The art market in Morocco


The art market in Morocco exceeds 600 million dirhams (approximately 65 million dollars). It is estimated to have around 2,500 clients and a dozen galleries, foundations, and exhibition halls sponsored by banks. Not to mention the auction houses, which can be counted on one’s fingers. Additionally, there is an estimated parallel market worth over 200 million dirhams. However, this art market suffers from a lack of laws and visibility, with speculators, illegal dealers, parallel markets, and fake sales.

Currently, about 15,000 artists are preselected to share the Moroccan market. There are only a handful of high-quality artists, while most others are “art workers” who cater to current trends. In this rich exhibition, paraded every day, each in a familiar style and perfect approach, occasionally individuals with undeniable talent emerge to the delight of art enthusiasts. It is necessary to put the data into context and stop perpetuating the idea that Morocco is a haven of immense artistic talent in contemporary art, regardless of trends. That is not true. It seems there must be references to the pioneers, to the scouts of the past. Then there is a generation of artists who know how to construct an artistic vision, be consistent in their research and execution. For the past twenty years, there has been a plethora of all possible and imaginable experiments, personal quests, trial and error, and a willingness to succeed even if it means following the trends of others.

In any case, in the current art frenzy, money governs the laws of the market. Artists and gallery owners seem to agree that the Moroccan visual arts scene holds a steady commercial value. Let’s not forget that with the creation of the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, His Majesty the King has initiated a genuine political will to have a greater impact on Moroccan art and artists from all horizons. Historically, Movida must have been at the forefront of visual arts in Morocco. Moreover, for obvious reasons, it is the only form of artistic expression capable of maintaining a certain level of work, showcasing the efforts of strong, serious, determined artists with genuine projects. This can be attributed to the censorship that prevailed in the 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s, and for obvious reasons not to hinder painting, which escaped it simply because one can make a canvas say whatever one wants, unlike literature, which took a serious blow during that period and forced many people into exile.

Currently, when we explore the chronicles of contemporary Moroccan painting, we realize that it is arguably the only artistic expression that has flourished beyond all other art forms. It showcases new faces, distinct styles, affirmed values, different movements, creativity, a certain modernist look, and a resolute turn towards the universal. This leads us to Moulim El Aroussi, one of the greatest connoisseurs in the field and associate curator of the major exhibition “Contemporary Morocco” at the Arab World Institute in Paris. He states, “Contemporary Moroccan art gives the impression, especially to the discerning observer, that it was a sudden event. But those who have followed the movement since the 1990s know that many things were brewing leading up to this fervor. The political opening of the regime in the early 1990s, particularly in terms of culture (establishment of cultural complexes, structures, the opening of the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca within the faculty of Ben M’sik, etc.), all of this was paving the way for a movement among the youth that the elders did not anticipate.”

Today, when we look at this exhibition, the artists are Moroccan, mostly trained in Morocco. They are students, modern artists. However, the political and media openness means that they have been partaking in international art debates from their immediate space. The Moroccan expert in visual arts, Jean-Hubert Martin, shares a similar narrative, taking a fair look at the new generation of artists emerging in this art film: “The new generation of artists is connected through the internet. They are aware in real-time of what is happening in the rest of the world. They struggle to accept social conventions they consider belonging to another era. They express themselves and convey their feelings through the work they create. That being said, it is rarely taken in other radical provocations as seen by the state.”

The inherent critique in the artwork is often subtle and full of humor. This explains all these exhibitions on French Morocco, such as the Louvre in Medieval Morocco or the auction titled “Spirit of Morocco,” organized by Artcurial in Paris on November 25, 2014. A well-known figure in the world of Moroccan visual arts. The total sales reached 1.6 million euros. 64% of the lots were sold. Ahmed Louardiri’s gouache painting “Musique et joie” sold for €73,700. Hassan El Glaoui’s “Chevaux Gallopant” were sold for €26,000, and his painting “L’Aouache” was auctioned off for €52,600.

Errors and obstinacy from the past. However, amidst all this growth, the art market struggles to structurally professionalize to accompany all these movements. When diagnosing the art market in Morocco, the observation is simple: “market” is a grandiose term to describe the sum of money to buy art. These figures do not exceed 600 million dirhams. This amount includes transactions from auction houses, art galleries, antique dealers, flea markets, and private collections. The purchasing power ranges from 5,000 to 100,000 dirhams for up to 2,500 people interested in art and its objects. According to several experts, painters, and gallery owners, an estimated parallel market of 200 million dirhams is flourishing and promising.

Moroccan art professionals often speak of “the persistence of informality and ambiguity, whether it concerns the origin of artworks on the market or their technical, historical, or aesthetic qualifications,” as highlighted by Abdelhaï Mellakh, a prominent figure in the visual arts in Morocco. There is also emphasis, as explained by Saïd Housbane, on the “increase in various types of forgeries, encouraged by the unprecedented prices achieved by Oriental and Moroccan painters,” embodying a new generation of visual artists in Morocco. Moreover, “it is objectively impossible to use a sufficiently reliable expertise system to reassure increasingly wary clients due to the misfortunes of others.” Often, it is the painter who fulfills the role of the expert. And according to Housbane, “the collapse of the traditional network of antique dealers and flea market vendors, which had ensured the majority of transactions in antiques and art objects until a few years ago.” However, the emergence of auction houses in the last decade tends to rebalance this market, which needs at least another decade to firmly establish its foundations in the buying practices of Moroccan art enthusiasts.

It should also be noted that when we talk about the art market, it is paintings that attract big deals. Sculpture and other art forms still struggle to compete with the profession of painting. We are talking about all kinds of art, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, embroidery, silk, fabric, gold, silver, glassware, wood, stone, and many other varieties of art with different mediums, materials, and clients. “The Moroccan art market is unstable. In our industry, professionals realize that there is less room for young artists than for established artists. It needs to stop. Everyone should have a chance, especially the talented, the real artists,” says Nabil Mellouki from Galerie Matisse in Marrakech. As for sales and collections, except for a few rare connoisseurs, “a large portion of buyers are there for the spectacle,” explains Nabil Mellouki. Unfortunately, these individuals generally know nothing about painting and the visual arts. They do not contribute to the development of taste or the flourishing of true artistic value by giving other creators a chance to exist and create beauty.” So, whose fault is it then? “True collectors do not buy on a whim but have a genuine strategy for their acquisitions, and we can count on them in Morocco. We must have the courage to admit that the blame is shared between some pseudo-collectors and certain mediocre galleries that are faring very poorly.”

According to Hicham Daoudi, CEO of the Moroccan Society of Art and Art (CMOOA), who recently celebrated their 50th auction, “There are many great galleries where contemporary artists continue to showcase their work. Furthermore, the reputation of our pioneering artists is now established on the global stage. “The role of galleries is significant. In Morocco, there are several galleries that act as facilitators for outstanding artists, such as Alif Ba, Venise Cadre, Shart, Atelier 21, Musée Abderrahmane Slaoui, Galerie 38, BCK, Galerie Nationale Bab Rouah, Loft, Galerie Ahmed Cherkaoui, Galerie Mohamed El Fassi, Galerie Ré, Amadeus, Matisse, Tindouf, to name just a few strongholds of Moroccan visual arts.

In addition to this, there is work being done at the Assilah Festival for nearly 40 years, and the famous printmaking workshop and artist residence, as well as the experience of L’Ifitry in Essaouira, led by photographer Mostapha Romli.

We must also consider the art spaces in Moroccan banks: Attijariwafa Bank, Banque Populaire, BMCE Bank, Société Générale, which, at different levels, support certain talents and promote the works of established painters in the field, from Saâd Hassani to young talent like Fouad Chardoudi, not to mention the unique Farid Belkahia, the late Mohamed Kacimi, Mohamed Melihi, Mohamed Chabâa, Saad Bencheffaj, Fouad Bellamine, Abdelkrim Ouazzani, Mohamed Aboulouakar, Khalil Laghrib, André Elbaz, Bouchta El Hayani, Houcine Tallal, Malika Agueznay, Mahi Binebine, Lahbib Lemseffer, Abdelhaï Mellakh, Omar Bourogba, Abdellatif Lasri, El Houssaine Mimouni, and also names like Abdeslam Lahrache, Mohamed Qannibou, Raja Atlassi, Choukri Regragui, Brahim Bachiri, Moulay Youssef Kahfay. Let’s not forget the retrospectives of major painters like Jilali Gharbaoui, Ahmed Cherkaoui, Miloud Lebied, Abass Saladi, Hassan El Glaoui, Ben Ali Rbati, Mohamed Ben Allal, Fatima Meziane, and many other artists who have seen their values rise simply by exhibiting in local financial institutions.

We have seen attempts falter from the outset because spending money at any cost does not always work in the Moroccan visual arts. You need a connoisseur, an artist, an art expert, a historian, a professional and experienced painter, or a visionary manager who can make it a career. We can mention individuals like Amal Laraqui, Hicham Daoudi, Aicha Amor, Aziz Daki, Lucien Amiel, Hadia Temli, Boubker Temli, Mouna Hassani, Nawal Slaoui, Hassan Sefrioui, Lucien Viola, Fihr Kettani, and Simohamed Chaoui, Nabil El Mellouki and Youssef Falaki, as well as names like Ali Kettani, Yasmine and Myriam Berrada, Khalil Amr Chraïbi, and other art enthusiasts and lovers of beauty. Financial markets and ratings It is also important to highlight the role of banks beyond showcasing artworks and artists. This contributes to developing a real art market. Ratings increase, a trend emerges, and stars of the plastic arts are born. It is no coincidence that Mahi Binebine now plays an important role in the art market in Morocco. His works sell well, he communicates wisely, and his paintings and sculptures can reach one million dirhams. But safe bets are still limited. Safe bets According to several collectors, it is important to own works by Binebine, Kacimi, Gharbaoui, Glaoui, and the iconic Majorelle. To this, Chaâbia, Saladi, Cherkaoui, Ouazzani, Lebied, Drissi, Gbouri, El Ferrouj have been added. Here, our prices range from 100,000 AED to over 1 million AED. Additionally, a painting by Jacques Majorelle, “Les Allamates,” was acquired for a total price of 1,450,000 dhs. Prominent names in Moroccan painting such as Bellamine, Hassani, Belkahia, and Melihi also sell well. While we are far from the enthusiasm surrounding Binebine’s work, prices ranging from 50,000 to 250,000 dhs already place us in the heavyweight category of the market.

The new generation is also doing well; a painting by a newly listed artist can reach 100,000 Dh. This demonstrates the trend and the desire of art enthusiasts to create a kind of pictorial celebrity. It has worked through imitations, bluffs, and challenges among collectors, which have driven up the prices of emerging painters and propelled the market. For Moroccan collectors, “Buying a painting is an excellent investment. It’s like gold. We never lose. Usually, we do well with reselling,” explains a local collector. The situations in question range from doubling to tripling, as seen in certain works by El Ferrouj or Gbouri. The same goes for the lesser-known Saradi, whose price tripled after changing hands. That’s how the market works. As explained by another collector, it’s the laws of chance, talent, the eye, and timing. And in this case, the good deal is to buy directly from the painter while they are still alive. No percentage for the gallery, no commission for the auction house. Many painters received visitors in their studios and made excellent turnarounds in their collections. This is where the gallery fails. It’s the ambiguity and lack of professionalism that many actors in the field have complained about, with blame placed on both gallery owners and artists. Therefore, it is important to have clear laws in this field to eradicate illegal trade, counterfeiting, collusion, false sales with exorbitant figures, and other publicity stunts to impress galleries. This leads the head of CMOOA, Hicham Daoudi, to say that it is absolutely necessary to develop a legal arsenal and potentially a dedicated justice system for material heritage that can conduct investigations across the country. It should be noted that forgers are generally very active in provincial cities, and their distribution network is located in major cities.” In other words, the malpractice of parallel markets is so far removed from moral conduct that they will inaugurate the holy day of reckoning while waiting for the real warning on the coconut tree, so that only the good fruits will bear seeds in the distant Health.


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