DUBAI—Fifty-three new artists’ records were set at the first-ever international modern and contemporary art auction organized in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, by Christie’s last month. Totaling $8.48 million, the 113-lot international sale (87 percent sold by lot, 94 percent by value) included works by artists from 20 countries, with bidders from across the world.
Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art and head of the Indian and Southeast Asian art department, told ARTnewsletter, “This is a new market, strategically well-positioned—very important for the region as well as connecting Europe and Asia, Middle East versus Far East. This is an expansion rather than competition.”
The painting Numbers, 1979, by Indian artist Rameshwar Broota (b. 1941), was bought by a private Indian buyer for $912,000, more than seven times the high estimate. This work represents a shift in Broota’s oeuvre following his discovery of a knife-blade technique that strips layers of paint to create subtle shading and texture without the benefit of preparatory works on paper.
Another Indian artist, Syed Haider Raza (b. 1922), had two paintings in the top ten—Sourya, 1979, which fetched $520,000 from a private Middle East buyer; and Ciel bleu, 1957, which realized $329,600 from an Indian buyer. A record was set for Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa (b. 1943) when Where the Two Oceans Meet (Variant No. 3), 2001, was acquired by a Middle East buyer for $284,800, more than twice the high estimate of $120,000.
Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe and Middle East, who is based in London, told ARTnewsletter the Indian art market has matured over the past ten years. This, he says, is evidenced by the fact that of the top ten artists, nine were of Indian origin, with most of their works selling at prices above the estimates.
A Plethora of Phone Bidders
Pylkkänen, a 13 year-veteran of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department, assumed responsibility last year for the Middle East section at Christie’s. Pylkkänen says he was “thrilled to have so many artists across the spectrum represented in Dubai. What would normally take me 90 minutes to sell—120-odd lots—took me four hours the other day in view of the active bidding and enthusiasm for the inaugural sale, which was conducted over 100 telephone lines.”
More leading works that drew attention were Spring Festival, 1987, by Lebanese artist Paul Guiragossian (1926-1993), which sold for $64,800 (estimate: $28,000/35,000); and a painting by Iraq’s Dia Azzawi (b. 1939), Oriental Taqasim in Red, 1999, that went for $45,600 (estimate: $20,000/ 30,000).
Pylkkänen terms the event “fantastic” and complimented the 650-odd collectors “for their passion and interest” in supporting contemporary art.
Andy Warhol’s Double Mona Lisa, 1978, fell for $192,000 against a high estimate of $160,000, an encouraging price for a Western artwork sold in the Middle East. Weihe noted that Western art “was very well-received and recognized, fulfilling the intention on our part to create an overreaching international umbrella right from the start.”
Pylkkänen, noting the breakdown of buyers, reports that about 60 percent were Middle Eastern and 40 percent Western. He says he hopes to make the Middle Eastern component a seasonal event in the region.