Conversations with the Experts: Leila Heller on the Emerging Art Market Trends

galleryIntell met with Leila Heller, Founder and President of the Leila Heller Gallery in Chelsea to discuss the gallery’s collection at The Armory Show 2013. The video interview is available here, and in this portion of the interview Ms. Heller provides insightful observations on the art fairs in the emerging art markets, as well as her views on the overall emerging art market trends.

galleryIntell: The Middle Eastern market has seen a lot of changes in the recent past. Could you shed some light on the collector trends in the last decade?

Leila Heller: The Middle Eastern art market started picking up around 2005, the Turkish market started around 2008/2009, and the Indian market started picking up more or less around the same time. This was the time that major collectors started supporting their local artists. They were focused on acquiring the best works from their local artists – the Turks were buying Turkish art, the Indians were buying Indian art, the Pakistanis were buying Pakistani art.
In the Middle East as well – the UAE, Qatar and Iran – the local collectors were buying [art from] their own local artists. I think that due to major wealth [owned by them], some of these collectors eventually accumulated amazing collections by the best of their own artists, and then started getting interested in expanding their collections to include Western artists. So, I have seen a number of our collectors starting to get interested in purchasing great works by very well-known contemporary artists like Anselm Reyle, Yayoi Kusama, Richard Deibenkorn, Anselm Keifer, Alexander Calder, or Frank Stella, and here I’m just mentioning the ones that I’ve been involved with. So, slowly I’m beginning to see the interest of these collectors undergo a change; by coming to Art Basel, The Armory, or to Frieze, they are working on expanding their collections.

gI: So they’re interested in the blue-chip artists, right?

LH: Yes! They’re going for blue-chip artists, although sometimes even for the non-blue-chip artists, depending on which galleries they are comfortable working with. And, there is Abu Dhabi Art, where a lot of art galleries from the West participate and bring their blue chip artists. Abu Dhabi Art and Art Dubai have been in existence for the last 5-6 years, and we have noticed that the taste of the collectors has shifted as well. For the last five years collectors have been seeing international galleries bring art that is not just regional in nature.

gI: This year there is also going to be the debut of an international art fair during the biennial in Istanbul. Are you going there?

LH: Yes, I am on the selection committee of the Art International Istanbul. It’s going to be very exciting because it’s going to consist of mainly international galleries, with the inclusion of maybe ten Turkish galleries; whereas earlier, the art fair that existed – which was a great art fair – focused mainly on Turkish galleries, and on only a few international galleries. I think there is room for both [the art fairs], the same way you have room for Abu Dhabi Art and Art Dubai. They have different focuses and bring art to the region, and collectors to the region, and museums to the region. So it’s very exciting!

gI: Tell us more about your personal experience at the art fairs in emerging markets.

LH: I went with a group from Christie’s to India Art Fair, and it was fabulous! There were collectors from all over the world – from London, Paris, Geneva, Monte Carlo, New York, Athens, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Turkey. It was fabulous and everybody was interested in Indian art. The curiosity of collectors is expanding to different regions. I myself want to discover Brazil next and see what is going on in that emerging market.

gI: Does the collector change from New York to Art Dubai, for example, with regards to what they are looking for and, subsequently, what you bring to the fair?

LH: Well, for each art fair, we select the artists to be exhibited very carefully, because we know the tastes of the collectors in each region.◊

The Middle Eastern art market is definitely on an upswing, and the busy art fairs are a fair indication of heightened interest of collectors. A recent Sotheby’s auction at Doha, for example, concluded with a total of close to $15.2 million (pre-sale estimate of $11.1/16.1 million)  which also featured artists like Donald Judd & Damien Hirst, albeit in small numbers, among the prominent regional artists. This is proof of a positive sentiment in the region – we have to only wait and see if the market strengthens further!

This interview © galleryIntell.