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Sotheby’s Inaugural Doha Sales Draw Lackluster Response

Sotheby’s inaugural series of auctions in Doha, Qatar, March 18–19, got off to a slow start, with individual sales of Islamic art, watches, and Orientalist art selling less than half of the works offered.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s inaugural series of auctions in Doha, Qatar, March 18–19, got off to a slow start, with individual sales of Islamic art, watches, and Orientalist art selling less than half of the works offered. The only exception was the sale of contemporary art, which sold 28 of 51 lots. Sotheby’s posted a total of $18 million for five sales, far short of the low estimate of $30 million.

The contemporary-art sale realized $4.3 million and was 55 percent sold by lot. An untitled deep blue stainless steel sculpture, 2003, by Anish Kapoor was the top lot of the sale, selling within the $900,000/1.4 million estimate for $974,500 to a Middle Eastern collector.

Bernar Venet’s rolled-steel sculpture Four Indeterminate Lines, 2008, sold to a European dealer for $722,500, surpassing the $400,000/600,000 estimate. Works by several artists who have drawn strong prices at recent Dubai and London sales of Arab art also sold well in Qatar.

These include Mohammad Eshai, whose oil Afarinesh (Creation), 2008, sold for $362,500 (estimate: $300,000/400,000); and Farhad Moshiri, whose Diamond Head, 2007, of oil, acrylic, glue and Swarovski crystals mounted on board, sold for $302,500 (estimate: $250,000/350,000). A Qatari collector purchased an untitled 1961 painting by Lebanese artist Chafic Abboud for $278,500 (estimate: $150,000/200,000).

Two works by Josef Albers also figured among the top lots: Study for Homage to the Square: Reciprocal, 1969, sold for $122,500 against an estimate of $120,000/180,000, and Study for Homage to the Square: True Earth, 1965, sold for $110,500 against an estimate of $100,000/150,000; both sold to European collectors.

Sid Vicious, circa 2000, a spray-paint stencil and diamond dust on canvas by graffiti artist Banksy, was purchased by a U.K. collector for $110,500, under the estimate of $120,000/150,000.

After the sale, Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s chairman of contemporary art, Europe, said the house was pleased with some of the prices achieved, but added that “while the art market is thriving at adjusted levels, as we saw in our sales of contemporary art in London in February, our Doha sale was not supported by the international marketplace to the extent we had hoped.”

The auction of Orientalist art on March 18 took in $3.7 million for 77 lots offered. Of these, 37, or 48 percent, were sold. The top three works in the sale were all paintings by Austrian artist Rudolf Ernst (1854–1932), and were sold to North African buyers: A Hard Bargain (estimate: $450,000/550,000) sold for $542,500; The Waterpipe Smoker brought $482,500 (estimate: $400,000/500,000); and The Presentation sold for $422,500 (estimate: $350,000/450,000).

The weakest of the sales was “Arts of the Islamic World,” which took in a total of just under $4 million. Just five, or less than a third, of the 18 lots on offer were sold. Of Sotheby’s $18 million total, a single item—the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, which sold for $5.5 million—accounted for about a third.

After the sales, CEO William Ruprecht noted that the new relationships formed as a result of its Doha operations are “very positive for our long-term strategy. . . . We believe these relationships will only mature over the next decade or so.”

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