Collecting Art: Where to Start

Updated on Tuesday, August 8 2017

Building an art collection is as much a personal investment as a financial one. Although starting your collection can seem daunting, it may be more affordable and less intimidating than you’d expect. We’ve rounded up some tips to demystify the process and set you on your way to building your own art collection here in Dubai, beginning with photography.


Tip #1: Develop Your Eye
The more art you are exposed to, the more confident you will become in defining your taste. Sign up for newsletters of local galleries so you can find out about and attend exhibition openings. A few galleries in Dubai specialize in photography, such as East Wing and Gulf Photo Plus, while others incorporate photography into their exhibition calendar. Some of our favorites are The Third Line, Ayyam Gallery, Leila Heller, and Lawrie Shabibi, all conveniently located in Alserkal Avenue.


Tip #2: Visit the Project Space
Galleries commonly have a central gallery space for their established artists and a separate project space for emerging artists and affordable artworks, such as our Editions section at GPP, which currently features the work of Leila Fatemi, an emerging Canadian photographer of Iranian descent. If the emerging photographer in your collection becomes more established, your investment could appreciate.


Tip #3: Connect with the Work
Asking a gallerist or an artist about the work can expand your understanding of the artwork and help you develop a personal relationship with the art. There might be something about the artist’s life story or the philosophy that guided the work that will resonate with you. If the artist or gallerist isn’t present, there will likely be books, videos, or an artist website you can peruse. For example, when Gulf Photo Plus had an exhibition of Alia Ali’s work, we featured a video of her discussing the exhibition.


Before You Buy
So what do you do once you've looked, researched, and are itching to buy? When purchasing photographs, here are a few key points to consider:


Open vs. Limited Editions
An open edition of a piece means that image can be printed and sold an unlimited number of times, which will make it more affordable. Alternatively, the artist may decide to limit the edition, which means there will be a finite number of copies of the photograph printed for a given size. For more information on editions, read this practical guide.



Prices range widely, with an open edition print by an emerging photographer costing as little as 400 AED, while a limited edition print of an established photographer could be as high as 10,000 AED or more. Most of the prints in GPP Editions fall within the range of 500 to 2000 AED.  For more tips on starting your art collection with 10,000 AED or less, check out this helpful article written for The National by Salma Shaheem, the head of the Middle Eastern markets for The Fine Art Group.


Archival Materials
It’s important to understand what kind of materials were used to create and frame a print before purchasing it. An archival print is created with inks and paper that are acid-free, pH neutral, and have been properly handled with gloves. Such prints are chemically stable and, if treated correctly, will not degrade in color and quality for a century or more.


Protecting Your Investment
Once you’ve invested in a piece, protect your investment with archival framing. Art House Dubai and Showcase Gallery are two excellent Dubai-based options. Always use gloves when handling an unframed print, and once the print is framed, avoid hanging it in direct sunlight or areas prone to moisture.


Building an art collection is a lifelong journey. You may one day be thrilled to find out that something you purchased years ago has increased in value, but don’t make turning a financial profit your primary goal in collecting. Aim to pursue art that grabs hold of you personally, and remember: when you buy a piece of work, you are supporting the artist who inspired you.


Looking for more information on where to view work and discover new artists? For a global overview, check out photography websites like LensCulture, Foam, and the British Journal of Photography. For an investigation of regional art, look at Harpers Bazaar Art Arabia and Canvas Magazine. For locally focused work, follow The Culturalist, Anna Seaman’s blog, and Art in the City..