What I’m buying and why: Dubai-based collector Gaelle Alexis on art’s disruption of social mores and her latest acquisition – 71Bait

Lots of naughty women. That’s what you’ll find on the walls of the home of Belgian art collector and consultant Gaelle Alexis.

While “misconduct” may seem like a rigid epithet to some, the works – by artists from Genesis Belanger to Jenna Gribbon – take on a transgressive cast in their setting in Dubai, where female artists are underrepresented in the region’s collections, particularly women who produce conceptual art or work that otherwise deviates from the norm in the UAE.

Intending to disrupt this reality, the collector recently opened her home to a group show dedicated to 35 of these “bad girls,” including works from her own private collection – her own tastes enhanced by experiences in Hong Kong, New York, and London – as well as works by sought-after female painters, consigned by various galleries keen to gain a foothold with collectors in the region. The exhibition includes work by artists Deana Lawson, Donna Huanca, Issy Wood, Jess Valice and Lucy Bull, among others, and is part of Alexis’ broader initiative WALLSPACEPLEASE, which designs events aimed at “the ability of art to be a powerful gentle force to be, to use” in the Gulf region “for the sake of cultural advancement and expansion”.

We caught up with Alexis to talk about her extensive art collection, the works she drapes over her many sofas, and her unlikely ambition to smuggle a Louise Bourgeois spider out of a museum.

Work by Zandile Tshabalala. Courtesy of Gaelle Alexis.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

A photo by Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki from his series Kinbaku (Bondage). I paid the equivalent of $1,000 many years ago.

What was your last purchase?

There are quite a few names to list here as I am involved in art all the time. I can get very excited, sometimes obsessed, when I discover an artist whose work and ideas move me in one way or another. In order to want to acquire a work, I always have to understand the motivation and intention of the artist. Artists tend to think and dream about life a lot more than the average person. They study and question the reality in which we live. I like to dive into their concepts and own a piece of it.

Absolutely the latest work I’ve acquired – actually today! — is a painting by Los Angeles-based artist Jess Valice. I like how her moody individuals seem to struggle to blend in with their surroundings. There is always something unsettling and at the same time detached about them. I can understand that. I myself am sometimes unable to decipher my current place and feeling in an ever-changing society and reality.

Works by Solange Pessoa and Jessie Makinson.  Image courtesy of Gaelle Alexis.

Works by Solange Pessoa and Jessie Makinson. Courtesy of Gaelle Alexis.

What works or artists would you like to add to your collection this year?

Another “rock” sculpture by Ugo Rondinone. Ugo’s practice explores the relationships between opposing forces – real and artificial, euphoria and depression. I find that very interesting. I also hope to add a beautiful sunset painting by the recently deceased Lebanese painter and poet Etel Adnan.

What is the most expensive piece of art you own?

This is a very private matter.

Where do you buy art most often?

Mostly from galleries: I am fortunate to have close relationships with many of them and some gallery owners or directors have even become close friends. I acquire less current works through private dealers. And sometimes I buy at auction when a certain work comes up and the timing is right. “Chase the work, not the artist” is a mantra I try to live by.

Is there a work that you regret buying?

I can regret buying a work if an artist then starts to go in a completely different direction. I usually find that quite disappointing, to be perfectly honest – unless I’m as attached to this new direction as I was to the previous one, or if it’s an expansion of the universe I used to connect with.

Gaelle Alexis in her living room.  Photo courtesy of the collector.

Gaelle Alexis in her living room. Courtesy of Gaelle Alexis.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What’s in your bathroom?

Depending on the sofa and at what time! I like to change the entire hanging every few months to enjoy life with as many works as possible. For all sofas together, at this moment: Ed Ruscha, Lily Wong, Miriam Cahn, Jess Valice, Alvaro Barrington, Gustavo Nazareno, Pope.L, Cindy Sherman and Dominique Fung. No work in any of my bathrooms – ever!

What’s the most impractical piece of art you own?

A pendulum work by Kelly Akashi that I absolutely love and which was exhibited at ARCH Athens in 2019 after her residency there. The work represents a hand seated on a marble surface suspended by ropes; it’s basically a swing. However, I would not describe the work as “impractical” but rather fragile, characteristic of the ideas on which Kelly builds her practice. It’s just a matter of installing the artwork in the right place to give it the attention it deserves and maximize its impact.

Work by Deana Lawson.  Image courtesy of Gaelle Alexis.

A photographic work by Deana Lawson. Courtesy of Gaelle Alexis.

What work would you have liked to have bought if you had the opportunity?

A stunning Lynette Yiadom-Boakye painting that was offered to me a few years ago. Because I’m a very passionate person, there are times when I can look at art for weeks at a time. These phases involve a lot of travel and are usually followed by shorter moments when I need a break. Lynette’s painting was offered to me at one such moment. I still regret not giving it the attention it deserved.

If you could steal an artwork without getting caught, what would it be?

Therese Dreaming (1938) by Balthus. Or a giant “Maman” sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. I’m not sure about the part about not getting caught though!

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