Can you buy art based on an algorithm for financial investment? “Sure, just like you can buy a car,” jokes Myrna Ayad, director of Art Dubai. “But that takes so much fun and enlightenment out of the process. Buying art can be financially beneficial, but I would much rather subscribe to buying art being beneficial for your mind and passion, in addition to its aesthetic pleasure.”
Although there has been a thriving creative scene in the region for decades, the roots of the commercial art market were planted with the opening of Christie’s Middle East and Art Dubai in 2006. It has rapidly flourished and art from the region is now being shown and sold in cities worldwide – and women are at the forefront. “We had many women pioneers in the region’s art scene and that continues today – women dominate,” Ayad says. Some of the early starters include Janine Rubeiz, who founded artistic platform Dar El Fan in Beirut in 1967. Princess Wijdan Ali opened Jordan’s National Gallery of Fine Arts in 1979 with works from her own collection, and Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan established a namesake foundation in Abu Dhabi.
While the perception of a collector is someone with a vast number of works at their disposal, Salma Shaheem, the head of Middle Eastern markets at the Fine Art Group, argues, “A valuable collection can start with as little as five or six very rare, museum quality pieces.” Even if this level of investment is not a reality, a collection can begin with just one standout work on paper by a favorite artist, a piece you return to with every morning coffee, as though lingering in conversation with the work. Four female collectors from the region are proving that collecting is not a staid hobby focused on financial returns, but rather a full-time pursuit incorporating philanthropy, patronage, and community.