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Bonhams Sale of Middle Eastern Modern and Contemporary Art Breaks Records, With Manoucher Yektai as Top Lot

Manoucher Yektai, Portrait of Iris Clert, 1960, oil on canvas. COURTESY BONHAMS

Manoucher Yektai, Portrait of Iris Clert, 1960, oil on canvas.

COURTESY BONHAMS

Yesterday, in London, a sale of Middle Eastern modern and contemporary art at Bonhams broke records for five artists. The second in a series called A Century of Iraqi Art, the sale was particularly notable for one lot—Manoucher Yektai’s 1960 Portrait of Iris Clert, which more than doubled its top estimate price, going for £182,500, or about $279,000.

Yektai, who was born in Iran and worked in France and America, made the painting for a 1961 show at Galerie Iris Clert, the Parisian gallery that had become known for showing work by Yves Klein and the Nouveau Réalistes. Like many other shows at the gallery, the exhibition featured multiple artists and was built around a single concept—portraits of the eponymous gallerist. The show has become better known for Robert Rauschenberg’s portrait, a telegram that read, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so/ Robert Rauschenberg,” but, with its thick paint and brushy strokes, Yektai’s painting is also an important example of how the French art scene was beginning to adopt ideas from America’s Abstract Expressionist movement.

As Middle Eastern art has become more widely exhibited, the prices for artists from that area have risen dramatically. The auction results for Yektai’s work are in line with this trend. Whereas in 2012 Yektai’s work used to come with low, five-digit price tags, his paintings now command six-digit sums. A Yektai still life sold last October at Christie’s in Dubai for $112,500, more than quadrupling its asking price. Two more Yektai paintings are coming up on the auction block in a sale this month, also at Christie’s in Dubai, and with a new record set for Yektai it seems like that trend may continue.

Other records were set at yesterday’s Bonhams sale for the Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Moussa, Egyptian and French painter Georges Hanna Sabbagh, and Iraqi artists Hafiz Drubi and Faeq Hassan. In total, the sale brought in £1,677,000, or about $2,568,000.

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