The Daily Star interviews Naila Kettaneh-Kunigk

Beirut gallerists on the changing Arab market

GMT 14:29 2012 Thursday ,26 April

Arab Today, arab today Beirut gallerists on the changing Arab market

Roy Samaha's “Untitled – Following, a week in Cairo”
Beirut - Arabstoday

Roy Samaha's “Untitled – Following, a week in Cairo” In December 1972, Naila Kettaneh-Kunigk opened the Galerie Tanit in Munich and for forty years has been devoted to promoting contemporary artists. Established in Gefinor Center in 2008, Espace Kettaneh-Kunigk, Tanit’s sister gallery, charts the same course – encouraging talented photographers, painters and sculptors.
In her work gallerist Naila Kettaneh-Kunigk has represented Lebanese artists at Paris Photo, the iconic photography exhibition gathering more than 100 galleries from around the world each year, and Art Dubai, one of this region’s most expansive art fairs.
Q: What Lebanese artists do you represent overseas?
A: Some Lebanese artists are represented by the gallery and some aren’t. There should be a certain maturity in their art before we consider representing them. For example, at Paris Photo we represent Gilbert Hage, Fouad Elkoury, Roy Samaha, Nadim Asfar and Nancy Debs Haddad.
Q: Do you find you make more sales at art fairs or at freestanding (solo and group) exhibitions?
A: On an international scale, there are more sales at art fairs. In Beirut, the situation is different because we live in a micro-situation where art developed in the last 10-15 years, after the Civil War. Before that, there were certain galleries that struggled a lot. Nowadays, we are maybe eight or nine galleries of contemporary art. And this ambiance enables us to promote young artists.
Q: How do you decide which work by your Lebanese artists are worthy of international exhibition?
A: There is always a matter of maturity. All I can use is my past experience. I choose artists who bring something new, a new inspiration and a new way of representing things. It’s fine tuning.
Q: Can you make any observations about what kind of art collectors are looking for nowadays? Are collectors still interested in “Arab art,” or have they become more interested in art from “Asia,” for instance?
A: There are two types of collectors: the ones who consider art as an adventure and the ones who purchase artwork as a secured value. [They are] interested by art from the region. These artists got to be known outside from their country of origins and also in massive fairs. People are more and more interested in this art.
Asian art is special because it has a different level than the one from the region. There are many billionaires who invest in this art. It goes faster in Asia.
Q: How has the market for Lebanese artists changed over the years?
A: Art Dubai, for example, created a sort of platform. And we are really curious to see what the Beirut Art Fair will propose. There were a lot of exchanges in the past and now, artists are coming back to Lebanon.
Q: Do you think collectors consider your artists to be Arab/Lebanese artists first? Or artists first?
A: We try to make people forget that the artists [we represent] are Lebanese. We try to guide them to a general vision of things on an international level. But we never forget the native fiber. We did an exhibition of Syrian artists [“Artists from Syria Today”] that was really successful. Their opinions were respected and all the works were sold.
Q: Is it possible to generalize about the characteristics of “Lebanese” or “Arab” art that make it distinct from work being made elsewhere in the world nowadays?
A: For the time being, there is a lot of political art, which is normal since our generation has been through many wars. But you’ll see that many young artists choose to work with new media – such as photography, videos, performances with video installations – because they feel more at ease [using them] and because they didn’t have many paragons. We have excellent young photographers who succeed in international competition.
Q: Many galleries are only interested by the commercial aspect of art. And many gallerists are said to be indifferent to the aesthetics and practice of the artists whose work they sell. Do you agree?
A: A gallery has to earn money. It is a must. There are ups and downs but the first purpose of a gallery is to present artists and to cover its expenses. Otherwise, a gallery is useless. We are not just a space for contemporary art. We are the interface between the public – of future collectors – and the artist.

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