Creative Pursuits: Asmaa Shabibi, Co-Founder And Director, Lawrie Shabibi
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MENA entrepreneurs share their insights on what it takes to build (and be a part of) the art gallery scene in the GCC.
What art gallery business model have you found most viable in the GCC region?
“I can’t speak for the rest of the GCC or other galleries, but what I can say is that our gallery model is to run a tight ship from a costs perspective, and we widen the net by ensuring we have a good number of enthusiastic international clients that generate strong sales. As part of this strategy, my co-founder and director William Lawrie has moved to London in order to focus on that market and Europe. We felt that a presence there was very important at this stage of our business.
Furthermore, given the lack of institutional support in the region, the gallery does play the role of an institution despite being as a commercial gallery. Working with us, an artist will not only have the opportunity to show with us in Dubai, but they will also have the chance to show at international art fairs. We have participated in fairs in New York, Hong Kong, Turin, London, Dallas as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. These fairs provide visibility for our artists to collectors, curators, institutions and the press in a way that would not be possible if we were to just show them in Dubai. Our strategy is to take our artists outside the region so that they become international artists.”
From a commercial point of view, what is the biggest mistake you see emerging artists make when approaching you?
“Commercially, an artist is of interest to the gallery, if we consider their works to be of museum quality. It is important for us that artists make works that appeal to both private collectors, and also generate institutional and curatorial interest. One of the things we pride ourselves in doing is working with museums to place our artists’ works in their collections- this has included the Guggenheim New York, Centre Pompidou, Tate Modern, to name but a few.
But we also have to be realistic- the gallery operates on sales, and so we do need to counter this with artists whose works are of interest to private collectors. I believe this is a good strategy. I just attended Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern, and it was interesting to see that the majority of works were on loan from private collectors rather than museums. The private collectors are going to be important in the development of an artist’s career, as well as providing them with an income, so that they should develop that relationship as well.”
THE HOW TO: ASMAA SHABIBI'S TIPS ON RUNNING A COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL ART GALLERY
> Keep your costs low. Shipping can be a high cost especially if most artists live outside the GCC. Be creative with how you ship.
> Keep your program consistent. This will help build a following and people will get into your program.
> Focus on international buyers to grow your artist’s career. Artists need to be seen, and one institutional show or curatorial recognition can really make a difference to their careers.