Think Middle East Politics Are Hot? Try Middle Eastern Art
Christie's Dubai Auction 2012 highlights Middle Eastern Islamic Art - United Arab Emirates
Even as governments collapse and revolutions persist across the Middle East, the rise of the region’s art market
continues with collectors – both local and global—snapping up works by Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, and Egyptian artists at art fairs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, galleries in Tehran, New York, and London, and auctions in London and Dubai. With the season sales of Modern and Contemporary Arab, Iranian, and Turkish art kicking off this week in a two-part sale at Christie’s Dubai (Part II takes place tonight at 7 pm local time), the growing passion for these works is already showing strength.
With 91 percent of works sold in last nights offering, prices soared above estimates for several pieces, including Mahmoud Said’s “Marsa Matrouh” ($602,000 against a $250-300,000 estimate) and “Regeneration” by Lebanese painter Saliba Douaihy (1915-1994) deaccessioned by the North Caroline Museum of Art and purchased by an “international private collector” (according to Christie’s) for $278,000 – more than double its $120,000 high estimate, and an auction record for the artist). Also notable was the sale of Turkish artist Azade Koker’s “And It Was My Life That Was Flowing Slowly,” a photocollage tribute to Camille Claudel, for $86,500. (I have been an ardent admirer of Koker’s work for some time, starting when her work was easily affordable); last night’s sale was just another reminder that for art lovers as much as anyone, to hesitate is too often to lose.) And Iraqi art star Ahmed Alsoudani did equally well: though a 2008 acrylic and charcoal on canvas by the artist, who shows with Haunch of Venison gallery (an affiliate of Christie’s) and who was featured in the Iraqi Pavilion of the 2011 Venice Biennale, failed to meet its $500,000 high estimate, it found a happy new home for a comfortable $386,000.
Art Dubai 2012 & The Arab Spring - Middle Eastern Modern & Contemporary Islamic Art http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eSoWzacLZ4
The timing of the Christie’s sale, for better or worse, comes in a moment when the UAE’s art scene is especially under scrutiny. Plans for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi have been scaled back, according to the Guardian, “amid concerns that art could be subject to censorship.” (The project faced delays earlier due to concerns about human rights abuses in the treatment of Asian migrant workers constructing the Frank Gehry-designed project.) And while much Iranian art these days is blatantly political and highly controversial both in Iran and abroad, few of the more sensational pieces tend to make it to the auctions in Dubai, appearing rather on the block at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s sales of Contemporary Arab and Iranian art in London. (The New York auction rooms, interestingly, have yet to host independent sales in the genre, though with the growth in global interest – thanks largely to galleries such as Leila Heller in New York and Rose Issa in London) that soon may change.)
Still, that the market for these works at auction (and the appearance of the auctions themselves in the region) is relatively new can be felt even in the catalogue texts for the Christie’s Dubai sale, laden with clumsy English, reeking of amateur art writing and the unmistakable glossy overlay of gallery salesmanship with words like “masterpiece,” “museum quality” and “acclaimed.” Several works, too, it should be noted, come directly from the artists or their galleries, a not-uncommon practice for auction houses in the Middle East and Turkey, and perhaps an effective means of developing international awareness of the region’s most popular artists – and their markets.
Some might, with reason, question the ethics of that kind of marketing. But it certainly seems to be working, bringing some of the best work being produced today anywhere to an increasingly curious and eager audience of collectors. From Lalla Essaydi’s intricately metaphorical photographs of Moroccan women caged by their physical, political and emotional interiors, to the gruff and fiery political rages of Rokni Haerizadeh, and the graceful articulations of language, form and meaning that scrawl across the canvases of Iran’s Mohammed Ehsai, Iraq’s Ayad Alkadhi, and the Tunisian Nja Mahdaoui, they are all part of that revolution now blazing across the region, as much in politics as in art.