Encouraging Organic Growth
Taline N. Boladian and Juliana Khalaf Salhab are the founders of the Beirut-based BAKS fine art advisory firm, which specializes in the valuation and buying/selling of Lebanese Modern and Contemporary Art, Islamic Art, and 19th/20th century European Art, alongside other art-related services, with clients across the Middle East and farther afield. Here, they talk to ArtScoops about their decision to adopt a holistic approach towards the global art market and why they believe artwork should never be turned into a currency
What prompted you both to set up BAKS Art Advisory?
The word BAKS is actually the combined initials of our married and maiden names. We both worked in the art world for years in galleries, auction houses and museums in locations across Europe, the Gulf, Africa and the US under our maiden names, so we thought it was a great way to pay homage to that. After moving to the region, getting married and becoming mothers, we certainly didn’t want to leave our careers and passion behind. We thought that by setting up an advisory firm offering comprehensive services, we would be bringing the expertise that we’d acquired abroad to the Middle East and sharing what we’d learned, while also filling a void by providing a service that was lacking.
How did you decide which art to focus on?
Between us we had a variety of expertise. Mine (Juliana) is Islamic and Modern and Contemporary Middle East works of art, while Taline’s is 19th century European paintings and works of art. However, we don’t have a specific focus in our business. Of course, while our individual expertise helps us in the assessments we make, we are part of a broader experts’ association, which allows us to reach out to other specialists when we need to. It’s also important to bear in mind that the art world has changed over the last 10 years; artist estates and foundations now control most of what is deemed authentic, so much of our work also depends on our relationship with these institutions and individuals.
In our advisory firm we have four arms to our services: Appraisals; Art Concepts; Art Publishing; and Connoisseurship. While much of our time is spent appraising and inventorying large collections for insurance and inheritance purposes, we also set up artist foundations, curate exhibitions, offer guidance and studio visits to artists, manage collections, participate in symposiums and give lectures, auctioneer, provide advice to museums and commission site-specific works for corporations, for example. We feel that the art market has become so much more global and so much more interconnected that our approach must be more holistic. And at the end of the day, since this is our passion and our aim is to share this passion, we channel our energy and expertise into projects that we believe will enable this mission to come to fruition in the Middle East. For example, we are now producing a documentary about Lebanese art, the first of its kind, which we hope will be disseminated to schools and institutions.
What new trends have you observed across the art world in recent years?
Associating oneself with culture and becoming a patron to the arts has thankfully become trendy again – much like the days of the Renaissance or, more recently, the mid-20th century. While we don’t have many Rockefellers, there are mini-clusters of influential people who have begun to see art and their support of the arts as among the most important causes because it seems to be a means of bridge-building which can reach all communities, regardless of race, religion, class or political affiliation. In addition, art has become a statement of class – your car, your watch and your jewelry matter less – what is impressive is a nice piece of art hanging above your couch. Even NGOs have been using art to raise funds while contributing to the arts. Banks and institutions have used art to diversify portfolios for their clients while creating collections themselves.
What are your clients’ FAQs and what is the most common advice you find yourselves giving? Do you advise them to buy with the head or the heart?
“Which artist is up and coming?” is the most common question asked. Many of our buyers have become interested in emerging artists for their potential value. Although we always believe in buying art with your heart, because it is something that you should want to wake up and look at every day, the current trend is buying something undervalued in the hope that it will appreciate in the long run. Flipping art has become a trend – we often see clients scouring little-known auction houses abroad or buying a large stock of paintings from an artist directly, with the idea of reselling the work in a few years with a major return. This can be very lucrative if done with a keen eye, but oftentimes, it also results in a loss. In either case, it would be a shame to turn art into a form of currency rather than appreciating it for its beauty or expression. Our aim is to help people understand art, to guide them in making informed decisions about what they like by educating them where necessary; for example, discovering whether they’re drawn to figurative work or landscapes. We might also introduce them to some talented artists who are not yet mainstream, due to a lack of exposure. There are several artists who fit into this bracket, since the number of venues where artists are able to exhibit is limited. However, Lebanon is catching up, with new foundations and other institutions opening their doors, which makes this an exciting time to be involved in the local art scene. Hopefully, this will lead to a more organic kind of growth which will benefit both audiences and contemporary artists.
Would you share some examples of what’s hanging on your walls at home?
It’s quite a variety! Our collections include, but are not limited to, pieces by: Alfred Tarazi; Joe Keserouani; Samir Sayegh; Annie Kurkjian; Jamil Molaeb; Yazan Halawani; Zad Moultaka; Dia Azzawi; and Zeina Assi.