C ollectors come in all shapes and sizes but for sheer positivity, few are as emphatically affirmative as Lebanese-born Dubai resident, businessman Charles Al Sidaoui. The man behind The Yes Collection, on view in a selling exhibition at Sotheby’s Dubai office running until 7th July, Al Sidaoui is a passionate collector of art from around the world, spanning eras, categories and media. And - yes - this is an unambiguously positive celebration of art, from the collector down, Al Sidaoui even identifying the word ‘yes’ four times in his own name: ‘In Italian and Spanish -Si,’ he writes in a guide to his collection. ‘Russian - Da. French - Oui.’
And the collection's unifying aspect? A ‘coup-de-coeur’, Al Sidaoui says. Each piece was acquired after sparking a powerful emotional bond and having once gained admittance to the Al Sidaoui collection, works were juxtaposed with selected companions to draw out common themes or intriguing contrasts. Thus we find, at the Al Sidaoui home, where the collector regularly welcomes friends, fellow collectors and organised group tours to enjoy the collection, artworks hanging in active dialogue with each other, side by side, irrespective of origin or era.
Another defining trait of Al Sidaoui’s collection is his committed, internationalist approach. He began his collecting journey on a business trip to Paris 15 years ago, purchasing a landscape painting on a whim. It’s like catching a bug, he says today, of the consequent, deepening passion to collect. To date, he has acquired 160 pieces including artists ranging from American Pop icon Roy Lichtenstein to late Syrian figurative painter Louay Kayyali, Dutch painter Karel Appel to Syrian-born multimedia artist Diana Al Hadid.
This June, Charles Al Sidaoui is presenting a tightly-curated exhibition of 11 works from The Yes Collection for sale at Sotheby’s DIFC exhibition space in Dubai, a grouping that, echoing his displays at home, brings artworks together in unprecedented narratives, drawing out their inner stories, emphasising common themes and celebrating the magic and power of their creative force.
Charles Al Sidaoui introduces 'The Yes Collection' at Sotheby’s Dubai.
‘I have a small portion of my collection in this sale, 11 pieces from a collection of 160 pieces, which I am willing to part from, as I want to buy more pieces by those artists - bigger pieces, or from a different period. I buy from all around the world - I have a lot from China and some from Japan and some from Korea. But this selection gives an impression of the internationality of the collection.’
A Lebanese Background. Catching The Collecting Bug.
'I’m Lebanese, I grew up during the Civil War. At that time, Lebanon was more advanced than most of the Arab world in terms of artists and exhibitions, but we lacked fixed positions, we lacked galleries, basically. We had the National Museum, with some Phoenician art, but we were not really exposed to much. I understood a little about art, my home had some small pieces of decorative art but not really a full collection.
But then my collecting began by pure chance, around 14, 15 years ago, when I spent two months in Paris on business. On the weekends, I had nothing to do but visit galleries and museums. I saw a work, which became the first piece I bought, it was by Patrice Marchal. He was not a major artist, it was a landscape, a scene from Fontainebleau. But I bought it because I liked it. I had no agenda, no idea what to search for, no detailed plan how to build a collection – it all came about by trial and error. But then, you start buying your first and second piece, it’s like a bug and you get addicted! Like all collectors, I went through the same disease; You start going to more and more galleries and exhibitions, you meet artists, you are invited to events you would not have been invited to had you not been a collector, you understand more and more, you go to the auction houses and you understand more the dynamics of the whole thing. It’s interesting. I mostly collected painting, oil on canvas, and that’s how it started.'
'I tell people not to limit themselves to one area of the world. Expand your horizons. Explore the other opportunities art provides you, because you will love it and you will understand how it is a universal language'
A global perspective: Expand Your Horizons!
'As I built my collection, I knew the big names, American pop artists or Latin American artists like Botero. I wanted to buy one or two pieces by each artist if I could. Then, living in Dubai, my collection of Middle Eastern artists especially began to grow, with some of the great Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian artists, past and present.
The paintings talk to each other. It’s amazing! Art is an international language. At one point, I had a beautiful Roy Lichtenstein dot painting of a lady sitting sipping a soda. And next to that I had a Louay Kayyali painting of a man, sitting and sipping his coffee, in a coffee shop, probably in Damascus. Each one is telling a similar story.
I tell people not to limit themselves to one area of the world. Expand your horizons. OK, sometimes, people associate themselves with a particular area, but try to go beyond this. Just expand, explore the other opportunities art provides you, because you will love it and you will understand how it is a universal language'.
On Inspiring A New Generation of Collectors
'I try to give this love of art and collecting to my children and their friends. My wife and I have an open house policy at home, and every now and again, we’ll welcome tours, where people can come and see the collection. I’ll explain how I collect, how I go about it and so on, as I believe in sharing my collection. I would hate to keep it all to myself.
Organisations like Art Circle and Art Dubai organise tours for international visitors to come to my house. Around 50 to 60 people came on one Art Dubai tour. Busloads of people - my wife was going crazy! During the last Art Dubai, Katya Nounou from the Sotheby’s Dubai office organised a visit by the son of Botero, Fernando, to come and visit. So he came and had a Lebanese breakfast and we invited all of our friends, a lot of collectors, a lot of galleries – we love to do it'.
Start Small! And Explore.
'This younger generation is understanding the value and beauty of having an art collection and realising it's important to start a journey about collecting. But I see some people who still believe that to become a collector, you need a lot of money. Which I am always trying to explain is not true. You don’t need to start with big names, you can start small. My advice is to start with a young artist, maybe a local artist, with very soft prices. With $2000 or $3000, you can get a nice piece of art, hang it on the walls, and start from there. There are a lot of art fairs happening here, a lot of events, to venture into and explore'.
Nicolas Party Untitled (2008)
'The Swiss artist Nicolas Party explores a topical childhood staple - the circus clown.
Here, his grouping of three in an audacious colour palette eerily recalls adolescent memories. The past offers a haven or haunt - often, it’s a blurred line in between'.
'Selling art purely to make money shouldn’t be the motive for acquiring a collection'
Is Crypto the Future?
'Crypto, NFTs and all that - I’m not a big supporter, to be honest. People who believe crypto is just an investment – something they can buy now for $10,000 and it will sell in a year for $100,000 – that for me, is defeating the object of collecting and the object of art by definition. Selling art purely to make money shouldn’t be the motive for acquiring a collection. To be a collector is to enjoy it, enjoy life, enrich yourself. I cannot imagine a house sitting there with empty walls'.
Thierry Noir N'en Doutons Pas Le Bonheur est Dans Le Pre. Oui C'est Vrai J'en Reviens Je L'ai Vu (2003)
‘You know how this guy is exploding now? It’s amazing! He’s come up from the shadows and becoming widely appreciated! So, I said, I must get a Thierry Noir. I love his work – it’s fun, its cute, there is a story, the title of every piece is bigger than the piece itself, it’s like the title is an essay on what he is painting, I have a couple of his pieces. One of them is this piece, in the Sotheby's selling exhibition, titled N'en Doutons Pas Le Bonheur est Dans Le Pre. Oui C'est Vrai J'en Reviens Je L'ai Vu with the character picking up the flower. This character is in all his paintings, it’s the same character he paints and depicts. What a strong message he gives! And I love the colour composition, the way he juxtaposes certain colours against each other. It's difficult to achieve. It's not as obvious as people think it is.’
'If you see the collection together, it's all very eclectic, and I like paintings with strong colours arranged together. Colour, in the literal sense, has a weight. Some artists in The Yes Collection use thick layers of impasto to fatten a canvas, giving texture to their new world. Others spread tiny thin lines of crayon across paper, adding minimal physical weight to the piece itself. Sculptures, in any colour, hold an inevitable weight, characteristic to the medium. Artists such as Thierry Noir, or Nabil Nahas with his fractals, I place together. They are beautiful to the eye, they’re beautiful to look at and reflect on. But then if we go all the way to the other extreme, I love the colour black.'
'Black is magic for me. Black can describe skin, hair, hearts, and minds. This hue has shaped societies, changed our laws, and dictated rights. Colour goes beyond art, which is the goal of art itself. And yet black is a very difficult colour to paint and to get right. A good example someone who does this well is Pierre Soulages.’
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Addicktion (2000)
‘If you see this in reality, it’s so strong - look at the black, it’s so difficult to achieve this colour. This is an amazing piece, one of her early works, but the yellow in the hair of this lady against the black background is powerful. It’s like she has put a light on, in this section. The only reason I am selling this is that I want to buy a bigger piece by Lynette!'
Diana Al Hadid Untitled (2021)
‘Most of her work is in the form of bronze and statues. The colours are amazing. Her technique is like going through a shadow, and there is abstraction, but at the same time it is figurative, a mother and child figure. It's oil on paper. There was an exhibition of hers at the Galleri Brandstrup in Oslo and I happened to see it. I'd seen her work previously here in Dubai, a work in bronze, which would need a lot of space. This one was the closest I could get to her technique and style of work that I could fit in my house. I always say, there is a coup de coeur - sometimes I see the work and I buy it. Price is a consideration, but if I see something I like, I have to buy it and have it on my wall and this piece was like that.'
Lutanda Zemba Luzamba Red Carpet (2015)
‘What I liked about this work is that the message is so strong. The subject matter - my God! This lady is standing amongst these tall, almost sculptural men, standing so strong. I have another work by her, of two girls sitting on a bench studying, called 'Future Generation' and I love the message she is sending about the empowerment of women. I couldn’t resist buying it. The woman is commanding respect, she is centre-stage, in charge, in control in a male-dominated environment.’
Sotheby's: It reminds me of Paul Guiragossian, the tall men here..
‘It’s funny you say this, because I had placed it exactly next to two Guiragossian paintings! At the entrance of my home, I had two Guiragossians, big ones, next to each other. And then I had this on top. And the longitude, the length of the figures in each were similar to some extent. The subject matters are two different subject matters each is different in how the human is being depicted, but the compositions are very powerful, very powerful.’
'More and more exhibitions are promoting women artists in this part of the world.You take auction houses in the region, and most of the staff are women working there. If you take galleries, most are run by women. Curators, events, art fairs - Sharjah Biennale - they are all run by women'
On how women artists and art professionals are becoming increasingly prominent in the Middle East
‘You’d be surprised to see more and more local female artists here, Middle Eastern artists, being promoted, in local galleries and getting visibility. In the past, there were fewer women artists here, it was almost considered a taboo, to some extent. There were female artists from the Emirates, Saudi, Qatar, and Bahrain, but they were more working with sculpture, versus paintings. In the Levant, there are more female painters. But it is getting there, more and more exhibitions promoting women artists in this part of the world.
You take auction houses in the region, and most of the staff are women. If you take galleries, most are run by women. Curators, events, art fairs - Sharjah Biennale - they are all run by women’.
The Women of The Yes Collection
‘Art, across all languages, has been a medium in which we can escape from gender binaries, either by creating a new world without them or using the canvas to channel untapped emotions. The female-identifying artists of The Yes Collection include heavy hitters such as Betty Yaghi, Diana Al Hadid, Helen Khal, Lita Cabellut, Maria Taniguchi, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Marley Freeman, Shaina McCoy, Shantel Miller, Sungi Mlengeya, Tessa Perutz, Titza Berhanu, Yayoi Kusama, and Zena Assi. From icons like Inji Efflatoun to up-and-coming artists like Danielle Orchard, the pieces affirm that we all do indeed dream under the same sky.’
The Yes Collection is on view at Sotheby's Dubai offices until July 7, 2023. For more details, click here.