michaela watrelot art historian arte & lusso art magazine dubai
Dr. Michaela Watrelot is launching a course on art history in Dubai and we were very curious to learn more about her career and her personal views both on the past as well as the modern state of the art world. Read this interview to learn more.

Could you share what inspired you to pursue a career in art and how did it unfold?

Art has been an interest of mine since early childhood. I was drawn to paintings, especially Old Masters. They are like windows to the history of humankind; I find them fascinating. First, I studied in Vienna, a city filled with art and culture. It was so inspiring. After finishing my master’s, I wanted to explore the art market and collecting – a topic rarely discussed in the academic setting. So I started working for the international auction house Christie’s. Eventually, I decided to return to academia and earn a Ph.D. Afterward, I founded Arthusiast Art Education with the goal of bringing Art History to a broader audience. 

Why is it important to know the history of art? How is it relevant for the contemporary art scene

You need to understand the evolution of art and the efforts of those who came before us, as they were all stepping stones on which we are building the foundation of our current art scene. Without the knowledge of art history, it is very easy to misunderstand contemporary art. For example, how often did we hear the comment “My five-year-old could have done that” when looking at a piece of abstract art? Well, if you knew how long and hard artists fought to move away from the necessity to capture the outside world realistically, you would be able to better appreciate even the seemingly effortless artworks, like the black square by Kazimir Malevich. 

michaela watrelot art historian arte & lusso art magazine dubai
Helen Frankenthaler, Riverhead, 1963, acrylic on canvas, 208.9 x 363.2 cm, 82 1/4 x 143 in., © Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc., © ADAGP, Paris, © Photo: Rob McKeever

Who is the course for?

Anyone with an interest in art, with or without previous knowledge. Someone who wants to enjoy museum and gallery visits more, converse confidently at the gallery opening, or share interesting stories with friends at the dinner table. And let’s not forget the artists. It’s necessary to understand the work artists have done before you, and this survey course would provide a perfect opportunity to gain an excellent overview in a relatively short time. Even Picasso once said he first needed to learn to paint like Raphael before he could start painting like a child. 

Will the course be helpful for someone who plans to start their first art collection?

The Story of Art course is a great starting point for aspiring art collectors who would like to find their niche or better understand the current trends in the market.

Whats your personal favorite period and why?

I have two, Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. Even if, at first, you might think these two periods are stylistically far apart, there is more similarity than what meets the eye at first glance. They were both created by artists courageous enough to completely break out of the boundaries of prevailing artistic tradition. 

Kazimir Malevich, 1915, Black Suprematic Square, oil on linen canvas, 79.5 x 79.5 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Image source: Wikimedia

Could you name some of your personal favorite artworks and artists as well why? How are they  relevant today?

It’s almost impossible to choose, but If I had to, I would hang the Water Lilies by Claude Monet from the Musée de l’Orangerie next to the abstract works by Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sam Francis. Seeing these two movements in perspective provides a great viewpoint on how aesthetic trends in art develop.

Pablo Picasso, Night Fishing at Antibes, 1939, at MoMA NY @arthusiast

Do you believe art has the power to transform, shape a society or merely reflects its state?

I believe in the power of art to gradually change people’s perspectives and, as a result, contribute to the change in our society, like when Gustave Courbet showed the French higher society in the mid-19th century the hardships faced by the working class. Or when the Guerrilla Girls in the 1980s shed light on gender inequality. Art is a powerful medium to communicate important social messages and inspire change. 

What tendencies do you see in the contemporary art scene globally and locally? 

Generally speaking, in the last few decades, we have seen a significant shift from Eurocentric towards a more global art scene, where African and Asian art is gaining considerable momentum. For example, I am a great admirer of the work by El Anatsui, an artist born in Ghana and based in Nigeria, who crafts reused commercial aluminum packaging into giant shimmering sheets. I first discovered his work at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, then admired it at MOCAA in Cape town, and recently he had a solo show at the Efie Gallery in Dubai. He is an excellent example of the globalisation of the art scene.

What is the format of the physical course?

The course is hosted by the XVA Gallery, one of the leading galleries in the Middle East, located in Dubai’s heritage district, the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. It provides a beautiful setup for in-person art history lectures. Starting on Wednesday 19th October from 19.00h to 20.30h, each lecture features 75 minutes of class with visual presentation + 15 minutes for Q&A and open discussion. With drinks and refreshments upon arrival provided by the XVA Café. The course consists of ten lessons. While you can take every session individually, according to one’s interest, if you sign up for all ten, you will leave with a thorough understanding of the evolution of art from the Renaissance to the Contemporary. Plus, a complimentary online course is included when purchasing the complete series of live lectures.

Story of Art, lecture schedules at XVA Art Gallery

Two enroll in the in-person classes follow this link: https://xvashop.com/products/art-history-lecture

To enroll in the online course https://arthusiast.teachable.com/p/story-of-art

Are you planning to do other courses in the future?

I am working on a course titled “The Art of Collecting,” where I will focus on exploring the value of art, navigating the different aspects of the art business, and bringing insight into the subjects of the art market, connoisseurship, and art collecting. Keep an eye on my Instagram @arthusiast, where I regularly share all the updates.

About the Lecturer 

With a PhD in Art History, Dr. Michaela Watrelot is an art historian, educator and published author. Previously, Michaela earned her master’s degree at the University of Vienna and expanded her understanding of the contemporary art market while working at the international auction house Christie’s in Dubai and Vienna.

Visit www.arthusiast.ae for more info

Interview by Slava Noor