Contemporary Iranian Artists

[03 Aug 2012]


Friday is Top day! Every alternate Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week’s topic is the 10 best auction results for contemporary Iranian artists.

Despite its exacerbated social and political climate, Iran is currently experiencing a remarkable artistic renaissance. The spectacular contradictions of contemporary Iranian society have shaken up and nurtured the country’s artists many of whom have been very active now for several years, whether exiled or otherwise, and Iranian artists, often conveying socio-political messages, have been doing their best to counter Western prejudices. Just like the country itself, torn between tradition and modernity, Iranian art combines a very strong creative will with an invincible respect for tradition. Its art, rich in diversity and originality, has prompted influential museums such as the Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Guggenheim in New York (amongst others) to make room on their walls and acquire works by Iranian artists. At the same time, art galleries, auction houses, collectors and others in the art world have all joined the fray. The first specialty sale of Middle Eastern art was held at Christie’s in Dubai in May 2006 and was a turning point that allowed artists from the region to integrate the international marketplace. Among the many countries in the Middle-East region, Iran, with its record sales over the last 6 years, now has a particularly prominent place. For example, in April 2008 Parviz TANAVOLI(1937)The wall (oh, persepolis) fetched $2.5 million which is the best-ever auction result for a Middle Eastern artist. It goes without saying that price inflation has been a key factor in this renewed interest in Iranian art and it has inevitably led the international art market, previously only interested in antiques from the region, to turn their attention to the country’s Modern and Contemporary art scenes.
So, which Contemporary Iranian artists have made an impression on the market over the past 12 months?
The minimum entry ticket to the Top 10 results for Iranian artists over the past year is $86,000. At this level of prices there are only four artists who share the Top 10 results between them. These artists are Farhad MOSHIRI, Afshin PIRHASHEMI, Reza DERAKSHANI and Shirin NESHAT. The undisputed leader of the Iranian Contemporary art market in price terms is Farad Moshiri and his six places in this ranking comes as a no surprise. The well-known photographer Shirin Neshat is only in eighth place which is also not surprising given the lower price thresholds generated by her preferred medium. The young painter Afshin Pirhashemi (b. 1974) was recognised by the market in 2010 when his work generated high auction results and he easily takes the second place in this ranking, while Reza Derakshani regained the attention of local collectors by signing 2 new auction records, giving him the 5th and the 9th places in this Top.

Top 10 : Contemporary Iranian Artists

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Farhad MOSHIRI $175560 “14S8” (2004) 28/06/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
2 Afshin PIRHASHEMI $130000 Heading towards New York (2011) 25/10/2011 (Christie’s DUBAI)
3 Farhad MOSHIRI $120000 Untitled (1998) 25/10/2011 (Christie’s DUBAI)
4 Farhad MOSHIRI $120000 Untitled (Jar) (2001) 25/10/2011 (Christie’s DUBAI)
5 Reza DERAKSHANI $120000 Prelude in Pink (2010-2011) 25/10/2011 (Christie’s DUBAI)
6 Farhad MOSHIRI $100000 “Untitled Number” (2011) 25/10/2011 (Christie’s DUBAI)
7 Farhad MOSHIRI $98964 Untitled (2003) 01/06/2011 (Bonhams LONDON)
8 Shirin NESHAT $95000 “Shameless” (1997) 09/11/2011 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
9 Reza DERAKSHANI $95000 “Anaré dooné dooné (from the Pomegranate series)” (2007) 17/04/2012 (Christie’s DUBAI)
10 Farhad MOSHIRI $86779 Color of God (2011) 15/10/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)

Farhad Moshiri‘s work combines creativity, thirst for innovation and tradition. It is a perfect example of the Contemporary scene in Iran. After spending 12 years in Los Angeles, Farhad Moshiri now lives and works in Teheran. Very inspired by Pop Art and dubbed by many critics the Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons of Iran, he has developed a hybrid visual language which blends Iranian and Western popular cultures. Behind the apparent kitsch of his works, he communicates ironic and sometimes cynical messages against the backdrop of world events. This ranking confirms his position as the star of the Iranian Contemporary art market with six results above $86,000 in the last 12 months, including one at over $175,000 for 14S8 (Phillips de Pury & Company London, 8 June 2011) giving him the 1st place. Farhad Moshiri’s strong auction performances are not new. On 24 May 2006 at Christie’s specialist Middle Eastern Art sale in Dubai, he made a sensational auction debut with his Iran Map 1 which fetched $40,000, four times its high estimate. In six years, 69 of his works have gone under the hammer of which 43 have fetched over $50,000. The support of major galleries such as the Perrotin Gallery in Paris and The Third Line Gallery in Dubai has naturally contributed to the dynamism of Moshiri’s market.

Sole representative of the new generation of Iranian artists in this ranking, Afshin Pirhashemi was born, studied, lives and works in Teheran. Like many of his compatriots, he produces work reflecting the daily life and the socio-political climate of his country. His large paintings mostly depict women in a style that is close to photorealism. Well-crafted but not particularly new, the works of Afshin Pirhashemi immediately formed a buoyant relationship with the secondary market. His auction debut in October 2007 occurred in two stages. First, a large canvas (120 x 240 cm) found a buyer at more than $8,000 at Arcurial in Paris (1 October 2007), a good result for a young artist, but nothing extraordinary. Barely 30 days later, Christie’s Dubai raised the stakes considerably and managed to fetch $50,000 for a smaller canvas (90 x 200 cm), more than twice its high estimate. The following year on 30 April 2008 Christie’s Dubai generated $110,000 for one of his paintings. His auction prices continued to rise and reached a speculative peak in 2010 with two works fetching over $400,000: his Rapture was acquired for $460,000 (Christie’s Dubai, 27 April) then his Seduction found a buyer for $430,000 (Christie’s Dubai, 26 October). In 2011, Christie’s Dubai again produced a good result for the artist – $130,000 for Heading towards New York (25 October 2011) – that not only gives him second place in this Top, but was also the best-ever result for an Iranian artist under 40.

The oldest artist in this Top, Reza Derakshani (b. 1952) lived 16 years in the United States before returning to settle in Teheran for 7 years, and then leaving again in 2010. A renowned painter and acclaimed musician, Reza Derakshani creates abstract works that bristle with musicality and a clear love of nature and his origins. Oblivious to the political stances of his compatriots, the work of Reza Derakshani does not challenge tradition. His first steps in the secondary market were classically organised by Christie’s and Bonhams Dubai and the following year (2008) his best results were recorded in Dubai at between $55,000 and $85,000 (a record for Gold Fig-Black Fig, Bonhams Dubai, 24 November) , without exceeding $50,000 in London. Two years later in 2011 renewed local interest produced another new record and his prices again started to inflate. Between April 2011 and April 2012, three works beat his 2008 record: Silent Jingle Bells (from the Mirror of Times series) (From The Mirror of Times series) at $100,000 (Christie’s Dubai, 19 April, 2011), Prelude in Pink at $120,000 (Christie’s Dubai, 25 October 2011) and Anaré Dooné dooné (from the Pomegranate series) at $95,000 (Christie’s Dubai, 17 April 2012), the latter two earning his presence in this ranking at the 5th and the 9th places.

Exiled in the United States since the 1970s, Shirin Neshat (1957) is arguably the most famous Iranian artist on the international art market. When, after 10 years abroad, she returned to her home country she was shocked by the radical changes imposed by the Iranian authorities. Shirin Meshat successfully translates this shock into her work exploring the complexities of Iranian society between social, family and religious pressures. Her photographs, films and installations depict women and their place in Islam and in Iranian society. She became a major artist exploring with uncommon talent and sensitivity the social divide between men and women violently imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution. In the late 1990s, she gained substantial notoriety with her series of portraits entitled Women of Allah showing women covered with farsi calligraphy. In 1999 Shirin Neshat achieved international recognition when she receiving the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale for a video entitled Turbulent. The following year, the three largest auction houses (Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips) presented her works for the first time. From the first lot offered, her photographs shot past their high estimates. During the first 6 months of her auction career, the auction houses raised their estimates by a multiple of 3. After results mainly generated in London and New York, prices for her work shot up at Christie’s Dubai between 2007 and 2008. However since her auction record for the work Whispers that fetched $220,000 on 30 April 2008, she has not crossed the $100,000 threshold. So the $95,000 result for her photograph Shameless which earned her presence in this ranking, represents her best results since 2008.

Iran’s long history has by no means stopped with the contemporary era. Many local artists are receiving substantial support from the Middle Eastern art market. However, the region’s speculative tendencies do tend to blur the lines and to highlight second-rate artists. Nevetheless, with an active art scene, the Iranian younger generation, although still very discreet at auction, is worth following closely.