Interview with Laure d’Hauteville | The Middle East’s Art Fair Expert
Cassandra Naji: You’re the founder of SINGAPORE ART FAIR, (me.na.sa.art), which will have its inaugural edition this year; what can you tell us about this year’s event and why you set it up?
Laure d’Hauteville: First of all, SINGAPORE ART FAIR is the first and only fair in Asia dedicated to the artists of the ME.NA.SA regions. This new event will allow them to strengthen their impact on the global market and become major players on the international art scene.
This new fair is expected to become an iconic showcase in Asia for the work of well-known and emerging artists of the ME.NA.SA regions. We are not only a fair that facilitates networking and healthy exchange of ideas, we are also a vibrant hotbed for confluence of Middle Eastern and Asian art collectors.
SINGAPORE ART FAIR is a strategic model for the future of art fairs, and aims to differentiate itself from other art fairs in the region and beyond. This model is based on what we believe are the success factors that an art fair should have in order to remain relevant , as well as fulfill its highest socio-economic and cultural potential.
Personally, having being involved in ME.NA.SA’s contemporary art for over 15 years, it was only natural for me to aspire to take its rich heritage to the next level. This means developing a global platform for artists, galleries and collectors from the ME.NA.SA regions – one that inspires cultural exchange. We decided to bring our expertise and expand the scope of Beirut Art Fair into Singapore and Asia.
As a result, the SINGAPORE ART FAIR was conceived. It will highlight Middle Eastern artistic creations, with a special focus on Lebanon. A broad cultural programme, based on the exchanges between the ME.NA.SA countries will also take place during the event. These regions comprise contrasting cultures, extending from Morocco to Indonesia, and showcases both established and emerging artistic talents in the art market.
These are exciting times as we are witnessing a surge in creative energy and presence of ME.NA.SA artists within the global arena, not only through the results of auctions and sales, but also through numerous exhibitions in museums, private foundations, and international biennials for contemporary art.
CN: You’ve been involved with the set-up of four art fairs in, or related to, the Middle East. What drew you to the region and its art scene?
LdH: Contemporary art from the ME.NA.SA regions is known for its depth and diversity. This is a result of contrasting cultures stemming from rich history and heritage. The ties between Middle East, North Africa and Asia can be traced back to the Silk Road era and it is through art that their connection is strengthened and made even more evident today.
I have been deeply attached to Lebanon and the ME.NA.SA. regions for over 20 years. One of my greatest satisfactions is witnessing the rising importance of the BEIRUT ART FAIR in the Lebanese art scene on an international level.
My deep connection with the region and its artistic offerings became even stronger over time. This is what drives me when I create art fairs that aim to give international exposure to the rich and extraordinary artistic legacy of the regions, especially at a time when collectors are displaying greater interest and fascination in the Middle Eastern art and culture.
CN: Art fairs are booming, with more and more each year. What does the future hold for the art fair, and how do you see fairs changing/developing in the near future?
LdH: The art scene here has been undergoing steady development since the city’s first Biennale in 2006. While Singapore is a relatively young country, it is gradually transforming into a culturally vibrant city-state. It has displayed tremendous growth in the art market and the proliferation of art fairs over the past few years is quite impressive. I’m heartened that the fairs have reported increasing attendance as well. We have also been observing greater appreciation of art, whether from avid collectors, or enthusiasts looking for art pieces that are approachable both in price and aesthetic qualities. The number of art collectors in the region has also increased. We have also witnessed a boom in arts-related businesses.
SINGAPORE ART FAIR aims to differentiate itself from other art fairs in the region and beyond. As a ‘boutique and a hybrid’ art fair with important cultural projects, it is a place to discover young talent and emerging artists. It is also a platform for young galleries who want to go international.
We are working on bringing new galleries to offer something fresh to our valued audience. The selection of artworks displayed at SINGAPORE ART FAIR is not influenced by stereotypes, but rather by our desire to truly reflect the dynamism and diversity of art in the ME.NA.SA regions and the different perspectives and socio-political contexts of the artists. Undoubtedly, the fair will provide unique opportunities for galleries and their artists to come together and introduce their best work to the international art audience and key players in the art world – dealers, collectors, curators, agents and critics.
CN: Technological advances like Google Art Project, online auctions and 3D printing have all had an impact on the art world; what other changes do you foresee, and how will technology benefit the art world in the future?
LdH: I think that art and technology are inexorably linked in that as one evolves, so does the other. This means not just changes in the way that art is created, but in the way that it is viewed, appreciated and subsequently sold. There are many ways that technology has influenced the way that we practice, appreciate and purchase art.
For example, artists are using computers to communicate and trade inspiration from each other. Nowadays, artists are able to independently market themselves, create a dedicated following for their work, and sell their pieces online independently. Artists are also able to use technology as a new medium with which to create art.
For example, sculptures have taken a new form of art ie. performative installation experience. I think artists and galleries are appreciating this development as it sparks their imagination and creative instincts. They also use the new media forms together with traditional media tools to create something that is trendy but still a true reflection of their aesthetic strengths.
In the context of an art fair, it is more difficult to understand the strength of the influence of technology. In my opinion, viewing art online cannot replace the experience of attending a real art fair. People go to art fairs to see the art they don’t get to see in their own backyards, works they are only otherwise able to see virtually on gallery web sites. They go to art fairs for the buzz, to meet artists and galleries, and art dealers, to mingle at incredible parties, visit and revisit works, at all angles; they can feel deeply, in their brain and in their body, the emotion of a painting, a photography or a sculpture
CN: You moved to Lebanon in 1991 and have been involved with art there since. What is that attracted you to the country? And how would you describe the Lebanese contemporary art scene?
LdH: I must say that Lebanon is my homeland. In 1998, I launched ARTSUD, the first fair in Beirut dedicated to modern and contemporary art in the ME.NA.SA regions. This fair evolved up until 2005. When I created BEIRUT ART FAIR in 2010, Beirut, the art, its actors and collectors were already known to me
In the ME.NA.SA. regions, the field of contemporary art is rich with 60 museums, six biennales, eight fairs, over 30 foundations and more than 200 galleries, not to mention the number of high calibre emerging artists, for whom BEIRUT ART FAIR has been pleased to provide a forum for expression at the heart of the ‘fertile crescent’ since 2010, and from November 2014 in Asia with the first edition of SINGAPORE ART FAIR.
To me, the city of Beirut is in the heart of all this creative energy. It was obvious for us to build our project on this land where Cedars took root nearly four thousand years ago.
CN: What are the challenges for a woman working in art in the Middle East? Does being a woman give you any surprising advantages in the industry? Relatedly, 9 out of 10 of the top-selling contemporary artists are male, the directors of the blue-chip auction houses are male, and the majority of museum directors are male. Is the art world a man’s world, and how can women challenge this status quo?
LdH: I think that these questions are inextricably linked. To be a woman, in the whole world where freedom of expression is a rule, is a wonderful position. In current times, that is!
We have to thank all the women who have been involved in the fight to recognise the rights of women. But the question of being a woman was never a problem, because the main question is to be able to work hard and to bring effective solutions in synergy with your partners and your team. As women, we are always critical of ourselves. During the early stages of career, it can be hard to prioritise and strike the right balance between professional and family life. Self-belief is the most important thing for any woman.
Additionally, I think there are even more pressing issues we have to tackle, both behind the scenes and in audiences, than feminism’s survival in art.
I must also recognise that I have always respected customs in relation with each culture, in each country. I was born in France, in a family with a long history of aristocratic practices and codes. I was educated in the context of this heritage, even if I have always chosen to discover the world, to open my mind and to adapt these codes to contemporary lifestyle. I have always paid attention to the cultural rules of these regions and ensure that I behave accordingly. My family has always been involved in the ME.NA.SA regions as part of their work (diplomatic, military and business). For example, as a French ‘old in history’ family, my grandfather and my father spent a great deal of their careers in Morocco and Algeria. One of my uncles was the director of an important bank in Cairo and Tehran for many years, my other uncle has been working in the French Embassy in the culture department in Vietnam and Cambodia, while another uncle lives and works in Bangkok.
My key objective is to work with the right people, to choose the right solutions, and to find time to create harmony between my personal life and my career.
In the Middle East, I couldn’t have realised what I have done without the wonderful energy and the state of mind of the people who live and who work in Lebanon, in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai. For example, there is really a strong network between women to create bridges between cultures, between art and economy and politics, between artists and the community.
With their own experience and their own perceptions, men are also instrumental in the creation process. I have always worked with people who share the same vision of art, whatever their identity.
CN: How do you see your role in Middle Eastern art right now? Is there anything in particular you would like to accomplish, or anything you wish you’d done a different way?
LdH: My first goal with BEIRUT ART FAIR and SINGAPORE ART FAIR is to give the optimal visibility to the artists of the ME.NA.SA. countries, both emerging and established artists. We have the feeling that these events have become platforms for multiplying exchanges between collectors, artists, curators, art critics and galleries coming from ME.NA.SA. countries and the rest of the world. The warm welcome of the galleries and of the artists to the events that we create is the best recognition.
CN: Which artists, institutions or events are you most excited by right now?
LdH: I love all artists which are full of passion and who are totally involved in their work. I feel close to Lebanese artists like Manuella & Jean Paul Guiragossian, Jamil Molaeb, Fouad El Khoury, Gilbert Hage, Shafic Abboud, Ayman Baalbaki, Palestinian artists like Abdulrahman Katanani and Simeen Farhat, Chinese artists like the Gao Brothers and Zhang Huan, Indian artists like Subodh Gupta, Anish Kapoor, Shilpa Gupta, Indonesian artists like Agus Suwage and French artists like Fabrice Hybert, Sophie Calle and Annette Messager. I would like to give a special mention to Catherine David, and her last exhibition about Iranian artists at the Museum d’Art Modern de la Ville de Paris. Doing so much for artists of the Arab world, she has become an artist herself as a curator.
I work with many institutions around the world, and of course I feel very close to The Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, which has done so much to help to discover the artists from the Middle East. In Beirut, special mention goes to the Beirut Art Center, and also the creation of a new hybrid art centre called The Station and in Singapore, the SAM (Singapore Art Museum), which is presenting such exciting exhibitions, as is Suntec Singapore Convention Centre, which amazes with the largest high definition video wall in the world.
CN: The art world is increasingly globalised. Does it still make sense to talk about ‘Western art’ and ‘Middle Eastern art’? If so, what are the differences?
LdH: The players of the art market in these two different geographic regions have the same will to exchange and to discover. They have in common a dynamic, creative, strong identity, value and a big interest in emerging talents who are ready to acquire a certain visibility on the international artistic scene. This mutual respect is also shown by the exhibitions organised in museums, galleries and institutions.
We base ourselves on the premise that the Arab world has been paying more attention to Asia and vice-versa. This was the reason why we created the Southeast Asia Pavilion at the Beirut Art Fair in 2013, and why we are launching the Singapore Art Fair in 2014. However, the idea is not to duplicate what was presented previously at Beirut Art Fair, but rather to build on the same concept and create a new artistic identity that is unique to Singapore.
CN: If you could give your younger self any advice at the start of your career, what would it be?
LdH: If you know how to cultivate enthusiasm, if you act on your curiosity, if you believe in tomorrow, you will create great things!
By Cassandra Naji