Interview
Art Dubai 2018

Collector's Eye: Muna Al Gurg

The collector of contemporary Middle Eastern art tells us what she's bought and why it would be rude to say no to Gauguin

Muna Al Gurg was born in Dubai and grew up between the Gulf city and London, where her father was the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the UK. During the day, Al Gurg serves as the director of retail at the conglomerate Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, but she moonlights as the chairwoman of Young Arab Leaders, an opinion columnist for Gulf News and an Art Dubai patron. She has been visiting—and buying from—the fair since its launch in 2006. With her husband, Ali Al Salim, Al Gurg collects works by contemporary Middle Eastern artists, including pieces by the Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman, Chant Avedissian from Egypt, and the Kuwaiti Thuraya Al Baqsami.

Al Gurg is a keen collector of contemporary Middle Eastern artists, but would never say no to acquiring a Gauguin N/A

The Art Newspaper: How did you first get into collecting?

Muna Al Gurg: I was lucky to have taken a history of art elective at university, which gave me my first real appreciation for art. Soon after, in 2006, an old family friend who was an avid collector took me to the first Art Dubai fair and introduced me to [the curator] Rose Issa. I pointed out a painting I liked and Rose encouraged me to buy it. That work—Two Lovers in the Garden (1993) by Jaber Alwan—was the first piece I bought.

What is your most recent art purchase?

A sculpture by the young Saudi artist Nasser Al Salem, titled Whoever Obeys Allah, He Will Make For Him a Way Out (2012). Ironically, the piece is a calligraphic maze. With all the change taking place in Saudi Arabia today, its art scene is thriving and tackling some fascinating topics.

What is your preferred way of buying art?

Direct from the artist; there is no substitute for having a one-on-one conversation with the artist about a particular piece.

What is the most valuable piece in your collection?

For its sentimental value, a work by the Iraqi-born artist Hayv Kahraman that my husband bought for me for my birthday. It’s a huge wooden plate, measuring one metre in diameter, with an oil painting of one of her iconic female figures. The piece is called The Round City of Peace (2013). Her work is evocative and captures universal female struggles.

If your house was on fire, which work would you save?

Under my arm, I’d run away with my Bedouin Dancer—a bronze sculpture by Anne Rooney from the 1970s when she lived in Dubai.

If money was no object, what would be your dream purchase?

I’d argue money is always an object. One has to consider what else can be achieved with a sum of money. That said, it would be rude to say no to Paul Gauguin.

Which work in your collection requires the most maintenance?

My Abdul Rahman Katanani piece made from barbed wire taken from Palestinian refugee camps, for obvious (sharp) reasons.

Which artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

The late Emirati artist Hassan Sharif, who was accused of witchcraft in the 1970s; Leonardo Da Vinci so I can bring him up to speed on his prices; and my grandfather, a talented calligrapher whom I never met.

Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?

Where do I begin? In 1996, I visited Green Art Gallery in Dubai (one of two galleries in Dubai at the time) and fell in love with Suad Al-Attar’s work. I had the chance to buy a piece, but didn’t.

What is the most surprising place you have displayed a work?

A hall at a primary school built by our family in Zanzibar.

What’s the best collecting advice you have been given?

Buy what you love [because] you are going to live with it. Advice shared by my dear friend Myrna Ayad, who is now the director of Art Dubai.