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Middle East

I look back at interviews I did with artists, and art professionals a mere three years ago, and I am startled that their optimistic prognostications for a flourishing contemporary art market IN the region, rather than of FROM the region, already seems premature and perhaps, naive.

For example, Philip Hofmann, CEO of the London-based Fine Art Fund, visited Bahrain in 2013 en route to open an HQ in Dubai.

At the time he told me: “The reason (for expanding to the UAE) is that there are a great deal of people with disposable wealth who understand the value of diversifying their portfolios into tangible assets in the UAE and the wider Gulf region. In addition, we see the MENASA region as one of the next areas of great growth in the art market, and one that is easily accessible to the other growing markets in Asia.”

And when I spoke to Antonia Carver, Director of Art Dubai in 2012 and we discussed the MENASA market, she said: “During the mid-2000s boom, there was a danger of the market over-heating but nowadays, growth seems more steady and sustainable, and we see the emergence of more galleries that take a serious, long-term view to nurturing their artists. There is of course still an edge of speculation,” she continued. “But many younger collectors that ‘grew up’ with the fair and with the market of the GCC, are now mature and considered in their approach. Of course, there are years, and then there are GCC years,” she laughed. “And even though Art Dubai is only 7 years old, in this climate, it’s a maturing teenager!”

To unearth Hofmann and Carver’s quotes from three-years back is patently unfair. And here the cliche, 20/20 hindsight, not to mention, for the record, I was in complete agreement with both of them at the time that we spoke.

It is just that in the Gulf, as Carver presciently points out, “There are years, and there are GCC years.” One could broaden that point and apply it to all of North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The growth of the art market, like everything else has been meteoric, yet alongside that growth - so many unforeseen events - still unfolding must be factored in.

One must take into consideration the sad fact that this area of the world (with countries that many educated Americans and Europeans could neither pronounce nor point to on a map (a mere decade ago) has become at present the area upon which the world’s spotlight shines.

In general, this spotlight has been good for MENASA artists, collectors, museums et al. Yet like any searching beam, it has also thrown into sharp relief, the dark shadows that could eclipse a bright future.

Even as I write (and excuse the pun) the sands are shifting.

With the speed at which all is moving and with many of the areas once considered “stable” safe havens in the region being drawn ever deeper into the quagmire of unfolding events, it seems clear that as events unfold, nothing is clear.

Which is clearly what the MENASA region has been, and always will be like.

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About the Author

Laura Stewart

Laura Stewart

Laura Stewart has been a professional in the art world for 30+ years. Her career has included work as a journalist, editor, public relations professional and non-profit management consultant. She bega...