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Global Demand Fuels Records at Christie’s Dubai

Christie’s fourth sale of international modern and contemporary art in Dubai on April 30 realized $20 million, the highest total to date, as several works by Iranian artists set records and four works passed the $1 million mark.

NEW YORK—Christie’s fourth sale of international modern and contemporary art in Dubai on April 30 realized $20 million, the highest total to date, as several works by Iranian artists set records and four works passed the $1 million mark.

With observers waiting to see whether the current economic turmoil would affect the spring Impressionist, modern and contemporary auctions in New York beginning May 6, the latest results indicate continuing market confidence and rapidly increasing demand for modern art among wealthy buyers in the Middle East. Christie’s sale in Dubai last October realized $15.2 million, whereas its previous sale, in February of last year, took in $9.4 million. In March, London-based auctioneer Bonhams took in $13 million in its inaugural sale of art in Dubai.

“Prices have been moved to new levels,” said Jussi Pylkkänen, auctioneer and president of Christie’s Middle East, noting they were driven by “global interest [and] an ever-increasing number of established international clients participating in Christie’s sales in this region.”

The top lot was a 1975 bronze sculpture by Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937), The Wall (Oh Persepolis), which soared past the estimate of $400,000/600,000 to bring $2.8 million, an artist record and a high for a work by a modern Iranian artist, according to Christie’s. A few lots earlier, that same description had been applied to a 1981 painting featuring calligraphic lines, Tchaar-Bagh, by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi (b. 1937). It sold for $1.6 million (estimate: $200,000/250,000).

Several other works by the artist were among the top lots, including a 1972 abstract painting, VAV+HWE, which sold for $601,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000) and a 1990 mixed-media (acrylic, stamps and glitter) on canvas, Linthal-Manama, which sold for $421,000 (estimate: $250,000/300,000). In all, the ten works by Zenderoudi on offer, which spanned his career from the 1960s through the present, took in $3.5 million.

Works by artists from the Middle East, particularly Iran, dominated the top lots. The one exception was a large polychromed aluminum LOVE sculpture, 1966-99, by Robert Indiana, which brought $1.16 million (estimate: $1 million/1.5 million).

Of 198 works on offer, 166, or 84 percent, were sold. By value the auction was 93 percent sold. The geographic breakdown of the buyers was 77 percent from the Middle East and Iran; 17 percent from Europe, including the U.K.; and 6 percent from the Americas.

Michael Jeha, Christie’s managing director, Middle East, said “pre-sale estimates proved to be conservative as the most significant collectors in the region competed with international buyers” for top works. Specialist and head of the sale William Lawrie noted the presence of a number of “new international clients, many of whom were buying for the first time.”

Among other top-selling works was Farhad Moshiri’s I Love You Until Eternity, 2007-8, of acrylic, crystals, glitter, oil and pigment on canvas mounted on board, which sold for $769,000 (estimate: $200,000/250,000). (At Bonhams’ March sale, a 2007 painting by Moshiri took $1.05 million.)

Another more recently executed work, Ahmed Moustafa’s Meditations on the first three themes from Sura Ya’Sin, 2007-8, brought $421,000 (estimate: $350,000/400,000).

Christie’s said the sale set 71 auction records, albeit many of them for artists with short track records on the secondary market.

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