Christie’s Middle East chairman Michael Jeha is departing from his position at the auction house’s Dubai headquarters this month. Jeha told the Art Newspaper, which first reported the news, that move was made “on behalf of his family,” and that he will relocate to London. A replacement for Jeha was not named.
Jeha, who was born in Lebabon and grew up in London, has spent 23 years at Christie’s in various positions. He played a key role in building out Christie’s Middle East office located at the Dubai International Financial Centre. He joined Christie’s in 1999 and relocated to the Middle East in 2006 as a managing director. In 2019, he was named chairman of Christie’s operations in the region.
By the mid-2000s, Dubai had emerged as a new market player in the Middle East, and top auction houses like Christie’s became eager to compete in the region. The momentum there slowed down after the U.S. financial crisis in 2008, but the houses reported that sales continued apace. Sotheby’s opened its Dubai location in 2017 after announcing that its buyer base in the Middle East had grown 30 percent in five years.
The news comes as other senior staff members exit the Christie’s Middle East office. In 2020, Hala Khayat left her position as a specialist in contemporary Middle Eastern art to become the regional director of Art Dubai, the city’s premier art fair. Before that, Caroline Louca, the former general counsel for Abu Dhabi’s government agency in charge of culture, left her position as Christie’s Middle East managing director in December 2021 after just two years in the role. A spokesperson for Christie’s said that despite Jeha’s departure, the house “will stay committed to the region, where we have been active for nearly 18 years.”
Coinciding with the staff changes, the department has also reduced its sale programing. Last March, still reeling from the pandemic, Christie’s canceled its spring sale of contemporary Middle Eastern art. (A fall counterpart to that sale took place in London in the fall. Previously, all auctions of the sort took place in Dubai.) The move came as part of a “new strategy and constrained supply of work.”
There have been few major consignments of Middle Eastern contemporary art lately, and this has brought challenges for auction house specialists, who are tasked with sourcing enough valuable works in the category to structure their sales. Driving this dynamic is a low supply of top Middle Eastern contemporary artworks coming from private collections to the secondary market. Meanwhile, institutions in the region are hanging on to high-caliber works for long periods than they had in the past. The region has since become a more active hub for luxury sales and exhibitions.