On the web page of UK-based The Fine Art Fund Group, the tagline reads; ”The value of a Canaletto will never go down to zero, it will never do an Enron or a Marconi”. The catchy phrase was coined by the company’s CEO Philip Hoffman, a pioneer in the business of making money from art. The fund was the first of its kind, and has continued to occupy a leading position on the art investment market.
The Fine Art Fund has partnered with Emirates NBD, one of the UAE’s largest banks, in an attempt to attract high net worth individuals in the Gulf to invest in art. But this is not an entirely new thing. According to Hoffman, “art advisers have been around worldwide for hundreds of years. The difference now is that we are the first international advisers taking a professional approach. The past has seen a Middle East where collectors were poorly advised by middle men that lacked both integrity and professionalism.”
Peder Isacson at auctioneer Sotheby’s follows a similar line of thought and talks of a natural link between the banking industry and the art world. “At Sotheby’s, we have had relations with major banks since the 1980s. For example, we had a connection at Dresdner Bank, a contact that eventually led to the sell of a Giacometti for $104m in 2010.” The sculpture was previously part of Dresdner’s corporate collection.
Philip Hoffman is optimistic about the future. For one, his business is thriving with a huge number of accounts coming in from the Middle East. He mentions Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi as the two places to keep an extra eye on in the coming years. And with the wave of new museums across the Gulf, interest for the region’s art market is set to grow significantly. The real potential lies in Arab art itself, according to Hoffman. Local artists see their paintings sell for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, and companies such as The Fine Art Fund establish funds dedicated solely to Islamic Art. “Middle Eastern art is relatively inexpensive, it is opportunistic, and set to bring in large returns.”