Just as certain lounge singers, rock bands and washed-up movie stars discovered the pleasures of Sun City during the glory days of apartheid in South Africa, so the various Rolexed hustlers and auction-house pimps of the art world are flocking to Dubai, along with junketing journalists, for a series of conventional art fairs.
Now, it is axiomatic that art world mavens would follow the Devil into Hell just to have their toenails painted Ruby Red, but I wonder if they are being visionary enough trying to dump the usual trays of silver and painterly exotica on the local emirs and their retinues of wives, cousins and slaves. It is perhaps necessary to fine tune the art market for the local tastes, however bent.
Take porn, for instance. While porn is not publicly displayed, every fakir worth his rod has a vast all-inclusive personal museum of deviance that would make Casanova blush. For comparison’s sake, according to Sports Illustrated, Yankee outfielder Hideki Matsui has 55,000 distinct items in his porn collection. Classic pornsters like Aubrey Beardsley, Mel Ramos and Tom of Finland could command millions of riyals in private bedroom sales. It would also give Sotheby’s something (finally) for Lisa Dennison to do.
Then, there is Judaica. As my colleague Jerry Saltz has observed, it is not too "liberating" to be a child of Moses in the good old UAE. Walk into your average souk or Starbucks and some local is bound to blame everything from 9/11 to their gambling losses on the people who invented monotheism. How should the auction houses react? Why, be marketing Judaica at auction to the emirs, poohbahs and grand high fahtamis for millions and millions of dollars. They would be glad to take the stuff off their hands. . . never to be seen again, of course, but think of Sotheby’s stock price.
Christians, too, could join in the fun. Want to deaccession that medieval junk in your museum to buy the latest Koons or Hirst? Araby will be glad to take that crozier propaganda off your hands for a price. Dubai is well-noted for its horse race, the Dubai Cup, and its golf tournament, won yearly by Tiger Woods. Now, who owns more golf and horse-related collectibles than anyone? WASPS, of course! Scions of a dying culture, formerly condemned to shipping their tacks and shammies to Doyle for a few pennies, look to Dubai! Whole palaces can be formatted in chintz, plaid, plus-fours and jockey silks, with Sotheby’s and Christie’s the beneficiaries.
One more worthy art purpose springs to mind, though why tax our oh-so-generous Arab hosts. For years Saudi Arabia offered retirement joy to world leaders of vision such as Idi Amin. Might Dubai do the same for art world visionaries like Thomas Krens, Glenn Lowry and Maxwell Anderson? They’re not Jewish, are they?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).