds. History shows a large number of collectors that have perused artworks like antiques, artworks, sculptures and jewelry have either collected these objects to commit capital to their investments like an art fund, and others have done it out of pure passion and commitment to their craft. According to collector Zaki Nusseibeh, contemporary art has grown at a massive rate in the Middle East, and it has for a number of reasons; one of them being the lack of regulations which made investment turn into art acquisition, drastically changing the prices of artworks. In contrast to this, Gaillard from Opera Gallery mentions the affordability and economical power of artworks stating: “Historically, people have always invested in art, albeit it was limited to the elite. Over the course of the last century, we have observed a democratization of art, whereby collecting has become more affordable. There are two main reasons enticing people to invest in art, which are social and economical. From a social perspective, collectors are satisfying a need at the very top of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is self-actualization. Owning a rare or expensive piece of art is a way to assess one’s position in a social setting. Whereby owning an expensive watch or a sports car has become quite common, a prestigious art collection if often perceived as a sign of good taste and an association to be part of the elite (financially and culturally).From an economical perspective, art has always been an asset class used for diversification. In the last couple of years, most financial institutions have included art in their array of investing tools, often falling into the “passion investment” category. Interestingly enough, the art market is getting the same level of attention as other more traditional markets (i.e. financial) in terms of number crunching, analysis, cycles etc…”

Other than speaking in terms of buying and collecting art as an investment, many do so out of passion. In early history, according to Gaillard from Opera Gallery, people have collected art to avoid financial losses and have a backup plan for when things go downhill financially, but that hasn’t been the case here in the UAE. He also believes that the reason for collecting is nobler and “people in the region are showing a genuine appetite for culture.” Furthermore, Zaki Nusseibeh, showed his passion for art collecting during our discussion stating that “For me personally I buy art because I love it, I love being surrounded by the things that I admire visually. When I buy a piece of art, I don’t buy because I know the value will go up, I buy it because I purely love it.”

Whether you collect art to preserve it, have a financial gain, or you do it just because you have an affinity for it; art collection opens doors to the many different sides of the world we live in: its culture, its history, and its vast complexity.


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