Mention of Dubai usually prompts images of tall buildings, pristine beaches and luxurious hotels. Not graffiti, that’s for sure.
So it seems an anomaly, perhaps, that the city should be host to the first gallery in the UAE, and possibly the Middle East, dedicated to the art of the spray can.
Not so says Thomas Perreaux-Forest, partner in the groundbreaking venture, Street Art Gallery, in one of Dubai’s more salubrious suburbs.
The Frenchman — smart, handsome, well educated — is, in some ways, an unlikely champion of such a polarizing genre.
He’s the kind of upstanding citizen you might expect to revile youths armed with spray cans.
He says the art form goes way beyond graffiti, however.
His gallery in Dubai’s Jumeirah neighborhood appears to support his theory, offering spray-painted works an unlikely home in a country largely devoid of graffiti — and attracting healthy prices.
Work at recent exhibitions has been fetching up to and upward of $10,000.
At any one time there are about 100 pieces on show with exhibitions changing at least once a month.
Perreaux-Forest, 43, and fellow founder and curator Stephane Valici, 45, knew there would be demand after their shared passion for street art led them to a surprising discovery in the United States.
“We realized when we were going to gallery openings here in Dubai that we couldn’t really see what we enjoyed and when we found it, it was quite overpriced,” says Perreaux-Forest.
“Then we were talking to galleries in Miami and New York and France and those guys were telling us that people from Dubai came over there to buy artworks.
“This made us think: ‘Why not open a gallery … people who are interested in this cross the Atlantic so it proves there is demand.’
“It was still a gamble because it is hard to do a market study, but the feedback as soon as we opened was absolutely amazing.”
First show, “Wynwood Goes Dubai,” celebrated a Miami district where street artists are free to spray-paint without hassle from police.
“It’s a very creative place. There’s a big street artist community there and during our last trip we met lots of artists and signed 10, male and female, from Miami, some from New York and LA. That exhibition was a sneak preview of their work.”
The gallery’s third exhibition, “Be The Change,” was certainly a departure from what Dubai’s healthy, but largely commercial art scene was used to.
It celebrated some of the more brash examples of street art and graffiti, with some work examining public protest. Again, not something the UAE experiences too often.