Collecting Art: Where to Start

Building an art collection is as much a personal investment as a financial one. Abu Dhabi Art is upon us, which means you have the opportunity to connect with 46 different galleries who have traveled from 18 different countries to show you their best work.


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.


Join us tonight for the opening of “The Memory of Hope” by Ethiopian photographer Aida Muluneh, who will offer an introduction to her work at 8pm in the gallery space. Connect with fellow art lovers, see the latest exhibitions in Alserkal Avenue, and get involved.


Tip #2: Visit the Project Space

Galleries often have a central space dedicated to 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 Aisha Jemila, an emerging American photographer currently based in Qatar. If the emerging photographer in your collection becomes more established, your investment could appreciate.  It’s a gamble with newer artists as you must assume the trajectory of their career, so look for young artists with drive, who are active, energetic, and consistently producing work.


Tip #3: Connect with the Work

Conversing with the gallerist, curator, and artist about the work can expand your knowledge base and help you develop a personal relationship with the art. There might be something about the artist’s life story or the philosophy that will resonate with you. If the artist or gallerist isn’t available, 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

When a photograph is an “open edition” there is no limit to the number of prints the artist can produce, which will often make the work more affordable. Alternatively, the artist may limit the edition, meaning there will be a finite number of copies produced in a given size, which the artist commits to in writing. 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 by an established photographer can start at 10,000 AED or more. With the intention of making affordable work accessible, many of the prints in GPP Editions fall within the range of 500-2000 AED.  For more tips on starting your art collection with a 10,000 AED or less budget, 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 media that are acid-free, pH neutral, and have been properly handled. Such prints are chemically stable and, if cared for correctly, will not degrade in color or 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 work 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’ve purchased years ago has increased in value, but don’t make turning a financial profit your primary goal when 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 has inspired you.



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

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