How did you become interested in Post-War and Contemporary art?
I grew up in Saudi Arabia in an environment rich in culture, tradition and local art forms, so the arts have always been an important part of my life. My environment was also truly international—the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia was a wonderful melting pot of people from around the work as a result of the oil industry being headquartered there, and with that came a great exposure to different cultures. I think this foundation was pivotal in shaping my interests.We travelled quite a bit and I found myself spending my holidays visiting museums wherever I went. I came to realise that much of the dialogue in the art world is about contemporary life. Growing up, I also spent a part of my summer holidays in Minnesota where my family has a home and I remember being particularly taken by Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. That was one of the turning points that drove me to learn more about the post-war era.
Aside from working on the London sales of Post-War and Contemporary art, you are also involved with Christie’s auctions in Dubai. Has Christie’s played a big role in raising awareness of middle eastern art?
Absolutely. Christie’s laid the foundation and has been instrumental in the growth and development of the art market in this region. There was already an existing and vibrant art scene but it was regionally focused until Christie’s opened its Dubai offices in 2005. We hold biannual contemporary art sales with an emphasis on Middle Eastern and Iranian art but also including Western, Indian and Turkish art. The demand grows with each season, and many artists previously known locally only are now recognised on an international platform.
I was watching the new television programme “School of Saatchi” where six aspiring art students compete to win Charles Saatchi’s endorsement. The first prize is a studio and of course a lot of media attention. To what extent do you think that the success of contemporary artists is fuelled by people like Saatchi buying and promoting their work?
I think there is certainly an important and critical role for patronage and philanthropy in the arts. An artist working in a vacuum may have great talent but without exposure will have a limited audience. Ultimately, people can and should buy whatever art they like. Not everyone has to agree with it, but it is thanks to patrons like Saatchi that some very talented artists get their big break.
If you were to build your own collection, which three artists would you start with?
Alexander Calder is definitely one of my favourites. I find the sense of movement and balance in his sculptures very beautiful. I think I would also invest in a large photograph by Andreas Gursky. I would love to own a photorealist work by Gerhard Richter (that would look perfect in my living room!). And if I could have a fourth, fifth and sixth, I would buy a Fontana, a Klein and definitely Gormley too. But that’s just a starting point…
Over the past year there have of course been some adjustments in the Post-War and Contemporary art market. Have you noticed any key trends?
One cannot deny that there’s been an adjustment in the market. But collectors who were absent at the end of 2008 and early 2009 have shown a renewed interest this year. We have seen a great return to ‘blue chip’ artists and well-established names from Alexander Calder to Jean Dubuffet, from Lucio Fontana to Yves Klein and from Piero Manzoni to Gerhard Richter, but there is also an interest in a younger generation of stars be it Peter Doig, Neo Rauch or others. At the end of the day people are attracted to great quality works, and great quality will always speak for itself.
What was the last exhibition you saw?
The John Baldessari show at the Tate Modern. I highly recommend it. And the Ed Ruscha show at the Hayward was also incredible.
What is your favourite book?
Love in the time of Cholera is one of my favourites. But I recently re-read Peggy Guggenheim’s biography and Marcel Duchamp’s biography.
Post-War & Contemporary Art