Iranian art boom – 2006-2008: “progress report”

[04 Aug 2008]


In two years, Dubai has clearly affirmed itself on the global art market with the first edition of Art Dubai in 2007 – inviting some 30 galleries from around the globe – and with the establishment of both Christie’s (2006) and Bonhams (2008) in the city. Since their arrival, the two action houses have been selling works by modern and contemporary artists from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Iran and they have succeeded in fostering growing demand as well as significant price inflation. The Dubai prices represented his record.

Carried by the financial strength of the United Arab Emirates and the increasingly global reach of its national investors, Iranian artists are becoming increasingly popular among regional collectors.
For example, on the 31 October 2007 the Dubai office of Christie’s sold works by Shirin NESHAT above the 100,000 dollars line for the first time. Shirin Neshat is the most well-known contemporary Iranian artist on the international scene and his works have been selling at auctions since 2000 in London and New York.

The best-known Iranian sculptor, Parviz TANAVOLI, aged 71, was in fact absent from the auction world until 2007. However, the success in Dubai in 2006 of the younger Iranian artist, Farhad Moshiri, appears to have had a considerable and belated knock-on effect on Tanavoli’s market prices. His first works to appear at auction generated between 65,000 and 85,000 dollars (February 2007). In October of the same year the hammer fell at 280,000 dollars (Christie’s Dubai) and in April 2008, he became the most expensive living Iranian artist when a unique piece he created in 1975 entitled The Wall (Oh Persepolis) fetched no less than 2.5 million dollars. The stele cast in bronze and standing nearly 2 metres high had been estimated by Christie’s at 400 to 600 thousand dollars.

Like Shirin Neshat’s work, the creations of Farhad MOSHIRI (aged 45 and born in the Iranian city of Shiraz) reflect both Iranian and Western culture. He studied art in California before returning to Teheran in 1991 where he has lived ever since. His works have been exhibited around the world including Rome, London, Berlin, New-York and Geneva. In 2003, his installation at the sixth Sharjah biennial entitled Golden Love super Deluxe attracted much comment: a collector’s showcase containing mixed objects – bullets, mobile phones, cherubs and Walt Disney figurines – all coated with a fine layer of gold… an ironical transformation of diverse objects from the spheres of war, technology and popular culture into “precious items”. Three years after the Biennial, Christie’s in Dubai presented Moshiri’s first canvas to appear at auction: a satellite view of Iran. The work sold for 40,000 dollars, four times the high-end estimate, and giving the artist a powerful start to his future auction momentum: collectors clearly have deep pockets for Moshiri. A year after that result, a satellite view of the world made of 95,000 Swarovski crystals demolished its original estimate of 60 to 80 thousand dollars when it sold for 500 thousand dollars! This rocketing success has continued in 2008 with a brilliant work using the same crystals and entitled, Eshgh (Love), which fetched 900,000 dollars last March at Bonhams Dubai.
The vitality of the Middle-Eastern market is giving a number of young Iranian artists a healthy price index on the secondary art market. The work of two Iranian women, Shirin ALIABADI and Shadi GHADIRIAN (born in 1973 and 1974 respectively), considers the contradictions that women face in Iran with humour. The Shadi Ghadirian’s photos use the obsolete aesthetic of 19th century photography to show veiled women with contemporary objects. Her most famous piece, Stereo, sold for £9,000 (over $18,000) in 2007 (Sotheby’s, London). In October 2007, Christie’s Dubai generated a bid of 50,000 dollars for a painting by Afshin PIRHASHEMI (born 1974) entitled Those four Days. This was only his second auction appearance. Just a month earlier in Paris, Artcurial sold his painting Memory for 6,000 euros… In April 2008, one had to bid up to 110,000.00 dollars for his triptych untitled Lonely created in 2005 (Christie’s Dubai).