As Qatar’s local art scene grows, nurturing an appetite for it among residents here remains a challenge. One of the major deterrents appears to be the high prices of most of the artwork for sale in Qatar, which often ranges in the tens of thousands of riyals.
A new concept store that opened its doors to the public last month, however, aims to change that by making art “affordable.”
Located at the Gate Mall, French store Carre D’artistes sells art that almost anyone can buy, according to regional franchise owners and husband-wife duo Martha Blanco and Sameer Abdi.
While most galleries in Qatar only feature work from established artists, priced at sky-high rates, the new art gallery caters to a broader swathe of the market, Abdi said.
“The concept of the store is simple, that art should be made available for everyone,” he added.
The first-time business owners said they were inspired to bring the store to Doha after taking a walk down New York’s Greenwich Village three years ago. Blanco said:
“It was such a new idea, and such a revolutionary one, that we had to bring it here. I had never seen a gallery like this – so relaxed, so interactive – it just broke the stereotype of the uncomfortable art gallery where you’re even too intimidated to ask about the price of an item.
The market in Doha has needed something like this for a long time. I wanted to start my own business and do it in something meaningful, and this provided me with that.”
With over 30 such galleries world-over, Carre D’artistes sells works from contemporary artists at standard rates determined by pre-set canvas size.
In Qatar, paintings start from as small as 13×13 cm, costing QR450, to mid-range 25×25 cm pieces priced at QR1,250, to large-scale artwork in the range of QR10,000-15,000.
The gallery is also constantly rotating the pieces available in its store. Each month, a new artist’s work is showcased in the gallery, while the former featured artist’s work will be moved to a different branch’s gallery in another part of the world.
In-store, each rack of paintings is accompanied by a laminated placard introducing the customer to the artist and their styles.
Purchased works are framed in-house for a fee, and packaged and gift-wrapped as desired.
This month’s featured artists span the globe, with Francois Poulat’s vivid conservationist paintings depicting animals, to Gomes’s serene works of striped canvases infusing different color gradients, to Masako Masukawa’s dreamy, child-like illustrations.
Showcasing local talent
The gallery is one of the first in Qatar to place an emphasis on fostering and selling local art, with a mission to fill some 40 percent of its shelf space with pieces from the region.
“Currently, we have two artists from the region – one from Iran and another from Iraq, but over the next few months, we’re planning on welcoming three more artists from Qatar into the fold.”
The selection process is stringent, and takes place at the franchise’s headquarters in France, where a team from Carre D’artistes examines over 200 applications each month.
The first of the three local artists lined up to exhibit at the store is Ali Ahmed Al Mulla, a young Qatari artist who launched his first solo exhibition, Faces – Captured in Colour, at Katara last month.
Drawing on inspiration from famous figures in history, Al Mulla’s work focuses on vibrantly-colored portraits of everyone from Gandhi to Einstein to the Mona Lisa.
His so-called “box” – a selection of 40 bespoke, one-of-a-kind pieces that will go on sale at the store – is currently in the works.
Blanco and Abdi are also in talks to showcase works by Ali Al Kuwari, a veteran Qatari artist, and locally based Filipino artist Roy Salazar.
Drawn in ink and painted in transparent watercolor, Salazar’s aquarelles are snapshots of Doha’s most beautiful scenes, buildings and symbols, captured on paper.
In the coming years, the couple plans to open stores in Dubai and Bahrain.
And over the next few months, they will teach the public about art through workshops at Katara Cultural Village.
Blanco said: “The idea is to start educating children and then adults in how to appreciate and buy art. Trying to reach out to children is the first step, and we’re excited to start with it soon.”
The store also plans to hold artist signings, during which featured artists fly in to Doha to create live paintings in front of an audience.
In a Middle East-specific service, the store has also begun offering bespoke art consultation services for clients looking to renovate their homes and add some artistic flair to their walls.
The overall goal however, is to encourage a culture of sustainable art-buying, where residents would look to gift art to friends and families.
“If you give the gift of art, say one of our small paintings, it not only costs around what you’d pay for a good perfume, but it’s timeless. You’re giving the gift of culture.
You’re giving something personal. The perfume, or the bag, or the shoe, is going to either run out or run out of style, but a piece of art is eternal.”