Seasoned collectors almost always say the same thing to nervous novices, dipping that first toe in the art market: “Buy what you love”. Kaneka Subberwal, who with her company Art Select has organised 60 art exhibitions selling work across the Gulf and in Europe, goes one better: “Buy the best piece, at the best price.” Even the most passionate art collector, in today’s world, wants to know they are getting their money’s worth, and that can take a little expertise.
Subberwal arrived in Bahrain with Art Select in 2008. It was a time of soaring art prices in Asia, when dealers promised speculative buyers that their work would triple in value in years. When the bubble broke in the financial markets, the art market followed -‐ as it typically does, with a time lag. It never recovered the feverish heights of those days, but pictures by established artists, like the Pakistani master Ismail Gulgee, whose work hangs on her office wall -‐ rose high and have stayed strong.
With Art Select, Subberwal’s work has grown from themed art exhibitions, to art consultation for artists, collectors, families and corporate offices. Now she is determined to make Bahrain a focal point for art in Western Asia. Last year, she co-‐founded ArtBahrain, the kingdom’s international art fair, gearing up for its second edition in March 2017 under the new name of ArtBAB (Art Bahrain Across Borders). Her dream of acting as a conduit between Bahraini artists and the international art community is moving a stage further. ArtBAB will now be empowered by Tamkeen, Bahrain’s agency for growing private sector businesses and exploiting the potential of human capital, intended to support both artists and art investors.
Subberwal’s goal is to create a common space for galleries and artists from around the globe to connect with collectors and art aficionados, to encourage Bahrain and its neighbouring Arab states to be more proactive in investing in and promoting their contemporary artists to the world.
Subberwal’s personal background drew her first to the art of India and Pakistan -‐ prices soared in the late 2000s for artists like Gulgee, or Ahmad Khan. It was after she bought her first work by the Pakistani artist Jamil Naqsh, in 2007, watching rising auction prices, that she became interested in art as investment. In the sometimes bruising markets of the last decade, she has learned by doing. While art investment can begin at prices as low 3-‐4,000 dinars (about $10,000), it is vital, particularly in Asian art markets, to get consistent prices for an artist, to establish a reliable bench mark for growth.
“Culture came to Bahrain much before it came to anywhere in the Gulf,” she says. “Art has always been an investment. Families have always invested in art and antiques. Art is an asset class which is incomparable to any other asset class. I always encourage people that investing in art is the way forward. In your own culture, or international art’.