Gulf Today

Art connoisseu­r Romain Gerardin-fresse offers his opinion on art in the Emirates

- Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

SHARJAH: Romain Gerardin-fresse, Founder and CEO of GFK Strategies, a leading crisis management firm, is also a passionate art lover and seasoned collector. An adviser to several prominent artists and many wealthy collectors, he offers his perspectiv­e on the UAE and regional art market to Gulf Today

How different is the UAE art market to that of Europe’s?

The art market in the Middle East, which its players have described as “regional” and of which Dubai emerged as the centre between 2005 and 2010, is based on local galleries, auctions and the famous Art Dubai fair. Today, Dubai has three areas where contempora­ry art galleries have set up shop: the tourist district of Al Fahidi, the business district of DIFC (Dubai Internatio­nal Financial Centre) and, above all, the industrial district of Al Quoz. They have been at the forefront of the promotion of contempora­ry Iranian artists alongside their

Arab counterpar­ts, and the first to be given access to the globalised circuits of the Western art market.

Do cultural difference­s with the Middle East negatively impact European collectors?

No, quite the opposite. What collectors are looking for when they come to acquire works from the Middle East is a different kind of artistic expression, a sensitivit­y and modesty that give rise to refined, unclutered works. The gigantic scale of certain canvases or sculptures, which is in keeping with local standards, breaks with European creative norms and appeals to a public that is looking for this type of format.

How can the Middle East further develop its art market in the West?

On the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai has become the leading art market in the Middle East since 2008. A significan­t proportion of buyers in Dubai are Western — and this has a de facto impact on the art market in the West. Dubai offers, promotes, and introduces Westerners living there to artists who deserve to be known well beyond the Middle East.

As an art/legal advisor, how have you helped bridge the knowledge gap between the West and the Middle East?

I don’t think there is a knowledge gap. Abu Dhabi has attracted major internatio­nal museums such as the Louvre and the Guggenheim Museum, as well as prestigiou­s universiti­es such as the Sorbonne and New York University. Personally, I always enjoy taking my clients, collectors, or artists, to places such as Alserkal Avenue, a place of artistic ferment and resonance. But in the same way, various French artists that we represent in the Emirates can capture a local audience.

Can you tell us — if it is not a trade secret — how Western collectors buy their art from the Middle East?

Today, there are some 75 million art collectors worldwide — five times as many as at the end of the 1990s. In the Middle East, different channels coexist. From independen­t galleries to auction houses and temporary exhibition­s, the modus operandi is strictly the same as in Europe. The number of exhibition venues has multiplied over the last 10 years, and there are as many art galleries in Dubai DIFC as in certain Parisian or London boroughs. There is a growing number of artists and styles on the market, greater education and awareness, and popularisa­tion of access to culture in modern societies. The Middle East has become a major player in the art world.

How has the art market in the UAE evolved in nearly 25 years (2000 — 2025)?

Globally, the art market has experience­d significan­t growth for several years, reaching an estimated value of $64.1 billion in 2019, according to the Art Basel/ubs Art Market 2020 report. Dubai dominates the leading art market, i.e. all works put up for sale for the first time (galleries, art fairs, art dealers, etc.) with a first price set, notably in view of the large number of galleries. Art Dubai brought together 120 galleries for the 2024 edition, 65 per cent of them from the Global South. On the other hand, the Emirates are very much out of the limelight on the secondary market, much to the surprise of Christie’s, which, when it moved there in 2006, considered Dubai and, more generally, the United Arab Emirates (Sotheby’s moved there in 2017) to be the new Master of Art in the secondary market in the region.

The first few years were indeed flourishin­g (in 2010, Dubai alone posted a total of $34 million in sales, according to Artprice). Auction houses are organising numerous exhibition­s, and are continuing to raise awareness of the issues they have raised, in line with the dynamic of cultural openness that the Emirates are brilliantl­y pursuing.

Who are the artists who impress you in the Emirates? Why?

I really like Shahi Dayekh, a Lebanese artist living in the Emirates, whose interplay of matter and colour gives real depth to her pictorial works. Her ‘Pleiades’ resonate with an ensemble of light and darkness I find fascinatin­g. I also really like Wafa El Hilali, with her soft, soothing, almost pastel colours, and the technique she uses around shades of green, yellow, and blue - blue being her dominant colour. Her fairly rectangula­r or linear strokes are never too rough. Finally, I have a certain fondness for a few of Leila Mukhaimer’s paintings, notably ‘Mirage’, where the combinatio­n of a strong yellow and blue symbolises the instant hope that fades, then comes back by dint of continuing to believe. A beautiful allegory of life.

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Artworks owned by Romain Gerardinfr­esse.
↑ Artworks owned by Romain Gerardinfr­esse.
 ?? ?? Romain Gerardin-fresse beside an artwork.
Romain Gerardin-fresse beside an artwork.
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Left: An artwork owned by Romain Gerardin-fresse on the wall.
↑ Left: An artwork owned by Romain Gerardin-fresse on the wall.

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