Y Magazine

Voice of Oman: Ibrahim Gailani

Ibrahim Gailani on why the huge sums paid for paintings could be a case of ‘art for art’s sake’, or not.



Woody Allen has said he would never join a club that would allow anyone like him to become a member.

For hundreds of years elitist rules that dictate “sorry, you’re not invited” have created a hunger for admission to the “Art Collectors Club”.

Auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s have nurtured this by-invitation-only group by having founded their buoyant businesses on this dictum for the best part of 523 years.

The rules are simple: make the art unaffordable, and the few who can afford it will derive a sense of entitlement on their admission to this exclusive club.

Never mind that the quality of art whether good, bad or ugly is merely an exercise in ego boosting.

Nothing encapsulates this mindset more that the sale of the late New York abstract artist Barnett Newman’s 2.5m by 3m plain blue canvas Onement VI, for a record US$43.8 million (RO112m) at Sotheby’s in 2013.

If one took high school art students and gave them the same-sized canvas with an identical  shade of blue and told them to paint, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish their work from Newman’s.

So is this really a case of priceless art or a desire to show the other 98 per cent of the population what they can’t have?

Such a sense of entitlement has become more powerful than any privilege card status. Today, the news that emerges from from Art Dubai or Abu Dhabi Art is always about the enormous price tag and the lucky collector, and not on the actual art piece itself. But then again, when was this ever really all about the art?