It’s an emotional exploration of the art world: which are the most frequently asked questions when it comes to art? Artists, curators, gallerists, museum directors, art collectors and more give thoughtful and deeply personal answers to our queries, while shedding light on the contemporary art scene – and offering a glimpse into its future.
Aaron Cezar: This depends on how value is defined – by cost, historic context or contemporary relevance.
Adel Abidin: Valuable art work is the work that creates a dialogue between the viewer and the piece. There should be professional art critics, academics and researchers in the field to see through a third eye and determine that value.
Andrée Sfeir-Semler: You can evaluate the quality of an artist only in comparison with others around him or her. It’s only when artists peak out of their socio-geographical context that their success is confirmed. I always follow my inner-self in my choice of artists, and we are very often confirmed in our choices by curators, collectors and press.
Ashkan Baghestani: The story or history of an art piece, which in the art world we call “provenance,” is crucial. This takes account of the period it was painted in, its historical reference, its size, its condition, but above all the role it has played and its relevance within a specific era.
Basel Dalloul: Well to be quite honest this is really arbitrary. There is nothing objective about how art is valued. It could depend on the importance of an artist in a particular art movement, it could be luck or what important collections a particular artist’s works are in. It could simply be what someone is prepared to pay for a particular piece, which determines the value of art, but sustained value is really dependent on an artist having a secondary market after the initial sale, which really establishes value. Who decides? The person paying for it.
Deborah Najar: I’d like to differentiate artistic value versus monetary value. Whilst they are oftentimes intertwined, there have been notable examples throughout the history of art of external factors, even fads, dictating prices that were unsustainable in the long term. One could carefully argue that some very affordable works are of great artistic value, and some very expensive ones might be less so. The term “an artist’s artist,” is in fact a great honour, and signifies an artist highly respected by his peers, whilst maybe not yet known to the wider public. But if the artistic community, which includes fellow artists, art historians and academics, art writers, museum directors, curators and gallerists recognise its value, the market will usually follow. The “price” of a work is then carefully determined by the gallerist in discussion with the artist, and for the secondary market, by auction house specialists, taking into account the demand and supply for the particular body of work.
Hormoz Hematian: I think ultimately only time will tell.
Mahmoud Obaidi: It should be 1) originality, 2) A great media campaign or platform. The corporate/art market.
Michael Jeha: At auction, there are many factors that can affect value, such as who is the artist; how established are they on the secondary market; what have comparable works by the artist sold for in the past; the date/period of the work; subject matter; condition; provenance, etc. In the end, once an estimate has been placed on an artwork that takes the above factors into consideration, it will be for collectors to decide how high to bid on the artwork and what final price to pay – the more bidders there are for any given artwork and the greater the demand, the higher will be the final selling price.
Nada Shabout: The question of value in art today is a very complicated question. As an art historian, I would argue that there are two values for a work of art: an art historical value based on aesthetics and a monetary value based on market demand. The first one is very much based on the quality of a work of art (is it good art?) and its contribution to the tradition of making art and its history. (Is it an important work of art? What makes a work of art important? Is it addressing its place in this history? Is it marking a shift in aesthetics? A new idea?) Mostly this value remains more consistent throughout history as part of the art historical context with few exceptions. The second value is rather based on popularity and market trends. Art historians, their analyses, studies and critique do not necessarily affect this value. Collectors, museums, galleries and auction houses are the main contributors. Several elements are considered in their valuation, such as size, medium, provenance and fashion. On occasions the two values intersect or even align. However, increasingly in this contemporary period, they do not and rather at times diverge fully. There are many moments in history when art historians and the market collaborated, but today there seem to be a wide unbridgeable gap between the two. The situation is further complicated in relation to Arab art, particularly the modern, given its nascent historiography. Whilst perhaps the contemporary follows the global language with artists straddling the age of transnational mobility, the modern is still an unresolved crisis of representation that has not yet been untangled from the national. Ironically, this condition only reinforces the need for historiography and consequently the role of art history in understanding value in modern Arab art.
Nadim Karam: Is it the manipulation of the market?
Nayla Tamraz: The issue of the value is a difficult one. There are some simple answers. We should question, to this end, the concept of “work” (work of art), which refers to activity and to the reality of labor. Like any object, the work of art contains an intrinsic value related to the work it involves. During the Middle Ages, the artist was an artisan like everyone else, and his work was remunerated according to his expertise, the cost of the material and the work volume, which was determined by the number of characters represented or the surface covered by the work. The value of an artwork depends on the know-how that is deployed and the material that is used. Questions such as the format of the work, its support, its material, the more or less great difficulty of its execution… are impartial criteria, but obviously, they are not enough.
During the Renaissance, artists gained a status that distinguished them from artisans, then academies defined the norms of art and stated the criteria of value: this one refers from now on to a “quality estimated by judgment.” This is how the aesthetic judgment was elaborated. And since the aesthetic judgment can be hampered by the vicious circle of interest, Kant reminds us in Critique of Judgment that “a judgment on the beautiful, which is tinged with the slightest interest, is very partial and not a pure judgment of taste.” After all, the issue of aesthetic judgment refers to the definition of art and what we expect from it. Then by displaying a urinal in a museum, Marcel Duchamp finally proved that the value of the work of art is not necessarily determined by aesthetic quality, as we previously said. The value doesn’t even
depend on the work of art itself.
Vincent van Gogh once wrote to his brother Theo: “The day will come, though, when people will see that they (my paintings) are worth more than the cost of the paint.” A century later, in 1990, his Portrait of Doctor Gachet was sold at auction for $82.5 million. Art also gains value by standing the test of time. And from the moment a work of art enters a museum, its sustainability is guaranteed, and consequently its value too.
To get back to the issue of the value, here and now, I would say that an achieved artistic process, an interesting conceptual approach, are certainly non-quantifiable criteria, but they also go further in the definition of a work’s value. They allow us today to state that a work of art has more value than another, for one same artist as well. They mobilize for this purpose a certain experience or frequentation of art, or what we could call a certain knowledge, a certain vision.
Who decides which criteria allow to confirm the value of a work of art? The question of the value is defined by a certain institution, a group of people whose expertise is recognized. Their vision, even if we don’t share it, is authoritative. But the institutions evolve, sometimes their visions radically change and, consequently, the issue of the value seems to be relative too. Every era has its own vision of value and thus redefines the question of value.
Omar Kholeif: I discern the value of an artwork from the quality of the questions that it demands of its viewer.
Samia Halaby: Generations of understanding admirers decide the value of art.
Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil: The value of an artwork is never objective, but rather determined by the individual views of those taking an interest in it.
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Aaron Cezar is the founding director of Del¢na Foundation, where he both curates and develops its interrelated programme of residencies, exhibitions and public events. He has overseen the physical expansion of Del¢na Foundation into Londonís largest host of international residencies. He is also Advisor-at-Large at Art Jameel, one of Del¢na Foundation’s Strategic Partners. Independently and through Del¢na Foundation, Cezar sits on numerous boards, committees and advisory groups.
Adel Abidin was born in Baghdad in 1973. He moved to Helsinki, Finland, in 2001 and has lived there since. Abidin joined the Finnish Art Academy in 2003 to pursue a Master’s degree in art. During that time, he switched his practice from full-time painter to multimedia artist, and since 2004 he has pursued a career as a video and installation artist. Abidin’s art uses various media, such as videos, video installations, multimedia sculptures, sound-based installations, photography and paintings, to explore contemporary issues. His main point of departure is always linked to the intention to explore the complex relationship between visual art and politics and identity. Using a sharp palette of irony and humour, he creates works that explore different social situations while dealing with elusive experiences and cultural alienation.
The artist uses his cross-cultural background, as an Iraqi artist living in Helsinki, to create a distinct visual language often laced with sarcasm and paradox, while maintaining an ultimately humanistic approach. This sarcasm used is nothing but a medium of provocation to serve the purpose of extending the mental borders of the artwork beyond the limits of the exhibition space. Abidin is particularly interested in creating opportunities to prolong the discussions beyond artwork by enabling the audience to convey mental elements from the work into their daily life. He always finds the words “politics” and “identity” to be more than a terminology or a path that we travel in, as they unfold to other concepts like discrimination and mass media manipulation.
Abidin has received e Finland Prize for Visual Arts in (2015) and Five Years Grant from e Art Council of Finland in (2013). He was also an Ars Fennica Prize nominee in 2011. Abidin has been invited as a visiting lecturer at various art schools, including the College of Liberal Arts, Oregon State University, Portland, Oregon (2010), the Art Academy of Helsinki, Kuva, (2015), LASALLE College of Arts, Singapore (2016) and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Santa Clarita, California (2016).
Additionally, Abidin has exhibited his work at various biennales including the Moscow Biennale (2017), the 5th Guangzhou Triennial (2015), the 56th Venice Biennale-Iran Pavilion (2015), the 56th International Art Exhibition-Venice Biennale (2015), the Biennale of Contemporary Art of Bosnia (2013), the 54th Venice Biennale-Iraq Pavilion (2011), the 10th Sharjah Biennial (2011), the 17th Biennale of Sydney (2010), the 11th Cairo Biennale (2008), the 4th Gothenburg Biennale (2007), the 52nd Venice Biennale-Nordic Pavilion (2007), and the 5th Istanbul Biennale (2005).
Andrée Sfeir-Semler is an art historian who founded her eponymous gallery in Germany in 1985. Twenty years later, in 2005, she opened a second gallery in Beirut, transforming a defunct factory into the ¢rst white cube space in the Middle East. She studied history and history of art at the American University of Beirut as well as at the Sorbonne University in Paris under Pierre Bourdieu. She earned her PhD in 1980 at the University of Bielefeld. Sfeir-Semler Gallery has been representing artists who concentrate in their practice on conceptual and minimal art. Since 2003 the gallery has focused on contemporary art from the Arab World and has been instrumental in launching and developing the careers of numerous artists from the region.
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Ashkan Baghestani, Sothebyís Head of Sale and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art Specialist. Ashkan Baghestani joined Sotheby’s Middle East Department in 2012 focusing on the Contemporary Doha auctions and developing this increasingly important art platform, including the April 2013 Contemporary Art Doha sale which realised $15.2 million and established the highest price for an auction in the Middle East region, with records set for nine artists, including the record price for a living Arab artist, Chant Avedissian. His in-depth knowledge of the market for Modern and Contemporary Middle Eastern and Iranian works, his fluency in Persian, French and English, and his contacts in the region have been invaluable in cultivating this important collecting field at Sotheby’s. He constantly travels across the Middle East region, participating in Sotheby’s numerous travelling exhibitions across the region such as Jeddah Art Week, Saudi Arabia and Dubai Art Week Travelling Exhibition, UAE.
Mr. Baghestani grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and has travelled extensively to study and work in Paris, New York and London. Before joining Sotheby’s in the summer of 2012, he studied Design and Management at Parson’s New School for Design, in the United States in 2009, earning a BBA Degree and followed later with a diploma in Middle Eastern Art from Sotheby’s Institute in 2011. He actively worked for the Jameel Prize at the Victoria and
Albert Museum, London.
Basel Dalloul founded the Dalloul Art Foundation in 2017 to manage and promote his father’s (Dr. Ramzi Dalloul) vast collection of modern and contemporary Arab art. At over 4,000 pieces it is the largest collection of its kind in private hands. The collection includes but is not limited to paintings, photography, sculpture, video and mixed media art. Dalloul has had a passion for art since he was very young, inspired by his mother and father, both of whom are also passionate about art in all its forms.
Deborah Najar is the Co-Founder of the JPNF (Jean- Paul Najar Foundation), a museum for Contemporary Art located in Dubai. Among the ¢rst non-pro¢ts in the UAE, the JPNF came about as a partnership with Alserkal Avenue, from a desire to oer a diverse artistic experience, with strong emphasis on patronage, artist-collector archives and western abstraction. Nearly three years later, the JPNF team have welcomed over 30,000 visitors, curated nine shows, published catalogues and hosted rich public programs for all audiences, o©en in partnership with local and international institutions.
From 2011-2015, Deborah was the Middle East Representative for Bonhams, structuring two auctions a year as well as managing a diverse client portfolio across departments and reporting directly into the Group CEO. From 2005 to 2011 she oversaw the development of De Beers Diamond Jewellers in the Middle East as founding director and was later promoted to GM. She sits on the board of the Gstaad New Year’s Music Festival, the Global Fine Arts Awards and heads up the Global Private Museum Network, which regroups the stakeholders of some of the world’s largest private museums. She arrived in Dubai in 2004, is a graduate of the London School of Economics and speaks four languages.
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Hormoz Hematian founded Dastan’s Basement in 2012 to showcase emerging and experimental Iranian art then followed with Dastan+2, dedicated to established artists and Dastan:Outside, a program of curated pop-up exhibitions throughout town. Together, the three initiatives cover the full spectrum of Iranian contemporary and modern art practices. In addition to an extensive local program of shows, pop-ups and eclectic collaborations, the Dastan group of galleries can be regularly sighted at established international venues such as Frieze New York, Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Dubai and Contemporary Istanbul.
Mahmoud Obaidi (b. 1966, Baghdad) is an Iraqi-Canadian artist whose work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. After leaving Iraq in 1991, he obtained his Master’s of Fine Arts at the University of Guelph in Canada, and completed diplomas in new media and film from Toronto and Los Angeles, respectively. His work has been exhibited extensively, including the British Museum, London-Qatar Museums, Doha; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Saatchi Gallery, London; the National Museum of Bahrain; the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; the National Gallery of Fine Arts, Amman; Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Texas; the Musèe d’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec; the Nabu Museum, Lebanon and others. His work is part of the permanent collection of a number of significant museums, foundations and private collections.
Michael Jeha is the managing director and deputy chairman of Christie’s Middle East. In his role as managing director of Christie’s Middle East, Jeha is responsible for implementing and executing the firm’s strategic and commercial vision for the region. Christie’s was the first international auction house to open an office in Dubai in 2005 and began holding bi-annual sales the following year. Under his management, Dubai has become a regular and important selling centre on the international auction calendar with the two annual auctions of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish Art, achieving sales of over $250 million. Jeha joined Christie’s in January 1999, exactly 20 years ago. Originally Lebanese, Jeha was born in London and studied at the City University Business School.
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Nada Shabout is a professor of art history and the coordinator of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Initiative (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas. Shabout’s research and teaching addresses modern and contemporary visual practices and problems of representation from a global perspective, with emphasis on questions of methodology and in relation to the cultural politics of the Middle East. She teaches courses on modern Arab art, global modern art, contemporary Middle Eastern art and Islamic art. She is the founding president of the Association for Modern and Contemporary Art from the Arab World, Iran and Turkey (AMCA). She is the author of Modern Arab Art: Formation of Arab Aesthetics, University of Florida Press, 2007; co-editor with Salwa Mikdadi of New Vision: Arab Art in the 21st Century, ames & Hudson, 2009; and co-editor with Anneka Lenssen and Sarah Rogers of Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018. She is currently working on a new book with the working title, Demarcating Modernism in Iraqi Art: The Dialectics of the Decorative, 1951-1979 for which she received a Creative Capital/ Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.
Nadim Karam is an artist and architect working from Beirut-initially trained in architecture at the American University of Beirut then earned a doctorate in architecture from the University of Tokyo, Japan. He has recently finished building his own workshop, A.MUSE.UM in the Lebanese mountains, which will be also used as a platform for art, research and exhibitions. With Atelier Hapsitus, the pluri-disciplinary group he founded in 1996, he has realised temporary and permanent urban interventions in cities worldwide such as Prague, Beirut, Melbourne, Tokyo, London, Kuwait and Yerevan, using public art as an instrument for urban stimulation. Based on a crossfertilisation of disciplines and nationalities, the 20-year-old practice has a multidisciplinary composition, which feeds into the experimental nature of its work. He has held academic positions in Tokyo and Beirut, gives lectures internationally and has published several books.
Nayla Tamraz is a Lebanese writer, curator, researcher, and professor of literature and art history at Saint Joseph University in Beirut where she has also been, from 2008 to 2017, the chair of the French Literature Department and where she created, in 2010, the MA program in art criticism and curatorial studies that she currently heads. She also organized several events including the symposium LittÈrature, Art et Monde Contemporain: Récits, Histoire, Mémoire (2014, USJ, Beirut). In parallel, she leads a career as an art critic and a curator. In this context, she co-curated the exhibition Le Secret (Espace Ygreg, Les Bons Voisins, 2017) in Paris and curated the exhibition Poetics, Politics, Places that took place in the Museum of Fine Arts of Tucum·n in Argentina, in the frame of the International Biennale of Contemporary Art of South America (BienalSur, 2017). Her research is about the issues related to the comparative theory and aesthetics of literature and art in their historical context, which brings her to the topics of history, memory and narratives in literature and art in post-war Lebanon. Her current research explores the relationship between poetics and politics as well as the representations associated to the notion of territory.
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Omar Kholeif is an Egyptian-born, British writer and curator. He is co-curator of Leaving the Echo Chamber, the 14th Sharjah Biennial and Time, Forward! e V-A-C Foundation Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. He is also a guest curator for Abu Dhabi Art and the Manchester International Festival, as well as a visiting tutor at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Kholeif has held curatorial positions, including Manilow senior curator and director of global initiatives at MCA Chicago; curator at Whitechapel Gallery, London; senior curator at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester; curator at
FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool; founding artistic director of the UKís Arab Film Festival and senior editor at Ibraaz Publishing. He has curated or co-curated major international projects including the Cyprus Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale; FOCUS: Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean at the Armory Show, New York; and the 2012 Liverpool Biennial. e author and or editor of over 20 books and catalogues on art, Kholeifís recent books include Goodbye, World! Looking at Art in the Digital Age (Sternberg Press) and The Artists Who Will Change the World (ames and Hudson, both 2018).
Samia A. Halaby was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1936. She is a visual artist, writer, scholar and activist. Now, rounding out her sixth decade as an active painter, she continues to explore abstraction and its relationship to reality. She has exhibited in galleries, museums and art fairs throughout the US, Europe, Asia and South America. Her work is housed in private and public collections around the world, including the Guggenheim Museum (New York and Abu Dhabi) and the Institut du Monde Arabe. Halaby has authored and contributed to a number of books, notably: Liberation Art of Palestine (2001), Drawing the Kafr Qasem Massacre (2016) and Growing Shapes: Aesthetic Insights of an Abstract Painter (2018). She is the subject of two monographs and numerous reviews.
Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath are founders of the multidisciplinary curatorial platform Art Reoriented in Munich and New York, chairmen of the Montblanc Cultural Foundation in Hamburg and a≤liate curators at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Bardaouil and Fellrath have jointly curated numerous critically acclaimed exhibitions at renowned museums and institutions worldwide, and have held teaching positions at universities including the London School of Economics and New York University. They are award-winning authors with contributions to academic journals, books, newspapers and art magazines. They are currently preparing their international thematic exhibition Walking through Walls opening in September 2019 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. For the upcoming 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia they are curators of the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Frequently Asked Questions in Art #48, page 76 – 77
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