Sunaina Rana / EMIRATES BUSINESS
With a dream to set up a public space dedicated to art decorative in UAE, like what Le Louvre museum has done in Paris or what Design Museum has done in Milano, world-famous art collector Guillaume Cuiry is contributing remarkably in enhancing the art scene of the Emirates.
He is undoubtedly one of the main actors of the UAE art industry and is credited with bringing the designs of renowned European artists in the homes of many in this country.
A reliable art-furniture dealer and collector, Cuiry is a well-known expert in buying, selling and collecting vintage ‘art furniture’ for the last over 35 years. He is the Founder of La Galerie Nationale, a Parisian gallery that hosts all original vintage art furniture design of the 20th century in Dubai.
This gallery was established in 2011 and he is representing prominent designers such as Raymond Loewy, Pierre Guariche, Marco Zanuso, Alexandre Noil, Geoffrey Harcourt, Max Ingrand, Serge Mouille and Warren Platner.
Coming from a traditional family, Cuiry’s love for designer art furniture started when his parents, ardent lovers of 18th century decoration, set up his study room with Joe Colombo pieces. Later, his best friend Jacques, who is into antique furniture, exposed him to 40’s and to 50’s antique pieces, which is when he started to explore the world of vintage furniture.
Emirates Business talks to Cuiry to get an insight into the burgeoning art scene in the region.
Excerpts from the conversation
How is art industry is contributing to the overall economy of the UAE?
Art has been emerging as a new asset class for the well-diversified portfolios. The reported returns are enough to catch anyone’s eye: the index of fine art sales, used by art advisors to sell art funds, shows an average annual return of 10 percent over the past four decades.
As per American Planning Association, arts, culture and creativity could improve a community’s competitive edge while laying the foundation for defining the sense of place. This industry has the potential to attract stakeholders owing to its ability of integrating the vision of community and business leaders.
This industry has also emerged into the form of a potential employer as it is significantly contributing to the development of a skilled workforce in the country.
What potential do you see in this sector?
It’s obviously huge, because interior architects, decorators, connoisseurs, advisors and art lovers definitely update their home decoration plans and they possess genuine taste of vintage furniture. We have 20 years of growth perspective in front of us. Of course expatriates are also huge fan of vintage and antique design but now a lot of young Emiratis are changing interior decoration ambience as well after their trips around the world. They are keen to invest in genuine pieces.
What are the challenges that the industry is facing in the region?
There are two main challenges: to integrate vintage furniture design as a timeless and mature art decoration and to fight copies. My personal challenge could be to help and support UAE authorities to set up a public space dedicated to art decorative like what Le Louvre museum has done in Paris or Design Museum in Milano.
What is the demand of ‘vintage furniture’ in the Gulf as compared to Europe?
There is good demand in the region for quality vintage art furniture. However, it is still in the infancy compared to Europe. But I am very optimistic about the future.
You are running an innovative business model in the Emirates. What inspired you to start your journey in UAE?
The UAE in general and Dubai in particular promote a lifestyle that is multi-cultural, playful and positive. I represent different artists and their artworks in this country. Their creations’ colours, shapes and materials match with the enthusiasm that this country oozes. Therefore it was an obvious choice to start my business.
You have been buying, selling and collecting vintage ‘art furniture’ for the past 35 years; can you remember what was that one incident that led you towards the art industry?
Coming from a traditional family, my love for designer art furniture started when my parents, who themselves were lover of 18th century decoration, set up my study room with Joe Colombo pieces. Later, my very best friend Jacques, who is into antique furniture, exposed me to 1940’s and to 1950’s antique pieces. It was indeed my friend Jacques who became a source of inspiration, which led me to dedicate my free time studying the 20th century designs and designers and eventually setting up my own galley in the UAE.
La Galerie Nationale in 2011 opened doors for the prominent designers from the west, who is your favourite designer among all?
I cannot just pick one designer as there are too many good ones. However, I could say I like the works of Marco Zanuso who was one of a group of Italian designers from Milan shaping the international concept of ‘good design’ in the post-war years.
In particular, I love the ‘Lady’ armchair he has designed as it represents the graceful design of the 50s, rounded off by fluid lines, comfort, solidity and timelessness. Because of this armchair, the ‘Lady’, and its cousin the ‘Senior’, people rediscover vintage design created 50 years ago, which is now again very popular. Made in 1953, the shape and colour of the ‘Lady’ armchair was iconic at that time. For me it is a great piece of design and its fantastic colour is a visual feast for the eyes.
You have often been invited to talk about contemporary art and design in universities, public events and even in some private sessions, tell about one of your memorable experiences.
Like any passionate collector, one of my great pleasures is to talk about my passion. With a diverse audience, I communicate this passion for design furniture, art and history. I share my knowledge with the public through these talks. The best thing to do is to ‘inform, educate, learn to love and appreciate’. I accept all questions because they all bring an educational and informative answer. The most memorable experiences are when I present the very contemporary design furniture and the public discover that it may have a 70 or 90 years history when all the audience thought the piece was completely new and modern.
Your forte is vintage designs, which region and era you primarily focus on and other than vintage what else do you offer?
My knowledge of design was born in France with French and Italian designers, but I also represent the flavor of the Nordic countries. My background and expertise is definitely European. But I have, in recent years, taken as much interest to discover the design of Central America and South America. I think their work is underestimated by specialists. Obviously, living and working in the Middle East, I am completely aware to what might one day be iconic in the region.
What has been your favourite piece of art so far?
I have a lot of favorites. One of them is the ‘Esox’ chair, the first iconic piece designed by Jean-Pierre Laporte in the early 70’s. High level designed, this armchair combines comfort and aesthetic. One is at the Beaubourg Museum in Paris. JP Laporte was very surprised when he discovered that the other piece is in Dubai.
I love this chair as it is elegant, comfortable yet strong. I particularly like the mix of materials, from the very soft fabric lining to the lacquer base. The shape is fluid and envelops you. It’s very modern design reveals the portrait of a ‘virtuoso of forms’, and reflects a time of great creative freedom echoing the 1970’s era.
In your opinion, what is your contribution to the art industry?
The art industry needs creative leaders. My work consists of promoting original vintage art to help inspire new designers and fight against the copyists. Decades ago when I started, just a few people like vintage design. Now it’s really fashionable to mix different periods in your home decoration. Galleries like mine are also at the origin of re-edition of iconic furniture by famous world companies. But re-edition is not the cup of tea of our clients. They only want the original piece.
What is that one goal that you aim to achieve in the next five years?
My goal in the Middle East is to ensure that all the homes get at least one piece of furniture design, which is vintage, unique and genuine piece. Once it is done, only then I could confirm that my goal is achieved.