On the heels of David Bowie’s art collection selling out to a total of US $41.1m, Art Abu Dhabi in flow, and Christie’s hotly anticipated Impressionist and Modern Art auction opening on the 16th November in New York, paddles will be at the ready to bid for Cézanne and Picasso pieces. The current mood is decidedly about the world’s most revered art, and whose living room will call them home.
Arts contributor to Vogue Arabia Abdullah K. Al Turki shares his pearls of wisdom on how to transition a passion for art into a serious collection. Abdullah is the co-founder of Saudi arts initiative 21,39 Jeddah Arts, and sits on Tate’s Middle East North African acquisition committee and the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s middle Eastern Circle. He namechecks photographers Wolfgang Tillmans (with whom he hosted on a fruitful trip to Jeddah and Madian Saleh, Arabia’s first world heritage site), Robert Mapplethorpe and Taryn Simon as his favorites. Here he delivers Vogue Arabia’s 101 on how to identify the subject for your collection, and invest well.
Find Your Hero Artists
My taste has significantly changed since I bought my first piece. When I first started collecting I was excited and easily impressed. I credit London’s cultural offering as the crucible for igniting my passion. However, I did a lot of impulse buying in the first few years of collecting. I l have learnt from the process, and now give myself more time to think about the way I want to drive the collection forward. I want my collection to be personal and not to just follow any fashion or trend. Tastes will change over time so you should only buy a work when you are knowledgeable enough about the artist and his/her practice. Collecting is a lifelong education process. Today I take collecting seriously as it brings out my creativity, develops my knowledge, my social skills. It has become my passion.
Now my collection is focused on photography. The three photographs in my collection by Wolfgang Tillmans capture a moment perfectly. Tillmans can tell a million words in one single capture. His photographs are not staged or manipulated or digitally manufactured. They are simple, poetic, and powerful. He is doing an exhibition at Tate Modern in April and is one of the most exciting up and coming artists for me.
There’s a big difference between buying art and collecting art.
I think buying art is more of a random activity based on buying the things you like at any given moment, while collecting art is more of a purposeful and long-term commitment.
My main focus is to seek out Middle Eastern and Saudi artists because there is a lack of Saudi representation on the art scene. I joined Edge of Arabia (associated artists include Maha Malluh, Saeed Salem, and Huda Beydoun), a company that champions Saudi Artists. It was initially founded in 2003 by Ahmed Mater, Stephen Stapleton and Abdulnasser Gharem. They scoured the region looking for emerging people through word of mouth, and artists recommending each other.
Cultivate Your Eye
The more looking you do the better your decisions will be. I started to train my eye by going to as many art fairs as I could, visiting museums around the word, attending gallery openings in various cities, looking through online art platforms such as Paddle8 or ArtStack and by reading through auction catalogues. It was overwhelming, no doubt, but by doing this I was able to develop my taste and focus on finding the art that I really like as I now mainly focus on collecting photography. Perhaps the most revolutionary change is the level and ease of accessing information. Thanks to this, one is able to distinguish between the artists who have defined their own language as opposed to the others who are just trying to recreate ideas of the past. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between bad and great art.
Invest in the Right Thing
“Will I be able to double my money?” That’s a question that I always get from my friends when I suggest to them buying art. A common mistake that new collectors make is buying for investment purposes. Yes, art could be rated as an “asset class” – especially in current circumstances with all of the world politics – but it is also a big mistake to think of it as a commodity. I personally buy what I can live with, the things I like to have hanging in my living room and see every morning when I wake up. A real collector should collect what they love.
Quality Over Quantity
Do your research properly before you buy. You must have an obsessive drive to research, source, and capture the object of your desire. You should collect the best your money can buy in terms of quality; it is not about filling up your walls quickly. There is great pleasure in developing your own collection as time allows you to reflect, to ponder and to adjust your direction.
What makes a great collector great is his or her ability to assemble their collection with knowledge and thoughtfulness
The aim is for other people to benefit from a better understanding of that collection, or of the history and evolution of art in general. It is a wonderful thing to make links between pieces of art.
Give and Get
I was one of the first members of the Tate’s Middle East & North African Acquisition Committee when it was initiated with an aim to broaden the collection of the museum. Since its inception, Tate was able to acquire and support a lot of artists from the region. Also, as a result of the group’s activity, Tate has organized two solo exhibitions of Lebanese female artists in the past 5 years, Mona Hatoum and Saloua Raouda Choucair. However, the relationship and the benefits are reciprocal. Being part of the group means one can learn, see more art and meet like-minded people (curators, collectors, directors, patrons etc). Be friendly and social and never underestimate the person in front of you. I recommend that collectors should be supportive of artists and organizations in need.