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Robust Records Fuel Auction High at Christie’s Dubai

The third auction of modern and contemporary art at Christie’s Dubai, on Oct. 31, climbed sharply from the earlier two sales and met with heightened demand. The auction realized $15.2 million, up from $9.4 million last February (ANL, 2/20/07, pp. 7-8), and nearly twice the $8.5 million reaped in its inaugural May 2006 sale (ANL,

NEW YORK—The third auction of modern and contemporary art at Christie’s Dubai, on Oct. 31, climbed sharply from the earlier two sales and met with heightened demand.

The auction realized $15.2 million, up from $9.4 million last February (ANL, 2/20/07, pp. 7-8), and nearly twice the $8.5 million reaped in its inaugural May 2006 sale (ANL, 6/6/06, pp. 5-6). Of the 182 lots on offer, 169, or 94 percent, found takers—and approximately 60 artists’ records were set, Christie’s reports. By value, the auction realized 95 percent. House officials expect Dubai to become as important a collecting center for the Middle East as Hong Kong is for Asia. Christie’s opened the Dubai branch, its first in the Middle East, in April 2005 (ANL, 4/12/05, p. 5).

Though the top lots were dominated by Arab and Iranian artists, a handful of works by contemporary Western artists, such as Damien Hirst and Sam Francis, were also among the most expensive, bringing six figures each. Christie’s described its offerings of Western artworks as “carefully curated.” London-based specialist Dina Amin told ARTnewsletter she selects Western artworks that will likely have “crossover appeal” to Middle Eastern buyers, such as those that features the region, or well-known figures, as their primary subject matter. Examples include Elger Esser’s photos of Lebanon or Andy Warhol’s portrait of Iranian princess Farah Ashraf Pahlavi, which sold in the latest auction for $181,000, well above the $80,000/120,000 estimate. Amin further says that abstract pieces, such as geometric paintings by Victor Vasarely, also appeal to Middle Eastern buyers. By bringing such examples to Dubai, Amin says, Christie’s aims to meet regional interest that otherwise might not arise for auctions of these same works in traditional sale venues such as New York and London.

Commenting on the sale, Christie’s specialist William Lawrie says it underlined the “importance and quality of Arab and Iranian art now available. . . . The record-breaking results demonstrate the category’s true potential.” And Michael Jeha, managing director of Christie’s in the Middle East, points out that the house “has truly internationalized the market for major artists from the region.” The buyer breakdown is indicative of the broad global demand: Registered buyers hailed from more than 30 countries, Christie’s says. Of these, 59% were from the Middle East, half of them from the UAE; 31%, Europe; and 8%, the United States.

Moustafa and Moshiri Steal the Show

The highest-selling work was by Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa (b. 1943)—Qu’ranic Polyptych of Nine Panels, 1995, which fetched $657,000 (estimate: $300,000/350,000) from a Middle Eastern collector. A piece made this year by Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri (b. 1963)—One World/Yek Donia, depicting a map of the world in thousands of crystals on canvas on board—took $601,000, more than seven times the $80,000 high estimate, again from a Middle Eastern collector. Both prices set records for works by Moustafa and Moshiri.

Another work by Moustafa that figured in the top ten was Excavation from the Twentieth Century, 1973, which brought an overestimate $457,000 (estimate: $200,000/250,000) from a French collector. Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sfera con sfera, 1995, made $505,000, generously surpassing the $350,000 high estimate.

A group of six paintings by Syrian artists Fateh Moudarres and Louay Kayyali, sold from the collection of Americans Edwin and Traudis Kennedy, earned a total of $403,750. Moudarres’ The Last Supper, 1965, was the highest-priced of these at $145,000. (Edwin Kennedy had befriended the artists back in 1961, when he was posted as cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy, Damascus.)

Hirst’s Atorvastatina, 2007, from his “Pharmaceutical Paintings” series, realized a mid-estimate $481,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000) from a European buyer; and Francis’ Untitled (SFP88-69), 1988, fetched more than double the $150,000 high estimate when it snagged $361,000 from a European dealer.

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