The 2014 Middle East Emergent Artist Prize Announced

Ooh la la! On Wednesday 18 December I was included in an exclusive group of bloggers and journalists who were invited to the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique at Dubai Mall for a press conference held in partnership with cool kids Tashkeel and Design Days to announce the theme of the 2014 Middle East Emergent Artist Prize. Macaroons were ceremonially passed around on silver trays and guests were seated on plush sofas behind a dramatic velvet curtain. I wore a few tasteful diamonds, a blazer and riding boots and took down quotes like a crazy woman in my “Artists I Like” notebook. Society magazines snapped away and even took my photo. I felt glamorous for a split second until I looked down and saw that my pen had smudged globs of ink all over my hand, a sad side effect of being a lefty.

Press Conference in Dubai. From L-R, Cyril Zammit (Fair Director of Design Days Dubai), Anabelle de Gersigny (Tashkeel), Allan Belloir (MD of Van Cleef)

Press Conference in Dubai. From L-R, Cyril Zammit (Fair Director of Design Days Dubai), Anabelle de Gersigny (Tashkeel), Allan Belloir (MD of Van Cleef)

This year’s theme was announced as “Turning Point” and invites any artist or designer living in the Middle East to submit a work in progress for consideration. It was a bit unclear how the competition distinguishes between art and design. Is design functional art? Can design be non-functional and aesthetically pleasing without becoming best labeled as art? The general sentiment was that these boxes don’t matter as long as the work closely fits the theme and the real matter of importance here is the creative process at play. How refreshing for a prize to honor the soul of a piece of art as much as the finished product.

The gifted winner of this year’s prize will have her project exhibited in the Van Cleef space at Design Days (to be held 17-21 March this year) and will then be whisked off on a dream trip to Paris to attend jewelry and watchmaking courses at L’Ecole, the ornate house in which the Maison D’Or (master craftsmen) of Van Cleef & Arpels reside. The whole thing sounds like a scene from an old French black and white film waiting to come to life.

Place Vendome on a Winter's day in Paris

Place Vendome on a Winter’s day in Paris

I wanted to see exactly where the winner of the 2014 Middle East Emergent Artist Prize would be sent. Imagine my luck in having already planned a trip to Paris for the holidays! My husband grew up there and the two of us fell in love all over again as we wandered the rainy city eating warm baguette straight from the oven, stopping off for oyster lunches and the occasional fine art museum before meeting up with family for long formal dinners. The day after Christmas we put on our coats and visited the original Van Cleef & Arpels store in the iconic Place Vendome.

I try to reserve ‘magical’ for special occasions so as not to overuse this favorite adjective and make it trite. But the flagship store was the dictionary definition of magical. The history on hand was just overwhelming. We stood on our tip toes trying to see into the veiled windows of the 18th century stone townhouse in which the L’Ecole is situated. A doorman in a proper chapeau stood outside the Van Cleef store. A children’s carousel and an elegant Christmas tree were placed nearby. Immaculately groomed poodles pranced on cobblestone and window shopped with stylish owners.

A closeup of the Van Cleef & Arpels headquarters and place that is home to the L'Ecole where the winner of this year's prize will study

A closeup of the Van Cleef & Arpels headquarters and place that is home to the L’Ecole where the winner of this year’s prize will study

Van Cleef & Arpels flagship store, complete with door man in traditional black chapeau

Van Cleef & Arpels flagship store, complete with door man in traditional black chapeau

The dreamy Christmas carousel nearby

The dreamy Christmas carousel nearby

It took all the decorum I had to refrain from taking a ride on this magnificent horse in the Place Vendome with the store and L'Ecole in site

It took all the decorum I had to refrain from taking a ride on this magnificent horse in the Place Vendome with the store and L’Ecole in site

Good Idea: Applications for the Middle East Emergent Artist Prize are due 12 February, 2014. For entry information visit Tashkeel’s website here. I am most eager to learn more about the entries for this year’s prize and interview the winner.