How to become an art collector in the UAE

Katia Nounou, head of auction house Sotheby’s Dubai, explains basic steps every beginner collector needs to take


For those of us who have never collected, it can be quite tricky to start. Where do you begin? What do you collect? And why are you collecting? While some assume collecting is more of an investment than a hobby, they soon realise the value is in the pleasure of buying and being surrounded by things you love. We speak to Katia Nounou, head of auction house Sotheby’s Dubai, who explains the basic steps every beginner collector needs to take. The international auction house, headquartered in New York City, offers an array of fine art, including rare Islamic manuscripts, and magnificent jewels and vintage watches.


1. Make sure you love what you buy: Regardless of the category you start collecting with, be driven by personal taste. “Ask yourself if the piece resonates with you, and if it is an artwork, will you enjoy living with it on your walls? Building a collection is an opportunity to turn your home into a tangible extension of your personality and style,” says Nounou.


2. Discover the history behind what you are buying: Buying a vintage item can feel like buying a piece of history or in some cases, reconnecting to a noble past. With jewellery, a prestigious background can evoke the lifestyle of the original owner. “The allure of owning and even wearing something that one of my idols had picked out is far too difficult to resist,” says Nounou. At Sotheby’s, information such as provenance, authentication, research and compliance are part of the package.


3. Educate your eye: In order to learn what you like or don’t like, visit as many museums and galleries as you can, recommends Nounou. She says it is also important to research the artists and read up on meanings in articles. “More specifically, before buying a piece, be sure to look into the exhibition history to see if it has ever been on view. With all of these elements coming together, it’s much easier to keep an eye out for the best you can buy for your budget,” she says.


4. Speak with an expert: “Don’t be intimidated, just call up or walk in,” advises Nounou, explaining auction houses are a perfect place to start getting up close and personal with art and handle it in a way that is not permitted at galleries. Most of Sotheby’s auction catalogues go live on its website a month before the auction takes place. Nounou recommends taking a quick browse of the auction calendar to help you decide which categories you are interested in. Sotheby’s Dubai also runs a number of open exhibitions and public, educational talks that can benefit first time collectors.


5. Have fun: Collecting is one of life’s great pleasures, and both the process and result can be hugely exciting and rewarding. Many people ask me about investing in art, and while there are many examples of informed decisions leading to an increase in value of the artwork, we would advise that wanting to own the work and enjoying it is the primary driver,” says Nounou, adding that it is important to be guided by both your passion and what you have learnt about the item’s provenance and quality.

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