the smart spend

Young talent, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and a fresh aes­thetic make con­tem­po­rary de­sign what it is to­day – a wor­thy in­vest­ment. How­ever, plac­ing a higher value on liv­ing with your pur­chase, rather than on mak­ing a quick profit, will pay off in the long run, writes

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In­vest­ing in con­tem­po­rary de­sign

If you vis­ited last year’s edi­tion of De­sign Days Dubai, you will re­mem­ber the Clock Clock (pic­tured). A stun­ning ex­am­ple of horo­log­i­cal and ki­netic de­sign, the piece con­sisted of 24 two-handed ana­logue clocks that, in a flurry of move­ment and pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing akin to magic, came to­gether to cre­ate one large mock-dig­i­tal clock. Last year, the piece, by Swedish de­sign­ers Hu­mans Since 1982, was val­ued at €22,000 (Dh111,642). A few weeks ago, Alexis Ryn­gaert of Vic­tor Hunt De­signart Dealer sold a Clock Clock from his own per­sonal collection for €55,000 (Dh278,760).

These are the kinds of re­turns that are pos­si­ble when you are deal­ing with con­tem­po­rary de­sign, but only if you get it right. While vin­tage de­sign – recog­nised pieces by recog­nised de­sign­ers that have stood the test of time and maybe even done the odd stint in a mu­seum – may re­quire a he y up­front in­vest­ment, it will in­vari­ably rise in value. Con­tem­po­rary de­sign, by its very na­ture, is a far riskier propo­si­tion.

“In Europe, when people are buy­ing de­sign as an in­vest­ment, they do go for the more es­tab­lished names,” Ryn­gaert notes. “But these de­sign­ers do not have the same col­lectable mar­gins that con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers have. The prices are also com­pletely dif­fer­ent. When you are talk­ing about vin­tage, a chair can eas­ily go for €800,000 [over Dh4 mil­lion]. We are not deal­ing in that same price range. But that is be­cause we are work­ing with liv­ing de­sign­ers – in­stead of people that are de­ceased – and their ca­reers are at their start­ing point. You have to make well-in­formed choices but there is much more po­ten­tial for growth.”

In this part of the world, tastes tend to veer to­wards the con­tem­po­rary any­way, Ryn­gaert notes, an ob­ser­va­tion shared by many of the other ex­hibitors at this year’s edi­tion of De­sign Days Dubai. Ryn­gaert at­tributes this to con­text. “Vin­tage de­sign al­ready be­longs to a dif­fer­ent cul­ture. If you are deal­ing with Scan­di­na­vian or French or Bri­tish de­sign, this has evolved over a pe­riod of about a century in a very spe­cific en­vi­ron­ment, which was not yet glob­alised. Here, people are ready to di­ver­sify into the cul­tural as­pects of liv­ing and be­ing; they are open-minded and are look­ing to the fu­ture. All these as­pects cre­ate a very strong in­ter­est in con­tem­po­rary de­sign.” But even if con­tem­po­rary is your thing, you still need to look to the past, says Vic­tor Gas­tou of the Ga­lerie Yves Gas­tou. A true ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the new can only come with an aware­ness of the old. “To un­der­stand the present you need to know the past,” says Gas­tou, whose fa­ther launched the Paris­based gallery 25 years ago. “If you don’t know what has come be­fore, you can’t know that this new piece is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing or suc­cess­ful. You won’t know that it has been done many times be­fore and that it is not sur­pris­ing as a piece. If we have never seen some­thing be­fore, that’s a good start.” Gas­tou uses the Os­mosi collection by Em­manuel Babled as a case in point. The collection sees del­i­cate blown glass from the Venini fur­nace in Mu­rano slot­ted per­fectly into un­yield­ing slabs of Verona mar­ble, in ways that seem to defy the very na­ture of these con­trast­ing el­e­ments. “It was not pos­si­ble to do such a piece be­fore but it can be done now be­cause of new tech­nol­ogy. So these are never-seen-be­fore pieces. The glass is blown in Venice; then a 3-D scan­ner scans the piece and, with a ro­bot, cuts the ex­act shape into the mar­ble, so you have a per­fect match be­tween the glass and mar­ble. Grav­ity and the ten­sion of the ma­te­ri­als keep ev­ery­thing in place.”

An up­com­ing sale by the United States-based Her­itage Auc­tions is set to re­it­er­ate how cov­etable con­tem­po­rary de­sign is be­com­ing. The 20th & 21st Century De­sign Auc­tion will fea­ture over 100 works, in­clud­ing 35 pieces by Hol­land’s Droog de­signs. These in­clude the Red Blue Lego Chair (2004) and the Ri­etveld Lego Buf­fet (2010), which are ex­pected to fetch over US$10,000 (Dh36,730) each.

“Red Blue Lego Chair is num­ber five of five pro­duc­tion pieces and one of just eight pro­duced by the artist. Many are on dis­play in mu­se­ums around the world as a choice ex­am­ple of 21st-century de­sign,” says Bran­don Kennedy, con­sign­ment di­rec­tor of 20th & 21st Century De­sign at Her­itage Auc­tions.

Ryan­gaert has one piece of ad­vice for those look­ing to in­vest in con­tem­po­rary de­sign. “Make sure you like it be­cause you will be liv­ing with it. Make sure it makes your heart beat faster. That’s the first thing you need with de­sign or art. In the end, you are not just look­ing for a func­tion but for that emo­tional, sen­so­rial ex­pe­ri­ence.”

It’s a phi­los­o­phy that Gas­tou sub­scribes to even on a pro­fes­sional level. “When we buy some­thing, it’s be­cause we love it. So ev­ery time that I give a piece to a cus­tomer or a col­lec­tor, it’s a piece that, if I had the op­por­tu­nity, I would keep my­self.

“The gallery you work with is also im­por­tant. If the gallery is big and es­tab­lished, it of­fers se­cu­rity. Find some­thing you like, from some­one you trust – and then go for it,” he adds.

And be pre­pared to sit on your in­vest­ment – lit­er­ally, if need be. “If you want re­ally good re­turns, it takes 10 years, min­i­mum,” Gas­tou warns.

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