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Reconsidering the Value of Palestinian Art & Its Journey into the Art Market | Steve Sabella | Contemporary Practices

Volume VII, 2010 & VIII, 2011


The Israeli occupation and the absence of political stability have enticed Palestinian artists to look beyond Palestine to seek critical and economical recognition. In the early 1990s, Palestinian art that was created in the occupied Palestinian land, shifted from collective symbolic, illustrative, figurative and narrative expression to more individual or personal expression. The adoption of Western references to relate to local experiences has extended the geographical area where Palestinian artists showcase their work. Traditional value mechanisms do not apply to art created in Palestinian land. Accordingly, there has been a need to find other centres for Palestinian art to flourish critically and economically. Neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah has developed a well functioning art infrastructure. In contrast, Palestinian art can benefit from having mechanisms of representation in the United Arab Emirates.
However, the idea of a mobile art centre or the nomadic Palestinian artist remains the most viable option. Yet, for Palestinian artists who choose to stay in Palestine, they need to get connected with cultural institutions and influential curators who assume similar roles to those of a primary market. They became the mediators and the connecting link between the artists and the outside world. This ‘primary market’ does not survive on art sales, rather on foreign donor money. Personal interests of the players and the donor’s political agenda have not allowed for organic development of Palestinian art. This reality has created four circles of recognition that Palestinian artists need to go through on their way for international recognition and art market success: Institutional Acclaim, Curatorial & Prize Acclaim, Foreign Public Acclaim and Patronage by Dealers and Collectors. This path contributes to the long journey artists from occupied Palestine travel till they reach their economic target.
The local auctions and private sales match in fiscal value and they do not exceed the 4700 USD margin. In Palestine, auction results eclipse the value of Palestinian art. But when this art is traded or auctioned internationally, paradoxically, it achieves prices that far exceed the local value. The success of Palestinian artists living in occupied Palestine has started to align itself with the success of other Palestinians living in Israel or the Diaspora Palestinians who mainly live in western countries. Artists from the Gaza Strip have the lowest international ratings. Furthermore, artists who have been in the West for more than 15 years have constantly enjoyed better rating when compared to Palestinian artists from occupied Palestine.
The graphical data indicates that after living long enough in countries with well-established art systems, artists would achieve higher ratings and their critical success translates into an economic value.


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