The Middle Eastern market – Sotheby’s arrives in Doha



In August 2008, the Art Market Insight published an overview of the boom in Iranian art. The United Arab Emirates, the new eldorado of cultural tourism, is building its Louvre in Abu Dhabi and its Guggenheim in Dubai, the city that has established itself, in two years, as the new capital of the Middle Eastern art market. In 2008, auction revenues in Dubai amounted to USD 34.9 million, a +70% increase on 2007.

In the Middle East, the number of collectors has increased (investing, as a priority, in their compatriots) and the market has rapidly become international. Following its first auctions in Dubai in 2006, Christie’s has included a greater representation of modern and contemporary artists in the London and Paris sales. In 2008, Bonhams followed the lead set by Christie’s in opening a local branch, while Sotheby’s plans to follow suit in Doha.
The first Sotheby’s Doha contemporary art sale is planned for 18 March 2009, the opening day of the Art Dubai fair (18 to 21 March). In order to attract both local art lovers and international collectors, the auction house’s strategy is to mix leading Western contemporary art figures such as Andy WARHOL, Damien HIRST and Gerhard RICHTER with the fastest-growing Iranian artists in the market, Farhad MOSHIRI, Charles Hossein ZENDEROUDI and Mohammad EHSAI already having achieved fairly spectacular auction results during the 2008 first half.

That said, the Dubai sales in October and November 2008 were not spared the buyer disaffection also witnessed in the Hong Kong, London and New York sales. The sales on 30 October 2008 at Christie’s and 24 November at Bonhams did nothing to reduce the record for unsold works. The results proved very mediocre for the modern and contemporary Iranian artists who are usually very sought-after in the Dubai market. Between these two sales, only 3 canvases by Charles Hossein ZENDEROUDI of the 10 up for auction found favour with collectors despite the fact that the artist had exploded a pre-sale estimate of USD 20,000 in April 2008, setting a new sale record of USD 1.4 million (Tchaar-bagh, Christie’s Dubai).Farhad MOSHIRI, seriously bid up by collectors since 2006, suffered the same setback with two of the four works presented remaining unsold. Worse still: Sotheby’s bought in its two Moshiri canvases at its London sale on 6 February 2009. On 18 March, Sotheby’s hopes to achieve USD 250,000 to 350,000 for Moshiri’s Diamond Head, the work featured on the cover of the catalogue. Will the highly symbolic nature of this work be enough to tempt collectors? It depicts a falcon, the iconic emblem of the Persian Gulf, crossed with the eagle, the more universal symbol of courage and strength. The head of the bird is adorned with the famous crystals often used by the artist. In March 2008, these same crystals were to ensure a new sale record of USD 900,000 for the work Eshgh (Love), compared with a pre-sale estimate of USD 200,000 (Bonhams, Dubai). Amongst the other headline lots in the 18 March sale: a calligraphic composition by Mohammad EHSAI, estimated at between USD 300,000 and 400,000. The artist proved resilient during the autumn auction round, achieving sales of between USD 400,000 and 430,000 in Dubai followed by London and may benefit from the renewed confidence of market players (AMCI) whose buying intentions are very high (70% of voters).

In London, Charles Saatchi has opened his gallery to young Middle Eastern artists with a three-month exhibition Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East (30 January to 9 May). His trend-setting role can only be beneficial for Diana AL-HADID, Sara Rahbar and Marwan RECHMAOUI, who have yet to make their saleroom debuts.