“Would I put this piece of art up in my house?” That’s the guiding question posed by Nina Trojanovic and Nemanja Valjarevic, the founders of Versus, a Dubai-based e-commerce art platform with a focus on connecting contemporary art from around the world with collectors. “Are they officially an ‘artist’? For us it doesn’t matter. We care more about whether you have a creative instinct and something came out of it. Even, let’s say, if it was made by a child – if we think it’s great, we will add it to our collection,” says Trojanovic of the platform.
Unlike other galleries, Versus works directly with artists that Trojanovic and Valjarevic find through their personal travels, whether it is a one-off piece made by an untrained, unknown painter they come across on the street or the work of a more established personality. From Japan to Istanbul to Afghanistan, the pair let their curiosities and wanderlust guide their art hunt.
“Each piece is eclectic, and they each have a funny story about how we found it, who made it, and where it comes from,” explains Valjarevic. “For example, these works are by an Afghani painter who is living in the hills of Afghanistan. He’s 60 years old and has survived almost being killed by the Taliban several times. He paints on metal sheets that look like street signs. This other piece comes from a student we discovered who was displaying his work in the streets of Barcelona.”
The co-founders bring different areas of expertise to their venture: Trojanovic attended Guggenheim and Sotheby’s programs in New York and was Associate Director of Traffic (a Dubai-based gallery that has since closed) and a member of Dubai’s Art and Culture department, responsible for initiatives such as Art Night. Valijarevic was a film director, a photographer for international publications, and owned his own film production company in Belgrade.
“Our aim with Versus is to bridge the gap between what art was meant to be and where art is today,” Valjarervic explains on their decision to start the venture. “The name itself represents trained artists versus untrained artists. The gallery system versus the non-gallery system. Of course, we’re not discrediting that system; we just want to offer an alternative.”
In addition to e-commerce, Versus also has a space where patrons can visit and experience the artwork before making a purchase, which is located in Satellite Gallery in Al Quoz. “We see a lot of tourists buying our work,” explains Trojanovic. People who pass through Dubai and who walk in the Al Quoz district are obviously interested in art, and they enjoy coming in and buying an affordable piece to take back with them after their travels. It’s always nice to see people coming through the space – customers from France, Germany, Chicago, Berlin – and having a consultation with them.”
Click through the gallery above to discover the Versus space in Al Quoz and some of the pieces it offers.