Dana Farouki and Richard Chang talk to Alia Al-Senussi

Text by Alia Al-Senussi

Richard Chang and Dana Farouki are both confirmed New Yorkers with distinct cultural ties to the "emerging" world - Chang to China and Farouki to the Middle East. They became friends through serving together on the board of MoMA PS1. Both also hold a variety of other positions with public art institutions globally. Chang and Farouki have ambitions to create a new generation of art enthusiasts in these regions by showing the benefits of thoughtful collecting.

Alia Al-Senussi You both share this moral imperative in your roles as philanthropists and patrons of the arts to support galleries and young artists.
Dana Farouki For me, it's more about supporting the artist specifically, especially those from the Middle East. They need all the support they can get in establishing relationships with the global art community. I've made it one of my goals to help them do that.
Richard Chang Supporting galleries is also important. When you work with the gallery, you are supporting the artist. This is particularly true for younger and lesser-known artists. The gallery often acts as the artist's frontline. They introduce the artist to the community. They manage the artist's career by placing works into great collections and institutions. They help an artist realise projects. They do a lot of the heavy lifting and - as a collector - by supporting a good gallery you are playing a part in this "eco-system". I look at art from all over the world. As a collector, I buy art and I support the artist and the gallery at the same time. As a patron, I take great pride in helping artists by funding exhibitions and supporting projects.

AAS  You both actively participate on boards, go to talks and art fairs around the world so clearly an exchange of ideas is important.
RC Art is about ideas. You have to be around to see all of the new ideas being generated around the world. I've travelled to as many as 13 different art fairs and biennials in a given year. Art has taken me to new places and has given me access to many different cultures. It's a real engagement for me.

AAS All over the world, we struggle with placing labels on artists.
DF Labels have definitely been problematic, particularly in the Middle East. It's hard to group artists from the Middle East together because their histories are often so varied. They can be born somewhere, but live and work in the west… The classifications are problematic, for example, contemporary Islamic often includes Arab Christians. And when you talk about a "contemporary Middle Eastern artist", you're associating an Iranian or Turkish artist with a Palestinian or Syrian artist. Many find this troubling because they don't necessarily feel connected to each other. That's why you encounter issues when you do regional group shows, like MoMA's contemporary Islamic art show, Seventeen Ways Of Looking [2006]. On one hand, these shows are really useful because they introduce a public that's not necessarily familiar with the region to artists from this part of the world. But, curatorially, the premise is usually weak and they don't end up being critically acclaimed because there's not much that binds the work together.

AAS It's probably a useful learning experience if you didn't know some of the artists.
RC I have yet to meet an artist in Beijing who prefers to be identified as a Chinese artist rather than a contemporary artist. I recall having a cigar with the artist Yan Pei-Ming at his studio one afternoon in Shanghai. At the time, he was particularly disturbed at the high level of interest in Chinese contemporary art shows in the West. The conclusion was that art is sprouting from all parts of the world, and in more established circles, emerging markets need to be labelled as such. Perhaps it helps the old guard better contextualise what is happening in the new economy?

AAS Your philanthropic involvement in New York is very different from the London model.
DF I don't think anything can compare with the American model for philanthropy. It's existed for so long in New York because many museums don't have significant public funding. This forced them to develop another model and it's been successful. Richard and I are on the board of MoMA PS1 and our fellow board members are a great group. These people have literally committed entire lives to enhancing such institutions. It's touching.
RC MoMA's board is particularly special. It is almost entirely comprised of art collectors. Members have a strong passion and knowledge for art, and they can get into a real debate about it.

AAS Richard, you're building your museum in China. Are you going to model it on a New York museum or do you want to create your own model and franchise yourself?
RC I'm probably more interested in franchising myself. There is a lot you can do as an individual by looking at the art community on a global level. I will focus my private space in Beijing because it's most needed there. But as an individual, I am spreading myself around the world and that allows me to bring more to the table. In addition to MoMA PS1, I also sit on the board of the Whitney and the Royal Academy of Arts. They are all very different institutions. I am also a member of the International Council at the Tate [in UK]. By being in New York, London, and Beijing, it allows me to do a lot more and go forward.

AAS It's more about spreading knowledge and franchising yourself than replicating those institutions around the world.
RC There are other institutions that have their own model. I think franchising yourself is the right way to approach the global scene. You pick up things from each area, add a bit to what's already amazing and continue to make it more international.
DF That's a really smart way of putting it.

AAS Dana, you were Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's first employee, and since then its construction has been on hold. Franchising yourself, as a person rather than institution, is very important for the emerging art worlds in Dubai and the Middle East. Museums have done better in embryonic institutions in Qatar and Dubai. What do you think, Dana?
DF I'm still supportive of the Guggenheim model, because it has succeeded in Bilbao and in collaboration with Deutsche Bank in Berlin. I have high hopes for what it could bring to Abu Dhabi. You couldn't necessarily think of it as a franchise because replicating an existing model in a different city is not feasible. There could never be a MoMA PS1 in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Beijing. But there certainly should be an organisation that is inspired by that model. It's my hope that a lot of institutions will evolve in this part of the world and take input from successful western models. My mission is to expose the organisations that I am involved with to this part of the world.

AAS Do you have any parting thoughts on your choices as patrons, philanthropists and collectors?
RC The art world is no longer centred on a particular hemisphere. It's pretty much everywhere. So what we can do is to contribute in our own way. The universe is big and the art community is fragmented; we need to pull it closer together. It's really about fostering a universal dialogue between all the stakeholders in the global art community. Big cities around the world will continue to play a major role in driving tourism and generating cultural interests for its visitors. This is all part of the globalisation of the art world. I'm in the middle and I try to pull some of it together. §