Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Importing art, buying culture?

"Almost none of the art being acquired, exhibited, bought and sold in the Gulf challenges the cultural values or ideals of the royal patrons who are fueling the boom." This is a brilliant piece in the Wall Street Journal by Noah Feldman. I've been meaning to write an article on this subject for a while. There's been a major shift in art procurement towards the Gulf region in the past decade but I don't see a major impact on society yet. Perhaps this is a generational issue. Consider Kuwait, it was the centre of the arts movement in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. (Click to see image of Andy Warhol visiting Kuwait in 1977). Today Kuwait's art movement is a shadow of its former self although a few initiatives such as Lulua Al Sabah's auction and the little known Kuwait Art Museum exist. The art industry was a victim of both Saddam's invasion and of the rising religious powers after Kuwait's liberation in 1991. Is the art industry of Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Doha an elitist movement that may not exist without government patronage? How many nationals of these states visit the exhibitions and the museums I wonder? I often find myself in museums and exhibitions in all these Gulf states either being the only person in the show or with a few others. I also make a point to write in the visitors books and go over the dates and names of visitors (some free museums require people to write their names as they enter) and find three or four people to have visited in the entire day. So other than the opening night (say a hundred "locals" show up tops, 95 of whom don't care about art but attend because the Sheikh is present) only a handful of nationals visit these shows. Even for someone who is as enthusiastic about art in the Gulf as I am I fear that wasteful expenditure on art (read the WSJ piece) can actually have a detrimental and negative effect on the local population who will see such spending as unjustifiable. 


Ania said...

How can one put a monetary value on a vehicle, the peaceful vehicle of art, the values and the acts of stimulating and connecting thoughts for a more meaningful and honest existence? Do we not measure a culture or a civilisation's being through the people who are able to transform ideas into outcomes? Patronage of the creators and inventors in any given society are prerequisites to the development of stable and meaningful existences in people's lives. Wise are those patrons who have valued and embraced their artists.

Tony Goddard said...

In UK when galleries change pictures they have an 'opening party' where people can drink alcohol. I think this happens in France & Germany as well. Sculpturers & installation artists get money from new factories, even if factory closes down later.The alcohol ban seems to me a definite drawback.

I have to make some criticisms of the local art scene in my home city Sheffield. Despite great ethnic diversity with many working class immigrants and foreign students at two big universities here I see very few black or Asian faces at the local art events (maybe just one East Asian). It's very provincial. I think some local artists never even heard of Ai Wei Wei.

Of course Saudi has the biggest "installation art" in the World. That Makkah Clock tower.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.