In the land of black gold

[28 Apr 2015]


The extravagant wealth of the Arabian Peninsula States is almost impossible to ignore. The flourishing cities are full of glitzy hotels, flashy sports cars and literally tons of precious stones and jewelry. The ultra-luxury sector seems to have a virtually insatiable clientele. It is therefore not surprising that the art market’s big names have established branches in the region. Christie’s was the first Western auctioneer to organize a sale there (Dubai, 2006) followed by Bonham’s two years later. In 2009, Sotheby’s opened in Doha and hosted two sales. Even the Parisian auction operator, Millon et Associés, organized a sale in Dubai in 2012.

The artworks exchanged in the region include Old Master, Modern and Impressionist masterpieces as well as Oriental Art and Ultra-Contemporary works from all over the world. The most recent sale, Contemporary art / Doha, was hosted by Sotheby’s last Tuesday (April 21, 2015) and generated a total of $7.5m (fees included) from just 43 lots sold.

Artprice takes a closer look at the results of this sale for a better understanding of the way the art market functions in the Arabian Peninsula.

1. Mostly African and Oriental artists…

Works by African and Oriental artists were among the most sought-after in the sale and fetched the following sums (all prices include fees): $910,000 for Introvert (2012) by the Ghanaian Anish KAPOOR, $274,000 for A new spring (2007) by the Iranian Monir FARMANFARMAIAN, $237,500 for Shrine (2011) by his compatriot Ali BANISADR and $150,000 for Farhad MOSHIRI’s « I Got Sunshine » (2011). Today these artists enjoy an international reputation and their works are included in the catalogs of major sales in London and New York, so these results are not particularly surprising.

However, some much less well-known artists generated remarkable results. Two paintings by the Egyptian artist Ramsès YOUNAN, Untitled (1945) and Untitled – Abstract (1965) – both estimated below $80,000 – fetched respectively $137,500 and $106,500. In addition, two of the lowest estimated works in the sale by the Saudi artists Abdullah QANDEEL (a brand new work entitled The Race [2014], estimated $20,000 – $30,000) and Abdulnasser Gharem (Men at Work (2011) [which fetched $48,500 at Sotheby’s London branch in October 2011]) were acquired for $274,000 and $125,000 respectively, the latter posting a 158% value increase in less than 4 years!

The second best result of the evening was hammered for an Untitled (2008) work by the Indian born Anish KAPOOR, one of the world’s most famous Contemporary artists. The work – a circular stainless steel sculpture measuring 2.3 metres in diameter – was acquired for $1.03 million. However, the exact same work sold at Phillips in London for $1.3 million on November 7, 2011, demonstrating once again that even the best Contemporary art does not always gain in value!

2. Western signatures…

Collectors in the Arabian Peninsula also have a strong appetite for major Western signatures. Christopher WOOL once again dominated the evening sale with an Untitled (1987) that fetched $1.33 million. But he was not the only Western artist to seduce the Qatari collectors: an Untitled (2001) canvas by the Italian artist Rudolf STINGEL fetched $790,000, while a 1/16th version of the Belgian artist Wim DELVOYE’s Gothic Dump truck (2011) sold for $125,000.

The sale also produced excellent results for a couple of very young artists. Apart for the already-mentioned Abdullah Qandeel (b. 1988), the young Kour POUR (b. 1987), a new darling of the British art scene with his acrylic paintings that look exactly like oriental carpets, recorded a new personal record at $162,500 with Love Child (2010).

3. A complex market

Very few auction operators have managed to set up shop permanently in the Arabian Peninsula. Only Sotheby’s (in Doha) and Christie’s (in Dubai) conduct recurring sales there. However, the former has reduced its activity to just one sale per year while the latter never exceeds more than four. Their sessions are of course highly prestigious, but they remain occasional events, reflecting the difficulty that even the major auctioneers have in pulling together a sale that appeals to collectors of this region.

In any case, wealthy Arabs spend a lot of time in American and European capitals and regularly attend sales in London and New York. So sales organized in the Arabian Peninsula have to be pretty innovative to catch their attention. What can you offer to collectors who are already familiar with your catalogs? The answer is a vibrant mix of major signatures and latest trends with a touch of extravagance, and above all, a focus on art with oriental influences.