Why one Swiss man is bringing his country's culture to the UAE
Sara Taher speaks to Kurt Blum, general manager of Swiss Art Gate UAE, a company which organises pop-up galleries and exhibitions.
With an aim to make art more accessible to the masses, owner of Swiss Art Gate UAE, Kurt Blum, is running a pop-up exhibition in JLT’s Swiss Tower over the summer. Featuring the works of Dubai-based Swiss architect and designer Andre C. Meyerhans and German artist George Classen, Blum’s exhibition hopes to shine a light on the work of international artists in a public sphere. Here, we pin him down for a chat to find out about his work.
How did the idea for Swiss Art Gate UAE come about? I studied music in Switzerland and Paris, then in 2007 I came to the UAE as a music teacher in Dubai. Working in the UAE, I recognised that Switzerland is not represented in the arts and culture scene in the UAE as much as it should be. So in 2007 I established Swiss Art Gate UAE. It’s actually unique in the way that a private company acts like an arts council on a private basis. I work, albeit on an informal basis, much like an ambassador would between Switzerland and the UAE. I organise Swiss events, but also art exhibitions with other nationalities and embassies as well. With our cultural events we want to show that Switzerland has more to offer than Federer, cheese, chocolate and banks. Switzerland is a very creative, culturally diverse and artistic country.
How do you differ from galleries? I provide art services in public places, as pop-up galleries. In my exhibitions you will find a more mixed audience, whereas in the gallery normally you see the art lover, the collector and the investor only. With my service I can approach a broader audience than in a gallery and the audience is mixed. Some people do not go to a gallery, but they like to go to an opening reception in a hotel. In a hotel I normally display the artwork for up to three months, whereas in a gallery the artist will be changed after three weeks.
How does the group facilitate a cultural dialogue between the UAE and Switzerland? In the past five years, we have organised more than 20 events, such as cultural events with the Swiss-Emirati Friendship Forum. Additionally, I have curated some art exhibitions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai with Swiss and Emirati artists. The last exhibition in Armani Hotel, Burj Khalifa was a joint-exhibition with a Swiss and an Emirati artist. All these events are the beginning of a cultural dialogue, and there are still more efforts to be done in the future.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face when putting exhibitions and events together? There are three main issues. The first is financial; we have no government support financially, so I need to find ways to pay for my projects. But I always get support from the Swiss Embassy and the Consulate General of Switzerland. Other times we get a private investor. The second issue pertains to time; sometimes, I need to set up an art exhibition in just three weeks, which can be rather hectic. The final issue concerns shipment; artists from overseas need to pay for the shipment of their artwork or they need to find a sponsor as we cannot pay for them.
How do you find artists? There are many ways. I visit various group exhibitions in the UAE, and sometimes I find a very interesting artist, who is ready to work for a solo exhibition in a public place. Also Facebook is a very good tool to find artists, as a lot of Arabic artists don’t have websites. Once I did an art exhibition with a Palestinian artist, organised on Facebook only. We translated everything on Google and the artist sent me the artworks from Paris and from Jordan, and I was able to organise the exhibition here. I get so many proposals via email and Facebook from around the world.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects? We have three permanent places for art exhibitions: Emirates Palace and Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi, and in Dubai we have the Swiss Tower in JLT. In Mezzaluna, Emirates Palace, I am going to organise Italian exhibitions in the future, either with Italian subject matters or with an Italian artist. Yas Viceroy is a place where I can display various styles of artwork. At the Swiss Tower, JLT I am now showing the works of two artists – Dubai-based architect and designer Andre C. Meyerhans and German artist George Classen. I’m also preparing Swiss Days Dubai with three events on February 7 and 8, 2014 at DUCTAC Theatre.
Why is art important? Art is essential for us; it is a way to interact with people of different cultures. Art plays a significant role in our lives and in dialogue, and there are no borders because it’s an international language. To learn more visit www.swissartgateuae.com (050 225 1783). Swiss Tower, Cluster Y, JLT (050 225 1783).