IT’S A 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.
WHAT MAKES AN ARTWORK MORE VALUABLE THAN ANOTHER AND WHO DECIDES?
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 This takes account of the period it was painted in, its historical reference, its size, its condition, but above all the role it has played and its relevance within a specific era.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.
Aaron Cezar is the founding director of Delfina Foundation, where he both curates and develops its interrelated programme of residencies, exhibitions and public events. He has overseen the physical expansion of Delfina Foundation into London’s largest host of international residencies. He is also Advisor-at-Large at Art Jameel, one of Delfina Foundation’s Strategic Partners. Independently and through Delfina 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’s 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.
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 first 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.
Ashkan Baghestani, Sotheby’s 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, the 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 4000 pieces it is the largest collection of it’s kind in private hands. The collection includes but is not limited to paintings, photography, sculpture, video and mixed media art. Basel has had a passion for art since he was very young, inspired by both 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 first non-profits 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, often 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.
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.
A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #48