Christie’s Dubai, Celebrating 10 years of auctions in the Middle East

By establishing and committing to providing a platform to promote Middle Eastern art to a global audience, Christie’s has played an important part in nurturing this now well-established market.

Fatih Moudarres, Untitled

The year 2016 is rather special for Christie’s with its 250th anniversary, combined with regional anniversary celebrations taking place in Hong Kong and Dubai. This March, the oldest fine art auction house in the world marked its 10th anniversary in Dubai, and its 20th sale season, at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in the heart of Dubai. It all started back in May 2004, when Christie’s was invited to conduct the Gulf’s first art-meets-charity gala auction for ‘Camel Caravan’, under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. That night, 39 painted model camels were sold and raised a total of $1.3 million (AED4.8 million) for different By establishing and committing to providing a platform to promote Middle Eastern art to a global audience, Christie’s has played an important part in nurturing this now well-established market. CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF AUCTIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST charities, still one of the highest amounts raised during one charity event in the region. It was at this event that the Christie’s management team understood the need to expand its then 240 year-old business into this fast-evolving region. Within a year, a representative office was opened, the first of any international auction house in the region, in early April 2005.

On 24 May 2006 at 7 pm, Dubai experienced its first ever art auction in the Middle East, when Jussi Pylkk.nen, now Christie’s Global President, stepped onto the rostrum and opened the auction by announcing lot 1, Fatih Moudarres, Untitled a painting by Shakir Hassan Al-Said (Iraq, 1925-2004), entitled “The Peasant”, which sold for three times its low estimate, a relieved start to a new adventure. It was followed by 128 lots, and the auction totaled $8.5 million with 53 new world auction records set for artists from the region. The first sale also included the first ever lot selling for over AED 1 million when “Where the two oceans meet” by Egyptian artist Ahmed Moustafa sold to a collector in the room. In every sale since, the support from artists and collectors from the region and the rest of the world has ensured that the auctions will remain an important event on the global art calendar.

Mahmoud Saïd, Les derviches tourneurs

Jussi Pylkk.nen, Global President of Christie’s recalls, “I clearly remember the moment just before our first auction in Dubai…. We all knew it was a risk. At the time there were only a handful of galleries in Dubai, none of the great museums had been envisioned. We were even unsure if the auction concept and the bidding process would be understood by our new clients. But what we did have was great art, and that is always the secret wherever we do business. It is a great tribute to Dubai, to the government bodies, collectors, fairs, gallerists and most importantly the artists, that we have collectively built a market that back in 2006 when I stepped into the rostrum, I could only have dreamt of.” A year later, in January 2007, Christie’s added another sale category to its offering, Jewels and Watches. Still running after 10 years but in a slightly modified way, jewels are available via the Private Sale channel that Christie’s is offering aside the auction business, and watches have become a stand-alone auction, taking place twice a year. And again the following year, the highest price for any work sold at auction in the Middle East was achieved, when “The Wall (Oh Persepolis)” by Parviz Tanavoli sold for over $2.8 million.

Nja Mahdaoui, Graphemes

Over the past 10 years, Dubai’s cultural scene has flourished beyond normal standards. Art fairs, Design Days, a design district, 60 to 80 internationally operating galleries, museum projects and private foundations have all joined the scene. By committing to regular sale seasons and investing in a team of local specialists and a senior management team based in Dubai, Christie’s has helped from the start to nurture and grow what is now a truly international market place. The 20th Sale Season in March 2016, NOW AND TEN, marked a decade of dealing with art from the region by presenting a curated sale, which offered the 40 best works by leading Middle Eastern artists from private collections to celebrate Middle Eastern art from over the past 100 years. The auction was highlighted by a nearly 11-metre long and 3-metre high triptych, entitled “Sarajevo” by Omar El-Nagdi (Egyptian, b. 1931), painted in April 1992, selling for $1,145,000 with a pre-sale estimate of $400,000 to 600,000, and setting a new world auction record for the artist at auction.

Standing Figure (Girl), Jewad Selim

The “Sarajevo” triptych is undeniably the most important and the most ambitious work produced by El-Nagdi in terms of complexity, monumentality, expression and subject matter. El-Nagdi, a Muslim Egyptian painter, represents the slaughter of his Bosniak brothers in Sarajevo with the traditionally Christian format of the triptych, a theme that no other artist has ever dared to paint on such a vast scale. El-Nagdi’s “Sarajevo” is without doubt one of the most poignant depictions of the horrors of war ever painted since 1937, when Pablo Picasso completed his iconic piece “Guernica”. Art from the Middle East is widely exhibited today in major institutions around the world. International galleries are supporting artists from this region by showcasing their work in London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam and Berlin, to name a few cities. Middle Eastern galleries are participating more frequently in art fairs around the globe. This means that art from the Middle East is being enjoyed by a larger group of collectors and art enthusiasts, which is a fantastic achievement in just 10 years!

Fahr El-Nissa Zei, Break of the Atom and Vegetal Life

The next sale season in Dubai will take place on October 18 and 19 at the Emirates Jumeirah Towers Hotel. A presale exhibition will be held Sunday October 16, and is open to the public.


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