Sheikha Paula Al Sabah: Interview with Art Collector and Art Patron
” I like to swap pictures around and often prop them on ledges rather put them on the wall“, says Paula. Visitors are therefore in for a treat. Indeed, the family recently welcomed Spain’s King Juan Carlos for a viewing of Ode to the Spanish Republic by Robert Motherwell, which references the Spanish Civil War.
Unlike many collectors, who invest in art as decoration to fill bare walls, Sheikha Paula has erected walls for her art. “Our house was built for the way we live as a family – it’s not a stage set as we lives most of our lives at home – it is our heritage. I belive a home reflects who you are and for me it’s important for a home to be truly comfortable”, she says.
It is testament to this pragmatism that the collection is something of a moveable feast. With homes in Paris, London and New York as well as Kuwait, pieces are continually on loan to her family or in transit. ” I like to showcase Middle Eastern art in my New York home and American art in Kuwait”. In the process she raises awareness of Middle Eastern artists, a cause which her daughter Lulu Al Sabah has embraced with aplomb. Lulu’s initiative, JAMM, an independent art advisory is now its second year in Kuwait. The advisory auctions works by emerging and established Arab, Iranian and international artists to benefit the Kuwait Association for the Care of Children in Hospital.
While acknowledging Middle Eastern art is very much “on trend”, Paula is cautious, “It goes back to emerging eye and training your eye. I think you need to buy what you love because in many cases you are taking a risk. This is why it is important to know and trust your gallerist. A lot of Middle Eastern art is simply not good, so you need to be very carefully and to buy what you believe in.”
On the subject of advisers, Paula is vociferous, ” A good gallerist will encourage young people and not intimidate them, and this goes for price too. It’s a given in the art world to negotiate on price and any good gallery will allow for this as they want their art to go to good collections. I think as long as you can guarantee that a piece of art is not going to be “flipped”, and I can, then people are willing to negotiate. “
With all her duties as the wife of one of Kuwaiti’s most senior royals, Paula is often unable to view everything she likes first hand. “We entertain officially four times a week and have many visitors to our home. When I travel, I do miss a routine of life in Kuwait. Fortunately, gallery owners, often send me images and it is a natural process if the gallery gets to know you well and appreciate your taste. I’ve never bought anything purely from an image though. For the Indian bird series (Jungli Kawwa) by Frank Stella for example, I was sent the image and while I knew almost immediately I wanted it, I flew to New York for a private view before starting negotiations with the dealer” This work was on her wish list, “but I often get sidetracked from this, especially if I am introduced to or visit new galleries. I don’t have a broker and I am sent auction catalogues but I feel you have to see something in person before a purchase, especially a significant one.”
“Significant” can mean anything over one million dollar. “I’ve never bought art as an investment but conversely if I buy art over a certain price it must be a good investment. I really do my homework before I invest in a piece. I don’t think it’s fair to throw away that sort of money, especially when it’s family money. My husband and my family support my decisions and there is no interference from them, however I discuss purchases out of respect. Ultimately I am buying for my children and our trust.”
Finally, have there been any expensive mistakes ? “The only regret is what I let go of at the time or couldn’t afford at the time. I wish now that I had made the stretch. We can all forego things or pay them off installments.”
This article was published in HARPER’s BAZAAR , March 2011. Works an styling by Penny McCormick. Photography by Lester Ali. © Copyright
We decide to publish this article, because we continue to receive the letters from our readers, who were not able to find Harper’s Bazaar Arabia in Kuwait (March, 2011) and who would like to read an archival copy.